Successful mentors set expectations at the start of their projects. This includes communication frequency, project goals, availability and ways of delivering feedback. While the mentor should take the lead in expectation setting, the process of creating and documenting the expectations must be collaborative. Students and mentors need to agree on what is expected, or success becomes quite difficult.

Defining Success

Performance measures make it easier to provide feedback, to help your student get back on track if she veers off-course. Clearly stated measures also help you make a fair determination that a student needs to removed from the program.

Get student input: Make sure your student has input into the types of performance measures used to determine success or failure. It is very important that your student helps create the performance measures to determine project success and failures. Your relationship should be a highly collaborative one.

Set achievable goals: Help your student come up with manageable project goals. Rather than defining the project as one giant chunk, help your student break the project goals down into smaller pieces or “inchstones” that allow a change in direction if necessary. It is sad to work the entire summer on one giant deliverable, only find out in the last few weeks that the architecture or design is defective.

Anticipate time away: Make sure to set expectations for known or planned time away from the project, such as course work, vacation trips or holiday time. Talk about how many hours or deliverables per week would be reachable goals and what amount would be a good stretch goal.

Managing Output

Decide in advance what happens when project goals aren’t met. Remember to be flexible if your student has made good progress or has obviously worked hard but needs to re-scope the project at mid-term. Good project management is hard. Your performance measures will help you manage project modifications.

Plan for Slippage: Have a plan to deal with scope-creep and timeline slippage. What if something happens that prevents your student from working successfully for an extended period of time? At which point do you need to terminate the project? Have a plan in place for these scenarios.

Gather Feedback: Your student’s wishes and desires for a successful project are as important as the project goals. Make sure that you solicit and incorporate her feedback when coming up with initial goals, performance measures and communication methods.

Overall, communicate and be reasonable when it comes to your students. Be ready to revise project plans if an unexpected requirement or bug occurs.

Pro Tip: Ask about the weather and local stability of public services. Is your student using the cafe down the street for Internet access? Are there seasonal weather conditions that may lead to flooding and the subsequent inability to turn-on one’s computer? Work on a plan to address these types of environmental issues that can affect both communication and output.

Don’t Be That Guy: No one likes dictators. Work with your student on the development of expectations, rather then barking out orders.

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