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Expectation Management: The Art of Under-Promise and Over-Deliver

Published By Team AdaptiveWork

At its very core, project management entails setting up goals and then making sure they are met. There are a lot of ways to ensure that you deliver what you promise, but one of the most important is managing expectations.

Expectation Management

First things first, you’ll want to understand the expectation management definition. Simply put, expectation management (in terms of project management) means aligning sponsor and stakeholder expectations with what your project is doing and delivering.

In 1987, business author and speaker Tom Peters brought the following concept to the expectation management definition with his theory of under-promising and over-delivering. The concept is simple: a good surprise is much better than a bad surprise. In other words, stakeholders would much rather find out their expectations were exceeded than unmet. While the idea has become somewhat of a trope in recent years, the message is still relevant for project managers in the 21st century.

If you’ve been missing deadlines or simply looking to increase your project management efficiency, we put together this list of top tips for under-promising and over-delivering as a means of managing expectations.

Rethink your relationship with clients

There is often an underlying animosity between agencies and clients, which can be a major roadblock to the success of the relationship. A lot of this is purely psychological. Instead of approaching your clients as cash flow entities, think of them as coworkers, partners, or even as friends.

When you approach your clients as an extension of yourself, their wins will feel like yours and vice versa. Also, this removes the problematic thought process of “agency right, client wrong,” so you can have a more collaborative relationship. While your agency may have more creative intuition, the client certainly knows its company and audience on a deeper level.

Leading your projects with a partnership approach will ensure you over-deliver, because your interests will be mutual! Plus, when you feel like you’re playing for the same team, you can more easily empathize with the disappointment of a broken promise, which helps you be more conservative in your estimates.

Create boundaries

To avoid the problem of over-promising – and potentially setting up stakeholders for disappointment – you need to set clear boundaries with your clients.

It’s easy to fall victim to the “putting out fires” approach to client relationships. When you are managing clients, issues will arise. Ineffective leaders will ask their team to address those issues immediately in order to appease the client. This not only is a huge time sink, but also sets up unproductive client expectations. This approach also ensures you’re not treating your clients equally, but prioritizing the most difficult ones.

A better way of managing expectations is by setting boundaries with your clients. Let them know from the get-go that, for example, you have a 24 hour window to respond to their inquiries. If they reach out with a complaint, simply let them know that you’ve received it, and you’ll reach back to them with a solution within a day. Set aside a time each day for addressing client concerns, so you’re not letting them take over your entire workload.

The Art of Managing Expectations

Under poor leadership, it’s tempting to prioritize landing new clients over maintaining current ones. At the end of the day, the goal isn’t to win over a new client with big promises you can’t deliver on, but to continually impress the ones you have.

Using detailed metrics across your business is a good way to measure what your team can actually achieve in a certain time. If you previously were able to achieve X action items in X amount of time, you can use that information as a jumping off point when making plans for clients. A good rule of thumb is to look at your previous track record, and promise just a little bit less than that, to account for any hiccups along the way.

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If you are consistently late on deadlines or not achieving what you’ve promised, clients will become suspicious, more difficult to work with, and likely take their business elsewhere.

On the other hand, If you don’t achieve the stars and the moon, but at least are transparent about your processes and progress, they’ll feel confident knowing they’re working with a partner they can trust.

Honesty is the best policy

Now that you’re equipped with the managing expectations definition and a few golden rules for under-promising and over-delivering, you’re ready to start planning. The key across the board is honesty with yourself and clients.

A project management software is a great way to track your company’s capabilities, so you can properly plan for your next client’s scope of work. See how Planview AdaptiveWork can help by setting up a live demo today.

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Written by Team AdaptiveWork