Keeping projects on track -- especially in the face of constant change requests and additions -- is a project manager's greatest challenge. And when project managers don't properly set expectations from the start -- with senior management, the client or their team -- and don't have a strategy in place for dealing with scope creep or last-minute requests or changes, deadlines can suffer.
So how can project managers ensure that everyone shares the same goals and expectations? CIO.com asked dozens of IT executives, project managers and project management experts to find out. Check out their top 11 suggestions on how to successfully set, manage and adjust expectations to ensure deadlines are met and tempers don't flare.
Get involved early (during the planning process)."Expectations, especially for IT projects, tend to get set by senior management without consideration to the details it takes to deliver," says Diane C. Buckley-Altwies, CEO, Core Performance Concepts, a provider of project management courseware and training.
Therefore, it is critical to "take the appropriate amount of time to work with senior management during the planning process to define key measureable objectives that everyone can agree [upon]," Buckley-Altwies says. That way, "when issues arise, the project manager [can] always come back to those objectives and ask management if the issue affects [his] ability to deliver on the objectives."
"If possible, be part of the sales process so that you know what is expected and discussed from the very beginning," says Abie McCauley, digital project manager, Nebo Agency, a web design and interactive marketing firm. "The more you know about the goals of the project, the better you can guide your team to success."
Involve all stakeholders, especially IT."Whenever I have a project that is clearly IT heavy, I bring all the [IT] guys in the room, from the CIO to a junior programmer, to make sure everyone has input on the timelines and expectations," says Richard Bexon, COO, Namu Travel Group. "This way the guys laying the code or installing a new server 100 percent understand what the project is about and have buy-in."
Have a clear project scope with sign-off -- and set priorities. "Making sure that you have a very clear scope when starting a project is essential, as people will always try to creep things into the scope," says Bexon.
"Scope containment is the Achilles heel to project management," says Bill Gaffney, corporate development, Applied Robotics. "Even minor changes can accumulate and cause scope creep," he says.
To avoid or at least manage scope creep, "the scope of the project and the strategy(s) to accomplish that scope/strategy must be clearly defined," he says. Similarly, "the potential risks and mitigation actions must be identified and addressed. [And] changes from the baseline plan must be rigorously evaluated for impact to schedule and cost, no matter how insignificant they may appear at the time."
In addition, "ensure that all projects and enhancements are assigned an LOE, ROI and priority level," says Samira Mahjoub Tapia, cofounder and head of product at Chippmunk, a savings search engine. And make sure all members of the team understand the priorities.
"Having the team review this list weekly forces us to keep our focus and ensures that precious development time isn't spent on projects that don't move [us] forward towards our goals," Mahjoub Tapia says. "It also allows the dev team to see upcoming projects and feel like empowered members of the team."
Be realistic. "From the very early days of a project, it is critical to set realistic completion dates [to] ensure accurate forecasting," says Hernan Clarke, CEO, 4Sight Technologies, a company that specializes in developing and supporting software for project management.
"Meeting deadlines and keeping projects on time and on budget requires commitment from all parties involved. This means a representative from the client, management and project team should always be involved in the process of setting expectations and target completion dates to ensure agreement and buy-in from every perspective," Clarke says.