How to Manage Key Stakeholder Expectations

From the Voices on Project Management Blog
by , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Voices on Project Management offers insights, tips, advice and personal stories from project managers in different regions and industries. The goal is to get you thinking, and spark a discussion. So, if you read something that you agree with--or even disagree with--leave a comment.

About this Blog


View Posts By:

Cameron McGaughy
Marian Haus
Lynda Bourne
Lung-Hung Chou
Bernadine Douglas
Kevin Korterud
Conrado Morlan
Peter Tarhanidis
Mario Trentim
Jen Skrabak
David Wakeman
Roberto Toledo
Vivek Prakash
Cyndee Miller
Shobhna Raghupathy
Wanda Curlee
Rex Holmlin
Christian Bisson
Taralyn Frasqueri-Molina
Jess Tayel
Ramiro Rodrigues
Linda Agyapong
Joanna Newman

Past Contributers:

Jorge Valdés Garciatorres
Hajar Hamid
Dan Goldfischer
Saira Karim
Jim De Piante
Geoff Mattie
sanjay saini
Judy Umlas
Abdiel Ledesma
Michael Hatfield
Deanna Landers
Alfonso Bucero
Kelley Hunsberger
William Krebs
Peter Taylor
Rebecca Braglio
Dmitri Ivanenko PMP ITIL

Recent Posts

Lead With Value

High-Performance Teams Are Purpose-Driven

The Benefits of Sprint 0

A Balanced Competency Model

Are Best Practices Really Possible?

Categories: Stakeholder

Successful projects meet or exceed key stakeholder expectations and requirements. How can this be done when working with the client, sponsor, senior management and users of the project's deliverables?

The need to effectively manage stakeholder expectations is a consistent theme in the PMBOK® Guide. This goes beyond the simple delivery of specified requirements -- it covers all aspects of a project's work and the manner in which it's accomplished.

The first element is to ensure the project's deliverables will actually meet the requirements of the project. Failure to do so means an unsuccessful project. Take the time to ask the right people the right questions -- after all, they expect your deliverables to work.

The next step in building success is to map the expectations of the key stakeholders. Do you really understand what they expect from the project?  

Accurately mapping expectations requires skillful listening and the ability to decipher what's meant, not just what's said. Don't be afraid to enlist senior management to ask questions on your behalf. As you begin to understand your stakeholders' expectations, they will fall into two groups: realistic and unrealistic.

Realistic expectations still need managing. Make sure you can fulfil them -- then make sure the stakeholder knows you are meeting them. Your communication plan must present the right information to the right stakeholder in the right manner.

Unrealistic expectations are more difficult to manage. They are unlikely to be met, and when you fail to achieve the "impossible," the project will be deemed a failure. Fortunately, expectations are not fixed, but exist in a person's mind and can be influenced or changed.

The key to shifting stakeholders' expectations is to provide new and better information.

Developing a communication strategy that brings the right information to the stakeholder's attention in a believable fashion is a subtle art. This is particularly tricky when advising upward with the goal of changing senior managers' expectations. (I'll write more on this in my next post.)

What challenges have you faced in managing key stakeholders' expectations? How have you found success in managing and meeting those expectations?

See more posts from Lynda.
See more posts on stakeholder management.

Posted by Lynda Bourne on: November 01, 2011 11:26 AM | Permalink

Comments (2)

Please login or join to subscribe to this item
From a tactical sense, presenting the relative "cost" of decisions can help in managing expectations. For those who don't have a direct appreciation for what the nuances of their requests mean from a resource delivery perspective, it can help them to have those nuances represented as estimated chunks of work. "Oh, I didn't realize what I was asking for was that much work. I would like to see value sooner. What can I do to reduce the scope of my request?" I've written about this in more detail on a blog post:

I recently had a client sponsor who was very insecure. As with all projects, some people in her company were skeptical or resistant to the goals of the project.

Instead of her letting me meet with those people or speaking to them herself about whatever the issue was, she would "throw me under the bus" and say that I was overstepping my authority in making decisions.

She also would not follow the contract between our companies which laid out how certain things would be handled because "that contract was drafted by your company."

I tried the usual communication practices: status reports, meetings with her, confiding in an executive (not her boss), trying to point out our goals meshed, etc. I asked my own boss for help and he said I was worrying too much, but a month later gave me a written warning to get along better with her!

Five months later I was out of work because of an issue that I tried to escalate above her because it contradicted the mission of the project.

Has anyone else had to deal with an insecure (and uncooperative) person? I want to benefit from your lessons learned.

Please Login/Register to leave a comment.


I see where one young boy has just passed 500 hours sitting in a treetop. There is a good deal of discussion as to what to do with a civilization that produces prodigies like that. Wouldn't it be a good idea to take his ladder away from him and leave him up there?

- Will Rogers