Deliver desired outcomes with expectation management

Current research has found that 70% of change initiatives, especially technology enabled projects, are deemed unsuccessful.

The primary reason for such disappointment is a failure to define success criteria at the start of projects. Without determining success criteria any future improvement from a change initiative is purely subjective and each stakeholder will have their own view of success.

Based on the same research only 30% of projects are deemed a success, of these, approximately half of the projects had the project objectives altered during the lifecycle of the project. Often this change is due to expectations, either perceived or actual, of the stakeholders changing during the lifecycle. An immense challenge if you are the programme manager and project manager.

I have found that a necessary practice to utilise is expectation management. By communicating effectively with key stakeholders at the outset of the project one can refine and establish their expectations.

Expectation management is a form of truthful disclosure, a method where all stakeholders get to define and understand realistic, and ideally specific, outcomes at the outset. Importantly these are documented and agreed by all.

By performing this, sometimes exhaustive, task the framework of expectations is established. Often what is captured is the psychological expectations of the stakeholders, these are the ones that often fail to be satisfied in those projects that were “deemed” a success.

Without managing their expectations the project will frequently underperform in the stakeholders perceptions, even with the same outcomes. Applying expectation management is a highly recommended technique, it can be very useful and provide benefits throughout the project lifecycle.

A useful technique I have employed in expectation management is establishing a Baseline Assessment. More on this later.

2 responses to “Deliver desired outcomes with expectation management

  1. This article raises some excellent points – thank you for sharing! It’s also caused a few neurons to fire for me, so I thought I’d add a comment.

    You are absolutely right that setting out success criteria up front is *so* important (yet, ironically, *so often* missed). Putting my Business Analyst hat on, I often refer to this as The “WHY” of the project….. e.g. why are we doing this? Precisely *what* problem are we trying to solve? And how do we know when it’s solved.

    An absolutely brilliant way of recording this that I often use is the problem statement. I’m sure you’ve seen it before — but in case anyone reading this hasn’t, there’s a great framework in BABOK (Business Analysis Body of Knowledge) that describes how to write a problem statement. Here’s a direct link :

    You also raise an *excellent* point about expectation management. The challenge of course is that what the customer/business *asks* for is often different from what they need…… and what they need can sometimes be different from what they can afford! The classic “Swing” cartoon comes to mind — if you haven’t seen it, here’s an updated version. The key of course is to get to the business need.

    My final observation regarding the topics you’ve raised is that very few organisations (in my experience) actually *measure* success of projects properly. Asking “Was the project on time and on budget” is not the same as asking “was the project a success”. As well as defining success criteria up front, it’s also necessary to define how the data will be collected to make that measurement (e.g. objectives like “Excellent customer service” are great, but they need measurable KPIs associated with them *along with* the capability to measure those KPIs!)

    Thanks again for the thought provoking article!


    (@UKAdrianReed on Twitter / Blog:

    • Adrian,

      Thank you for your comment. Very much appreciated.

      I wholeheartedly agree “that very few organisations (in my experience) actually *measure* success of projects properly”. In my experience to many just focus on the on time and on budget.

      Stakeholders must push their project organisations to move past the “Was the project on time and on budget” factor and measure against business factors, those with measurable KPIs. Only then will the organisation know “was the project a success”.


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