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How to Manage Client Expectations

Posted by Alan Magnan on 3/1/12 4:03 AM
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In any training project, you have two options for a favorable outcome: you either meet your client's expectations, or you manage his/her expectations. Too often, management sets project parameters that are unrealistic, and training professionals simply figure they'll find a way to make it happen.


The first time I heard about the triangle of expectations, it was a catchy phrase. It went, “You can have it good, fast, or cheap; pick two.” If you want it good and fast, it will be pricey. If you want it cheap and good, it will take a long time. If you want it fast and cheap, it will stink.

This little gem has worked wonders for me. I've found myself drawing a triangle on a piece of paper in front of clients. On each side of the triangle, I place the words, “resources,” “time,” and “quality.” I then refer to the specific project constraints that I feel make the client's vision unrealistic. I've had clients change deadlines, add people, or sometimes just reduce the scope of a project after this kind of conversation.

This conceptual model can also help you manage scope creep. What is scope creep, you ask? Have you ever had a client come to you halfway through a training design project and ask, “Hey, since we'll have these people in the room during the course, can you also cover [insert brand new unplanned course content here]?” When this has happened to me, I've drawn my trusty triangle. The words on the triangle were now “time,” “resources,” and “specifications.” Then I was able to ask my client whether we would add time (project days) or resources (more people) to the project, since the specifications (amount of content) were now changing.

Whether it's used at the start or a project, or partway through one, this little triangle gives you a framework for managing the expectations of your clients. It's not a very pleasant conversation to undergo, but it's better than the conversation you experience at the end of a project when you didn't meet the client's expectations.


Alan has been a course leader with Langevin since 1996. He studied business administration at Algonquin College of Applied Arts and Technology. Alan’s philosophy on training is that it can be fun, engaging, and active, but that’s just what’s on the surface. Training must also be practical, realistic, and applicable. Alan is a computer geek at heart and enjoys programming and gaming in his spare time. He’s also a great fan of the outdoors during the summer months, and when the winter moves in, you’ll find him reading, or recording and playing music.

Topics: managing training, job performance

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