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Part of the series “The Accidental Project Manager”

By Dr. Surya Ganduri, Rutgers University

Project management is all about delivery and the way you communicate details. You are the General, directing action on the front lines and every word of your strategy is critical.


From Day One on a project, be very clear about what should be expected of you as the project manager, your team, your process, and your clients. Every person and aspect is integral to the success of the project and it’s better to lay it all out. Loopholes all too often set the stage for scope creep.


If you don’t set expectations in terms of who does what, when, staffing can get confusing quickly. Assign specific project roles and the explicit responsibility for each task. In addition, it’s best to be sure that communication is flowing according to agreed-upon standards. A helpful tool in helping to determine team responsibility is a RACI (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, Informed) matrix, which describes the way various roles participate in completing tasks or deliverables for a project or business process. Half the battle in the war against poor communications lies in knowing when and where communication should happen and how it will be documented.


Every project is unique in some way. Sure, there may be shared approaches and deliverables across projects, but discussing how you’ll use them on each project is critical for each project’s success.


There is no better way to set and manage expectations than by just checking in with your team and your clients. Status reports not only help you and your clients stay on track, they also help keep you honest about your work, process, budgets, and issues.

When you conduct regular status meetings, you’re ensuring that the expectations you established in the beginning are consistently reviewed and reaffirmed as you go through the project. Are you going to go over budget on a project? From a client’s perspective, there is nothing worse than finding out about a project issue that could have been avoided until it’s too late to take action. Use the status report and meeting as a way to communicate and discuss all of the issues.


For project managers, it always comes back to being a good communicator and facilitator. The team will always know what is happening, will set their own expectations and will likely meet timeline and budget expectations without question. If your clients’ expectations are outlined and discussed, they’ll be happy that they’ve helped you to meet or exceed them and will be reassured because they most likely know what to expect from the final product.


  1. Create shared to-do lists.
    A list like this will foster real-time communication, whether that be through in-person discussion, instant message, a phone call or email. The idea is to work in the open and share progress to build team support. This is the type of activity that helps teams build trust and gain project efficiencies.
  2. Don’t worry about delivering bad news.
    Be sure to always keep a “risks” section in your status report because the last thing you want to do is surprise a client with news that something is going over budget or beyond your timeline. Keeping an eye on those risks can also help you to anticipate the needs of your team or your client before they even realize they exist. When you do that, you feel like you’ve won.
  3. Ask questions and listen to responses.
    Don’t be bashful about figuring out what you may not know or understand.Chances are, asking questions will help you and your team sort out expectations related to project requirements, feedback, processes, and even the client’s happiness levels. When you hear an answer, don’t take it at face value. Think about how it may impact your project and follow-up with more questions (if needed, of course).


By now, you’ve realized that setting and managing project expectations is not as difficult and scary as it may seem. What it comes down to is that you must communicate early and often, document conversations and continuously follow-up with the collective project team in order to keep every project on track.