“Managing Expectations…or More Importantly, Managing Success”

April 20, 2015

Written by: Scott McGrail   M.Sc., PMP

Most stakeholders involved in an implementation project will have different ideas of what a “Successful Project” entails.  A project sponsor may consider being on time and on budget to be a measure of success.  A line manager may look at end user adoption of a given solution, and a C-level executive may look at the rate of return on the initial investment.  These are all valid points for a project to be considered truly successful and it is the Project Manager’s responsibility of not only knowing who is impacted by a given project, but what their measures of success are.  Although these criteria are generally approached and dealt with through the progressive management of expectations, project managers should not be in the mindset of managing expectations, but of managing success.

Projects are goal driven endeavors that have a clear beginning and end.  They are generally measured on four key elements; time, cost, scope, and quality, and it is the balance and performance of these four intertwined elements that will allow a project to be deemed truly successful.  Considering a project successful because it abided by a given pre-set budget and timeline would be a partial misnomer as the true appropriateness/success of the project has yet to be felt.  That is not to say that these are not key factors in project success, they just aren’t the only ones.  The onus is on the project manager and their team to ensure that the correct stakeholders have been identified and communication with them has been appropriate and effective for the task at hand.  The scope of the effort must be carefully elicited and reviewed.  Although lengthy at times, requirements elicitation can occasionally be seen as a burden to the budget and timeline of a given effort, but without an accurate knowledge of where you need to be heading, it is difficult to arrive, let alone arrive on time!  The project manager should verify that all stakeholders have been identified, including both the advocates and adversaries of the undertaking.  Not every project is going to find open arms with all of its stakeholders, and will therefore require some additional effort to determine if there are acceptable compromises or workarounds that can be put in place to better respond to all needs.  This is not always feasible but should be at the very least investigated.

At the end of the effort, there should be no question as to the success, or lack thereof, of a project.  The criteria driving the project’s success should be clear, concise, and already agreed upon by the key stakeholders.  These criteria should have been monitored and controlled, with sequential approvals to prevent surprises.  All told, everyone must be involved in the project for it to be successful, and in general, a project manager only knows what they have been told, which means they need to ask the right questions and the stakeholders need to provide accurate information to those questions.  Consistent and effective communication through the lifecycle of a project will ensure the maximum likelihood of success, albeit never a guarantee.  The stakeholder expectations that are being managed are the key attributes to success and should be thought of, and given the merit that they deserve, in order for the project to meet its true success potential.

Scott McGrail


Scott McGrail is an experienced software implementation project manager with strengths in process assessment and change management.  When not mapping processes or tracking progress on a Gant chart, he can be found enjoying the outdoors with his family.