How do I set and manage clear project team expectations?

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Have you ever felt that managing your project would be so much easier if everyone involved could just read your mind? If they knew exactly what you wanted, how you wanted it, and when without having to repeat the same conversations over and over again?

Unfortunately, your project team members are not mind readers, and expecting them to be puts the entire team at risk of making mistakes that can negatively impact the progress, quality, and cost of your project. One way to avoid these risks – and set your team and project up for success – is to establish clear expectations up front, and communicate them in a transparent and consistent way from start to finish. This alignment not only creates peace of mind for you as an owner, but ensures everyone on your team know exactly what they are working towards, why it’s important, and their role in making it happen.

To help, we asked MGAC Senior Project Manager, Ted Silence, to share his favorite tools and strategies for getting your entire project team on the same page – and keeping them there.

How are expectations established at the beginning of a project to ensure everyone is on the same page?

First, every single consultant has a contract that defines their individual role, timeline, and deliverables for the project. These contracts set a baseline of understanding for each individual participant, but as we all know, the success of a project hinges on collaboration, communication, and coordination among all parties involved.

To achieve a shared understanding, oftentimes an owner will conduct a partnering session at the outset of their project. In these sessions everyone comes together to discuss common goals and how the team will work together. The result of these conversations are documented in what we call a team charter – or a formalized document that outlines agreed upon goals and processes, and serves as a behavioral guide for the team throughout the life of the project. Some things that may be included in a charter include:

  • WHO: Outline of project stakeholders, identification of core team members
  • WHAT: Project name, outline of key deliverables, project assumptions, project constraints, sustainability targets
  • WHERE: Project location
  • WHEN: Project timeline – including actions, milestones, and associated due dates
  • WHY: Business case, project goals and objectives
  • HOW: Project budget and financials, risk planning, rules of engagement, team culture, RFI response timeframes and guidelines, review and approval timeframes for pay applications and change orders

Once the charter is developed, the entire team signs it and puts it up on the wall in their individual office space. It serves as a constant reminder of what the team is working towards, and a reference to the mutual agreements established by the team at the beginning of the project.

Are there other tools, similar to the charter, that you’ve found useful in setting expectations upfront?

I’ve used a variety of different tools during my time as an owner’s rep, and recommend that every team choose what’s right for them based on the size and complexity of both the team and the project itself. Some tools that can be used to supplement the team charter include:

  • Communication Management Plan: This plan outlines the different ways a team communicates. Typically, the plan includes the identification of all regular meetings and reports and defines the communication type, the objective of the communication, the medium, the frequency, the audience, the owner, and any deliverables that may come as a result of that communication.
  • Communication Matrix: This matrix lists all of the project partners and identifies what information goes to whom. This helps make sure team members are receiving any and all information relevant to their role, and no key stakeholders are left off of crucial communications.
  • RACI Chart: A RACI Chart is a matrix that sets all project activities or goals against key stakeholders and team members. Each intersection identifies the individual or team’s stake of ownership in the result of the activity or goal based on one of four categories: Responsible (who is assigned to do the work), Accountable (who makes the final decision and has ultimate ownership), Consulted (who is consulted before a decision is made), or Informed (who must be informed that a decision was made).
  • Project Directory: The project directory lists every single person on the project – including their title, company, phone number, and email. It sounds simple, but it’s a very useful tool that helps people know who to call when there is a problem. It is especially useful on longer projects where there might be turnover within large teams.

How do you monitor whether expectations are being met throughout the life of a project?

A big part of what we do as owner’s reps is document everything to cover everyone legally. If there are issues down the road with delays or cost impacts, we need to know how we got there. That’s where meeting minutes, schedule updates, and monthly status reports help to tell a story and explain what happened.

One of the most important ways for a team to communicate is by having regular meetings. No one likes to have a lot of meetings because they’re time consuming, but they’re also necessary to keep people informed and facilitate timely decision making. It’s important to send out agendas beforehand so that people know what’s expected of them, and to get feedback from the team about what needs to be on the agenda so that everybody can be as useful as possible in the time allotted. Then, after the meeting, it’s critical that meeting minutes with identified action items are sent within 48 hours. These are important communication tools that not only outline what needs to be done, but they also document where the team is each week, and when and where issues are occurring.

As owner’s reps, we also share monthly updates with the client that include a schedule update, identification of schedule risks, a budget update with construction costs and consultant costs, a risk matrix, and the potential outcome of the project. Basically, it’s a snapshot in time that allows us to track whether expectations are being met, and address issues as they occur – and before they turn into larger problems.

How do clearly defined and mutually agreed upon expectations benefit a project in the long run?

Clearly defined and consistently managed expectations are essential to achieving a project’s goals, but they also have an enormous impact on the overall project experience for everyone involved. I’ve witnessed firsthand how clarity of roles and responsibilities, processes, and team culture can inspire an increased dedication to the project, team, and client. When people feel a part of something bigger, they’re always willing to go the extra mile to see it realized.


Have follow up questions or want to learn more about how clearly established and managed expectations lead to Better Outcomes? Connect with Ted on LinkedIn or reach out via the Contact page on

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Ted Silence

Ted is a Senior Project Manager in MGAC's Seattle office, and recently led the renovation of the Motif Hotel in the heart of the city's Central Business District. His experience, organization, and follow through help clients realize their mission, and believes that a positive mindset is essential to creating solutions that are a win/win for everybody involved.
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