Project sponsors; how good are you at briefing your project managers?

“This is a long; much longer than a briefing note I would normally get from my manager or sponsor.”

These are words spoken by someone on a project management course. They were referring to a case study, 315 words long which took up less than a page of paper. The person went on to say they hardly receive a one line e mail, or a face to face briefing (which in some cases lasts no longer than 30 seconds) when being briefed about a project by their sponsor.

This brings me to a briefing activity we sometimes do with project sponsors. The activity involves 3 people with one person being briefed by another, and with the 3rd person acting as observer. I start the feedback by asking the person who was briefed to say what the project is all about. Their understanding was very low.

Poor briefing leads to misunderstandings and wasted effort to name a few. So what are some of the rules for better briefing by sponsors?


How long a briefing do you get when 'handed' a project?

How long a briefing do you get when ‘handed’ a project?

  • have a clear objective and say what you think it is in your briefing, acknowledging that this may change once the business case is developed
  • plan for the briefing – allow your self time to think how information will be presented. What documentation do you need? Who do you need the project manager to speak to?
  • analyse the person being briefed and build this into your plan. For example, the person may like to ask a lot of questions or they relate more to written documentation which allows you to prepare accordingly
  • test understanding by asking questions ensuring the person understands
  • think about the time and the place for the briefing to take place (you would be surprised by some of the places people tell me they have received a [verbal] brief)
  • recognise you may not have all the details at that time but the project needs to establish what is known/unknown
  • get feedback yourself! You will only improve if you know how you have done and what better way to check than when you have just briefed someone

As a sponsor are you and your colleagues trained sufficiently well to brief people effectively?




Image courtesy of Choices by Renjith Krishnan ID 10023497

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7 Responses to Project sponsors; how good are you at briefing your project managers?

  1. Pingback: Project sponsors; how good are you at briefing your project managers? | #PMChat

  2. Ian Cribbes says:

    Another excellent article. I would like to add that in my experience part of the issue surrounding misunderstanding is the inability (sometimes unwillingness) of the project manager to a) listen (not just hear what is being said), b) question / discuss the project scope and objectives. The meeting (briefing) between the project sponsor and the project manager should be a two way discussion on how to best achieve the objectives.

    • Ron Rosenhead says:

      I agree Ian. During a recent project management course, a project manager told the rest of the course (who were somewhat surprised by his open admission) that he had been criticised by his team for “not listening properly.” He took this on board and since then the feedback has been very positive. But he said, it took some working at.

      Listening is a skills that still needs to be mastered by many. Having the openness like this person is a good start.

      Many thanks for your comment Ian.

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  5. Peter Westerhof says:

    Given the use of the best practices methodology Prince2 the project brief may be very brief indeed. The point being to be a first step to producing a Project Initiation Document.

    If the sponsor does not mean what (s)he is saying, why does (s)he not say what (s)he means?
    I would also suggest to reverse the rules suggested above. The sponsor would do better to let the project manager ask the questions, Thereby verifying the project manager’s understanding, but also recalibrating his/her own views on the matter.
    It indeed should be a two way discussion on how to best achieve the objectives. This means ‘listening to understand, not listening to speak’.

    The project sponsor is the shipowner. the project manager is ‘only’ the captain. Any misunderstanding on that – miscommunication being a large part of that – and the ship is doomed before it sails.

    • Ron Rosenhead says:

      Peter, thanks for this. I do like the analogy of the ship owner…

      This week, I have been with a group where some people agreed that they needed to have 2 way conversations but they do not engage. The sponsor is a sponsor in name only or simply absent….If there is no engagement then it becomes very difficult.

      Briefing is a skill, it is not viewed as one sadly

      Many thanks again Peter.

      Ron Rosenhead

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