Project Management and Client Expectations

A major challenge in our industry is project management and client expectations. We’ve all experienced the project that went south resulting in major stress and a frustrated or angry client. However, most of these problems can be resolved before hand if you set reasonable expectations up front. Easier said than done in my experience. So, here is what I’ve learned from many sleepless nights.


Ask clients before a project what they expect from you. If they are expecting something that can’t be delivered it’s best to work this out before hand. For example, perhaps a client wants an immediate response to his/her emails. This is unrealistic because it disrupts the workflow in your office and consumes resources especially if you have an email happy client. Have language in your contract or project proposal that states response times, for example, all non-urgent emails and phone calls will be responded to within 24 hours. Don’t forget to define urgent because in the mind of a client everything is urgent.

On the other hand it is necessary to communicate your expectations of your client. We often need a decision or clarification from a client in order to proceed with their project. We send an email and after a day or two we get no response or the “We’ll get back to you shortly on this.”  Then what happens? The client responds on a Friday evening and expects us to continue as if no time was lost, same deadline, same deliverables. In order to protect yourself from such a scenario be sure to have language in your proposal to mitigate this issue.

Project Scope

Scope creep is a reality of any project-based business. Despite your best efforts to define the specs and requirement of a project additional requests start to come in from the client. As soon as you agree to accommodate any additional specs you’ve opened the floodgates. Now your client expects that all requests will be met with the same response and you are now a yes man or woman. It is much easier to put your client on a short leash at the beginning than try to shorten the leash at a later point in the project.

First, it’s important to define all the specs and moving parts of a project with as much clarity as possible and to include these details in a project proposal document. We explicitly state that any additional work to the project scope is billable at an hourly rate. Clearly defining boundaries at this early stage will help limit potential scope creep.

So, you don’t have to say no to your client. Instead explain how the changes will affect the existing project. Then if they still want to proceed explain how the change will require documentation, adjustment to delivery date, and most importantly additional billing. It’s interesting how changes become less important to a client when they have to pay for these changes.

Although it is impossible to anticipate all challenges that will or could arise with your clients; you can ask yourself where the most stress is emanating from. From this point you can begin to set clearer expectations for yourself, employees, and/or clients.