We didn’t meet our project expectations – now what?

Typically, we can sense when things are not trending well – just like we can feel when things are going well. Everyone loves when things are clicking and going better than expected. But, I can’t think of one person who likes to be surprised with bad news.

Learning that you or your team failed to meet expectations of a project isn’t news that’s easily digestible. So, what can you do to avoid finding yourself in this uncomfortable (and stressful) situation?

The first line of defense is to start the project being 100% clear on what success looks like. At the start of the project, I like to ask the project sponsor: “When this project is over and you are happy about the results, why are you happy? What would you like to see achieved? What specifically would mean the project was a success?”

It’s important to know your customer’s vision of success. It doesn’t matter how well you perform if it does not meet your customer’s expectations.

Ok – so now you and your project sponsor have been explicit about project expectations. What next?

It’s impossible to predict the future. In the middle of the project, you may realize that you’re unable to meet the customer’s expectations. From a quality management perspective, you have to be able to recognize this prior to the project deadline. But how?

That depends. Have you employed the appropriate quality management tools and tactics throughout the project? If you have been deliberate about inspecting for what you expect throughout the project, the fact that you may miss the mark will not be a surprise. 

And since it won’t be a surprise, you will have ample time for course correction and clear communication as soon as you notice that things are going off track.

This will provide plenty of opportunity to connect with the customer so you can get realigned, continue pushing forward, and still deliver a successful project.

As you go about the daily management of your project, keep an eye on the important project factors like time, money, and your vision of a quality deliverable. 

What if you’re caught off guard?

If not meeting project expectations is a surprise, communicate as soon as possible. Bad news does not get better with time. It only gets worse because you reduce the amount of time you have to mitigate the issues.

More importantly – it’s important to communicate truthfully with customers. Be completely transparent about what’s going on – do not beat around the bush.

We are not trending well…

We didn’t meet the goals that we intended…

Here is why we fell short…

And always end with what your team has planned to move forward smoothly.

We need to determine how to close the gap and here’s how we plan to do that…

Here is how we are going to work together to determine our next steps…

The best plan to meet project expectations is definitely scope management at the start, combined with quality management and risk management as the project progresses.

If that doesn’t work, communicate clearly and engage the team to determine the new best path forward.


Holloway Consulting Group is an Atlanta-based firm helping corporate technology teams all over the world set goals, create plans, and solve complex problems. We aim to service organizations through our training, coaching, and project management programs. Visit our website to schedule a call with our team today!

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