Anyone who’s spent any time in the construction industry at any level understands there are a lot of moving parts that need to mesh together perfectly in order for the project to succeed. Architecture, design, supply, and assembly all need to be perfectly balanced. And if one thing goes awry, it can throw off the entire schedule.

One thing that is crucial for project management success is something that is also often overlooked: expectation setting. What is expectation setting and why is it an essential part of project management success?


Challenges to Project Management Success

There are so many moving parts in any construction project that it doesn’t take much for a small problem to become a wrench in the works. What are some of the most common challenges to project management success?

  • Lack of Defined Objectives — Remember all those moving parts? If they aren’t kept in line with clearly defined objectives, a project can become nearly impossible to manage.
  • Budget Issues — Poor or incomplete budget projections or cost overruns can cause significant problems for project managers.
  • Time Management Failures — Those deadlines aren’t just suggestions. Failing to manage time properly can create massive issues both for project managers and with the clients who are waiting for their jobs to be finished.
  • Unforeseen Hazards — The construction industry is still one of the most dangerous in the world. Managing those hazards needs to be a top priority to prevent them from causing injuries or fatalities on the site.
  • Unrealistic Expectations — Expectations and results don’t always match, often because the expectations are entirely unrealistic. This is where expectation setting comes into play.


Define Expectation Setting

At its most basic, expectations setting is “the process of communicating what is expected.” It is the responsibility of a project manager to both outline these expectations and deliver them to crew and client alike. Everyone involved in the project needs to know what is expected of them and what they can expect every step of the way.

It is essential to set realistic expectations during this step. It’s easy to promise the stars, but when it becomes impossible to build the rockets necessary to get there, those big promises come back to bite project managers.


Ensuring Project Management Success

Expectation setting is just one part of the pre-construction steps that companies should be taking before they ever sign a contract or break ground. This, and other pre-constructions steps like budgeting, design development, and value engineering can all help prevent problems that could cause some of the project management challenges listed above.

Project managers need to ensure reasonable expectations are discussed during this planning and pre-construction phase. What are some other steps project managers can take to help ensure the success of their next project?

Start at the beginning by building the best team. These individuals don’t only need the skills to do their jobs — they need to also be able to work together smoothly to reach the same goals. Conflict within the team will only cause avoidable delays. Any conflicts that do arise need to be resolved as quickly as possible.

Ensure that all requirements are thoroughly understood and documented. Everyone, from the newest labourer to the highest-paid CEO and the client paying the bills, needs to understand what is required of them going into the project. Don’t leave any room for interpretation or guesswork. Things don’t need to be set in stone, because a certain amount of flexibility is necessary for a successful project, but they need to be well established and difficult to change unless it’s absolutely necessary.

Before the first workers appear on-site, strive to create a realistic schedule. Again, this step requires a certain amount of flexibility because no schedule will ever be perfect or unchangeable, but a fairly solid outline is necessary for project management success.

Finally, focus on open and honest communication throughout the process. Project managers need to be able to talk to anyone, regardless of an established chain of command, to ensure everything goes smoothly. These managers also need to be honest with crews and clients alike when something goes wrong. Owning up to a mistake gives team members the chance to fix it. Lying about it or trying to hide it will just cause more problems further down the line.


Expectation Setting for Construction Projects

When it comes down to it, all the biggest problems in the construction industry can be tied to the problem of unrealistic expectations. They say to “shoot for the moon,” but the problem with aiming that high is that the disappointment upon failure becomes legendary. Instead of building a rocket to the moon, start by building a ladder. Small steps and realistic expectations will help bring even the seemingly unattainable within reach.


By Evelyn Long, Editor-in-Chief of Renovated.