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8 project management tips for setting and managing expectations

Jennifer Lonoff Schiff | Aug. 11, 2017
Project managers and IT executives share their top strategies for creating realistic schedules and keeping projects on track.

Instead, "build a plan to manage the tasks at a higher level," she advises. "Then give the resources detailed task checklists [that] they can self-manage and give you the rolled-up status for your schedule." This allows the project manager to better manage the project without micromanaging it.


Create a realistic schedule (but pad it just in case)

"Create your schedule working backward from the committed date and then pad the date with buffer weeks (time which management is allowing for slippage in the schedule without communicating it to the team)," says Ben Rockwood, director of IT and Operations at IT automation company Chef Software. "For example, if you need to deliver something in 4 weeks, set the schedule for delivery in 2 or 3 weeks and allow for 1 to 2 weeks of buffer. If the team pulls off a miracle, great. But if they don't, they already have time to allow for overages. This ensures an appropriate sense of urgency and a less stressful delivery timeline."


Set and acknowledge milestones

"Set milestones to show the client how the project is expected to progress, and allow them to see and approve the work before moving on to each subsequent milestone," suggests Sims. "This way, small issues do not grow to become unmanageable and any client dissatisfaction can be addressed immediately."


Provide regular updates and demos to stakeholders

"Communication with your client is mandatory throughout each project," says Tara Mulhern, a project manager at web design company WebTek. From the start of each project it is important to "inform [the] client [and stakeholders]... what's expected from them in order to keep the project moving along to meet the deadline." Then, during the course of the project, "send reminders to the client [and stakeholders] of upcoming deadlines." And if, or when, delays or problems occur, "communicate the details [to] the client immediately." 

It's also a good idea to give clients/stakeholders product demos as you progress.

"This is actually a key tenet of the Scrum methodology, but holding regular project or product demos with key stakeholders and decision-makers can be a real game-changer when it comes to [managing expectations]," says Eonta. "Demos allow decision makers to see for themselves if the project seems on track, ahead of schedule or behind schedule. And showing is almost always better and richer than telling."


Plan for problems and potential conflicts

"When managing deadlines and projects, consider potential resource and technology challenges that might emerge," says Shamim Mohammad, CIO at used car retailer CarMax. "Make sure there is time allocated for undiscovered work and develop a contingency plan for it. Lots of projects assume a happy path, but do not plan for unanticipated and undiscovered work, which will inevitably happen."


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