Press Release, October 2001

When Unfamiliar Projects Land on Your Desk, Increase Your Chances of Success by Managing Expectations.

Project management expert Stan Portny provides guidance for busy project managers who are riding the wake of the downsizing tidal wave.

You may be one of the lucky ones not to have received a "pink slip" during this time of downsizing.  But before you heave a sigh of relief, you realize that the work still has to get done, right?  In fact, you may now get assignments for which you or your team lack the expertise or time to complete.  Does this sound like an impossible situation?

Not according to project management consultant Stan Portny - author of the new Project Management For Dummies (Hungry Minds, Inc., 2001, ISBN: 0-7645-5283-X, $21.99).  He points out that the recession has not changed workplace expectations.  If you're skilled at defining and managing those expectations, the project can get done right and on time.

"People have always had difficulty clarifying what it is they want to see as a final result when assigning projects," Portny says.  "Many people think they are expected to automatically understand others' expectations and then they start running in the wrong direction, resulted in wasted time and effort."

In Project Management For Dummies, Portny suggests that clarifying a project's desired outcomes increases the chances that they will be achieved.  In addition, "people fail to appreciate that vague requests often result in wasted time and money.  The first rule of thumb is 'Don't assume anything!'" Portny says.

He offers these tips for busy people who are riding the wake of the downsizing tidal wave.  In order to increase your chances for successful project outcomes:

  • Spell out the e-x-p-e-c-t-a-t-i-o-n-s.  This is no time to be shy.  If you don't get this part right, the whole project can run askew.  Ask probing questions of all people who will be looking for the project results, including:

    • What are the true indicators of success?  Define, very specifically, what will signal successful project completion.  Desired outcomes might include physical products, services or new procedures.  Try to determine the particular desired characteristics of each outcome.  The expectations may be wide-ranging and, at times, conflicting, depending upon whom you question.  Be sure to document the expectations and determine if you feel you can achieve them all.  Discuss with the project requesters any about which you have concerns.

    • How much time would the requester like you to spend on the project and when would he or she like the results?  The person who assigned you the project may not realize that, prior to downsizing, a similar project might have taken three weeks, but now, with your reduced staff and increased workload, it may take longer and require more work effort.  Discuss these realities with the requester and work together to develop responsive and achievable schedules and resource budgets.

  • Identify and involve all people who may be looking for results from this project.  It's not unusual that the person assigning you the project is not the one who originally conceived it.  Identify and consult all people who will be looking for project results, including the person with the original idea, as well as others who may benefit from what you will produce.  Consider both managers and staff who will be affected by or needed to support project results.  Be sure to include these people in your project planning and to keep them involved and informed as the project moves along.  If people are reluctant to give you their time, explain that their involvement is essential to help you meet their true needs.

  • Draw on the knowledge and experience of others.  If your assignment involves work in areas with which you are unfamiliar, consult others who have more experience.  Identify knowledgeable colleagues or consider retaining the services of external experts.  Consult these people as you prepare your plan and at key review points during your project.  Ask questions so you can understand how best to approach your assignment.  Be sure to clarify any information from the experts or from the person who assigned you your project that you feel is ambiguous.  Remember the old adage: There are no stupid questions.

  • Document everything and share the news.  Keep the momentum going and ensure you are on track by communicating regularly throughout the project with the person who assigned you the project and others looking for your project's results.  Frequently reaffirm with them that the project is addressing their needs.

  • Carefully manage changes in expectations.  If your client asks you to modify or change the outcomes that your project is to achieve:

    • Be sure the requested change is in writing.

    • Always assess the impact of the requested change on all aspects of the project.

    • Be sure the others who are awaiting your project's results also agree that the proposed change should be made.

    • If you agree with the requested change, modify all impacted elements of your project plan and share the news with everyone involved in the project.

Portny's down-to-earth advice and step-by-step guidance for project managers are sure to help keep project managers afloat when handling unfamiliar tasks, large and small.  In Project Management For Dummies", Portny provides an invaluable toolkit for project managers to survive and thrive in these uncertain times.