Managing Stakeholder Expectations

The overarching goals of every project manager is to deliver a quality project, to the specified scope, on time, and within budget. Throughout my career I have heard many folks in my profession espouse that achieving all three is difficult and one must be sacrificed to achieve the other two. Arguments for and against this theory abound. I agree it is often the case in practice that projects fail to meet the quality, scope, cost, and schedule goals set for the project. There are many reasons a project does not meet its goals.

If I had to select only one reason, or at least the most prevalent reason in my experience, it would be unrealistic expectations. All too often goals set at the onset of a project are unrealistic. Owners, designers, and constructors are all guilty of contributing to this problem. The projects team’s eagerness to carry out a project clouds their decision making process regarding the quality, cost, and schedule of a project. Ultimately, when the project is executed sacrifices must be made with one of the goals in order to achieve the others. Once again I want to stress that unrealistic expectations are not the only cause of project failure. However, expectations are a frequent and manageable cause of project failure that is 100% preventable if managed in the early stages of a project.

While managing project expectations starts at the beginning of the project it does not end there. I have been involved in projects that met quality, scope, budget and schedule goals yet the stakeholders were not satisfied. As with the failing to meet the other project goals, failing to satisfy stakeholders is rooted in failing to manage their expectations. A project manager must be keenly aware of the stakeholders’ expectations in order to manage them. That is not to say the project manager is responsible for satisfying the stakeholders expectations. Only that they are responsible for helping stakeholders understand why there expectations can or cannot be satisfied. The range of stakeholder expectations and the corresponding interventions for managing those expectations is beyond the scope of this brief article. Suffice to say project managers should seek to better understand stakeholders’ expectations by educating themselves to better understand human behavior. Degrees in construction management often include introductory courses in psychology and perhaps advanced courses in organizational behavior. Project managers may also want to consider taking additional electives in sociology, anthropology, management, or even literature or biology. Any course that delves into the human condition will increase a project manager’s ability to manage stakeholder expectations and increase the likelihood of overall project success.

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