Walking the Tightrope between Supporting Optimistic Goals and Managing Realistic Expectations

We all think we’re superhuman at times, so it is not uncommon to start out a project with lofty, optimistic goals. However, in the race against time to accomplish marketing initiatives, one of the biggest challenges that marketers often face is maintaining realistic expectations throughout the course of a project.

There are a few key ways in which marketers can get on the same page and manage expectations with project stakeholders even as projects progress and priorities change.

Understanding Priorities

Early in my project management career, I was taught the project management triangle, which depicts the three constraints project managers encounter when managing a project–cost, scope, and time. You also may have heard it go by ‘iron triangle.’ But I much preferred the ‘Good, Fast, Cheap’ diagram when kicking off a new project and understanding a stakeholder’s priorities.

If you’re not familiar, it goes something like this: Good. Fast. Cheap. You can pick two, but you can never have all three.

Image credit: InReach Solutions

For example, if you opt for a solution that is fast and good, it is likely it will not be cheap but involve heavier resources (both human and financial). If you opt for a less expensive solution but still want it in a quicker time frame, it is likely the quality of the deliverable will suffer.

There is no perfect choice and it is totally up to the stakeholders and dependent on what the project goals and priorities are. In my experience, when a stakeholder picks the two that matter most to them, it is not uncommon to forget to set expectations on the option that was not picked, leaving stakeholders still believing they are getting all three.

Because of this, it is extremely important to have a thorough conversation prior to the kick-off of every new project to understand the goals and priorities of the stakeholders involved. From these conversations, all parties can be aligned regarding budgeting, timing, and project expectations.

Tip: Document the decisions made during these calls in a project brief or kick-off deck and share it with all parties. You will need to reference this as you reinforce expectations throughout the project. And remember to clearly express how each of the three constraints in the good, fast, and cheap diagram will impact the project.

Set Timing Expectations

Because of the immense pressure marketers are under to achieve their goals, timing is the expectation that is most frequently pushed back on. It is important to identify and set expectations on project dependencies and any potential bottlenecks. Set a realistic timeline and communicate that to all stakeholders and project team members. It is always better to be realistic than to overpromise and underdeliver. One of the best ways to ensure you are being realistic is to plan your project backwards.

Tip: Be mindful of holidays, conferences, or vacations for those involved. This is often missed at the onset of a project and results in unexpected delays in project progress or approvals.

Provide Routine Updates

The role of a marketing manager or project manager is to ensure there are no surprises during a project. The fear of the unknown is actually what causes more stress, irrational behavior/expectations and sometimes downright panic. We’ve all been there! Providing all stakeholders and project team members with routine, frequent updates can help avoid all of this and ensure everyone is still aligned regarding project goals and expectations.

Tip: Don’t wait for others to request an update. Instead, set yourself a reminder at a routine time/day to provide a weekly or bi-weekly project update either via email, scheduled call or meeting. This will also decrease the number of unexpected update requests you get from stakeholders because they will get used to your routine updates.

Communicate Transparently

In my experience, most people are rational human beings and they realize that you too are (spoiler alert!) a human being. We all make mistakes or errors from time to time. While we don’t want to just accept that it happened, we have to acknowledge that it will and plan accordingly. When something goes wrong or is delayed, own it and inform the necessary parties. Explain the situation and most importantly, come to the conversation with a plan for resolution and timing. This way, even when something goes awry, you are immediately resetting expectations related to what is possible, by when, why the recommended solution is the best option, and how much effort or resources it will take to complete.

Tip: Set expectations for resolving issues early on by having a process outlined for issue resolution. Rather than going into panic mode, your team will have a clear path to identifying the issue and outlining a plan for resolution.

Finding the right balance between achieving your project goals and managing the expectations of stakeholders does not have to feel like a walk on the tightrope. By implementing these tips you’ll not only be on your way to becoming a marketing project management expert, but you’ll also give stakeholders the confidence they need to trust you with future projects.

If you’re finding yourself unable to reel in the reigns on your marketing projects, let alone execute campaigns and projects, our team can help. Reach out and let us know how we can support your team’s strategy or execution efforts.


About the Author

Kimberly Hemesath

Kimberly is a Project Manager at DemandLab. She brings nearly a decade of account and project management expertise, five of which were earned in a high-volume agency environment where she had an opportunity to work with national brands.

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