How to Manage Your Customer’s Expectations

by Jennifer Bridges, PMP (formerly, Jennifer Whitt)

I imagine there are project managers out there who have shipped their clients off and out of the way during a project, but for most of us that isn’t an option. To maintain good customer How to Manage Your Customer’s Expectationsrelationships we have to manage their expectations and outlook on the project. To do that we need to recognize the red flags that signal expectations are out of line, and we need to know what to do about it. We need to help customers see the good by diffusing some of the bad expectations they may have. To manage is to control or get something back in line. An expectation is a strong belief that something will happen or someone will or should achieve something. How do expectations get out of alignment on a project? The following red flags show us some of the ways it occurs:

  • “Well, the last project manager …” (did they totally derail the project?)
  • “I thought that …” (did they think it was going to be in scope?)
  • “Joe and I decided …” (did they think something else should be included?)
  • “Couldn’t you just … “ (add that in the software while working on the code? Extend the building an additional floor while in the building process?)

You can fill in the blanks. Those are what the red flag statements sound like, and what should alert us that expectations are out of alignment. How do we respond to that? Here are some tips:

  • Remind Your Customer That It’s Their Project, Not Yours. Sometimes they get the idea that the project manager is personally responsible for imposing constraints. Remind them that the constraints were agreed upon by the project plan. If they want the scope, budget, process, timeline or any other part of the project increased tell them you’ll be happy to take that information to the change control board.
  • Submit New Items. If your customer has ideas that are out of scope, tell them you’ll be glad to submit their suggestions to the change control board.
  • New and Different. If a customer cites their experience with a previous project manager, company, group or project, remind them that this is a new experience and now that you’re the project manager you’re going to ensure that things are done differently.

Ultimately, one of the best tools a project manager could possibly have in their toolkit is great project management software that truly helps you track the project and communicate effectively to your stakeholders.

If you found these tips from Jennifer Whitt, PMP of value and are a PMP looking to earn PMI PDUs, you might be interested in her self-paced, downloadable courses at


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