Managing client expectations on projects

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What could be the worst possible outcome of a project? A project completed to the utmost disappointment of the client.

Sometimes a client's honest expectations are never fully expressed until they go unmet. Only then does the project manager get insight into what the client desires. This might be after a working relationship has been ruined and a valuable client lost.

Managing client expectations, spoken and unspoken, is key to customer satisfaction and creative approval. As challenging as it may sometimes be, there are strategies you can use to make your projects align with clients' expectations.

Start early

An ideal time to manage client expectations is right before a project begins. As the project manager, you are responsible for establishing a connection between your client and your internal team.

You have to be very clear about what should be expected from you and your team, and about everyone's role in the process.

The first step to managing client expectations is by having a client pre-kickoff meeting. Meeting your clients before a project starts will help you set clear and reasonable expectations. You should make sure to discuss:

  • Project timelines
  • Scope
  • Required documents
  • Any other relevant agenda

Select the right team

The success of any business rests on the shoulders of its employees. Who are the members of your team? How passionate are they about the project? These are the questions you should be asking yourself before including anyone in your project team.

Be extremely picky when selecting your team. Break down the project into specific tasks and select individuals who are skilled in each task.

Plan for the worst

Most project managers anticipate a smooth path and are often caught unawares by technology and resource challenges or the emergence of unexpected work. Allocate enough time for any unexpected occurrences and involve your clients in the planning stage of the project to establish realistic expectations based on the available technology and resources. 

Anticipate your client's needs

Your clients will have more confidence in you when they are certain you understand the nature of your job. While it is important to anticipate what your client needs and the problems that may arise as the project progresses, do not assume anything. Listen attentively to your client and ask questions for clarity.

Assign project roles

Managing a large project can be complex. Tasks can easily overlap or be dependent on the completion of other tasks.

This calls for you to assign tasks to individuals or teams and communicate when they should be completed.

Assign roles and tasks to your team

Be honest

Be clear about your capabilities from the onset. Establish your rules before you sign any papers and agree on the process together.

The honesty policy has made Florida based East Coast Mechanicals achieve tremendous growth and remain in business for over three decades. Over the years, the company has established a culture of honesty and integrity by informing clients about the exact costs of repairs and placements before taking up any project.

The company also communicates how long a project will take and lives up to its word without any excuses.

Don't rush into promises you cannot keep. Remember, it is always better to under-promise and over-deliver.

When issues arise during the project, inform your clients without hiding any information. Guaranteed, your clients will have more confidence in you and great respect for your business.

Provide constant communication

Communication should be at the top of your priority list. The lack of it is usually the cause of many problems. Inform your clients about your progress regularly. Make them aware of any unexpected issues that may come up during the creation process. This way, any issues can be solved before they escalate

Set goals

You can't get anywhere if you don't know where you are heading. Setting project goals that are in alignment with your clients is an essential way of managing client expectations. Once you and your client have similar goals, you will become committed to the same results. This will also prevent any potential conflict.

Underline goals with clear, realistic plans

Ask questions and be a good listener

Do not hesitate to seek clarity whenever you feel the need. Asking questions will help you understand the client's expectations. This will, in turn, help you and your team navigate through the creative process without any doubts. Asking questions is indeed easier said than done, but when client satisfaction matters to you so badly, it is a path worth taking.

Hold internal team meetings

A meeting with your team members at the end of every working day or week will keep everyone in alignment with the project's priorities. Inquire if any of your team members need help and offer help whenever it is required. These little meetings will encourage accountability, but make sure you use them effectively.

Be proactive

As the project manager, your clients should not feel the need to micro-manage you. Be at the frontline of the creative process, establish your professionalism in the way that you lead your team and initiate communication with your clients.

Commit to the project

Without commitment, success may be a farfetched dream. Remain committed for as long as the project runs – even in moments when things don't look good. Your commitment will inspire your team to remain committed to the set goals.

Sign formal documents

A formal document such as a contract will eliminate all forms of miscommunication and highlight the scope of the project. This will assist both parties in understanding the terms of the agreement and abide by them.


Listening to, understanding, and living up to client's expectations can be quite challenging. The good news is that it is possible. The 12 steps addressed in this article will guide you towards meeting your client's expectations even as they meet yours.

The goal here is to collaborate with your client throughout the creative process and to communicate constantly. Always remember that the success of a project is not determined by its completion but rather by the satisfaction of your customers.