Six Methods To Manage Client Expectations

Plus a Step-by-Step Guide

Success is usually a matter of perspective.  If your monthly performance was -5% growth compared to the previous year, you would say it was horrible. However, if the prior month you had -20% in YOY growth, things wouldn’t look so bad!

How would your client or boss take the news? It’s all about how and when you communicate it. In other words, you have to manage their expectations.

What are expectations?

An expectation is a belief that something will happen or a feeling about how successful it will be. If your client is expecting 100 sales and believes that you will deliver, and you know they won’t get more than four, you have to manage their expectations. If you come back with five, you’ll be thrilled and they’ll be furious.

Expectations need to include some type of measurement that gives the user a realistic and most likely outcome. How close this metric is from the actual result tells you how well you have handled an expectation.   If your client is expecting to have their home constructed in 8 months and you deliver it on month 7, they will feel successful.  If you deliver it on month 9, they will be quite disappointed.

Why is this important?

  •     To avoid complaints
  •     To avoid discouragement
  •     To encourage repeat business
  •     To make you look good   

Methods for handling expectations

There is no right or wrong formula for this, so test different techniques to find your favorite way of handling expectations.

Whichever formula you use, start early and stick to it during the entire period of the project.  You will notice that the rest of the team will pick up your rhythm.

Below are six useful ways to manage expectations:


Providing reports with the performance shows the scenario during a period in time and allows each person to make their own conclusions. They must be clear, concise, and easy for everyone to understand.  Use the same format during the entire project length.


  •     Explain each result in words
  •     Don’t assume people understand the report; make sure every field is properly labeled
  •     Assume the report will be sent to others outside of the project; ask yourself if they would understand what they are seeing without any additional explanation

Status Updates

Sending updates with details on advancements is usually well received.  Include every area relevant to the item at hand and highlight specifics that you want certain people to be aware of.  Use the same format every time so people get used to reading the file and understanding the advancements.  Include every comment and advancement within the same document.  All details count.


  •     Send updates to everyone involved and extra team members
  •     Use the same file format with additional notes
  •     Send updates about every three days of it’s a short term project, every week or month if it’s a longer term project

Keep a Timeline

Providing a tentative timeline and updating it as the project moves along also gives a real view of where the project stands.  Any delay or additional project add on will be directly reflected on this timeline, making sure that everyone is aware of the planned time shift.


  •     Get the rest of the team to participate in the timeline so they own the goal times
  •     As dates are coming up, make the team aware of what phase you should be on and where you actually are
  •     When doing timeline updates, circle back with everyone again to align them to the new deadlines.
  •     Don’t assume people know what will come next


The key to a successful project is often dependent on whether you arrive to the goal on time or not.  With that in mind, commit to a realistic date and add a cushion to the deadline.  Remember quality over quantity, so allocate the proper time needed to get all the steps done.


  •     Make sure to keep timing realistic

Status Calls

If your project is a long term one, include a monthly status call.  Having a phone conversation makes such a difference.


  •     Have key people involved
  •     Encourage everyone to participate and open up
  •     Listen to everything everyone has to say and include everyone
  •     Everyone’s comments matter, take into account and include within your planning


One of the key responsibilities of a project leader is to keep the team pumped until they reach the finish line.  The more motivated the team is, the better they will perform and the more they will want to work for you, so handling expectations also includes a pat on the back to the team.  Keep that motivation by thanking everyone for their work.  Whether the results are delayed or ahead, whether there were mistakes or not; everyone is contributing and should be recognized.

Benefits of handling expectations:

  •     Everyone will be on the same page to avoid any surprises.  This allows each member of the team to drive alongside the strategies and have an expectation based on what the current status is.
  •     Everyone is happy because what they expect is aligned to what the outcome will be, regardless of whether it’s positive or negative.  They are part of the entire process.
  •     It is easy to succeed because you walk every team member through all the challenges and accomplishments, which they also own.
  •     More feedback and cooperation will cause the team to own the project and be ready for any outcome.
  •     The team stays motivated and once the project is done, they will want to work with you again.

How does culture play into handling expectations?

Countries around the world have different customs, work trends, and cultures.  Each culture is very different, and I have experienced enough of them to know that the more we handle expectations, the more successful projects will be.  Some cultures take deadlines very lightly, and others make it the key to the project’s success.  Play it safe and provide the proper status update schedule to handle expectations and everyone will he satisfied with the end result.

Step by Step Guide to Handling Expectations

1)    Define the project at hand, the scope of work, and measurable goals to reach.  Every person involved in the project should agree to this term to confirm they are all on the same page.

2)    Set up a status schedule where on a given date, you email everyone informing them of the project advancements. Make sure all parties know this schedule.

3)    The first email should be sent to everyone at the beginning of the project with the conclusions and it should include:

a)    Scope of the project and goal to reach

b)    Project participants

c)    Their role

d)    Their contact info

e)    Status schedule

4)    Set a reminder for yourself on the dates when you need to send a status update and include everyone involved.  This will be the only time when you need to include everyone.

a)    Make sure you have the latest update from every team member included in this status email.

b)    Include whether you are on track or not (If you need more time, schedule a meeting to decide a new deadline)

c)    Include encouraging, uplifting words like “we are close to the finish line” or “I trust our team is doing their best to make this happen” or “congratulations to everyone for getting this far.”

5)    Celebrate once the project is done and thank everyone involved.

Tips for your status update emails:

  •    Send them during the same day every time and at the same time if possible
  •    If you are not ready to send an update, send an email informing that you are delayed on sending the update and when to expect it
  •    Keep it short and sweet, and try to use bullet points
  •    Include next steps that will be worked on during the upcoming week
  •    Use the same email format and layout
  •    Send the new update as reply-all to the previous week’s update


Handling expectations is essential to the success of your career, so take the time to follow the right steps to get everyone in your company on board and drive your project well.  Starting and finishing projects makes your company advance, which in turn makes you advance. Handle the expectations well and you will be able to drive smoothly to the project’s finish line.


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