Most project sponsors regularly make this mistake

Not briefing their project managers effectively enough.

How do I know? Project managers regularly tell me this is so and the stories they tell supports this. Take this comment from a recent project management course about a case study briefing.

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

These are words I have heard quite a number of times and he was referring to a case study which we use throughout the project management programme. It is 315 words long and takes up ¾ of a page of paper. The person went on to say that on his last project he received a quick conversation (in the corridor) which lasted about 30 seconds.  (For a 9 months project costing just over £100,000). As someone on the course said, : “not the best way to start a project”

I explored the comment in more detail with the group and others had similar experiences. No one suggested their briefing was good or excellent.

I have worked with many sponsors and when briefing comes up and I mention what project managers say they tell me they have had little or no briefing training. Project managers would certainly agree.

Training activity revealed huge gap in briefing skills 

For a specific client, I developed a briefing activity for a group of project sponsors. The activity involves 3 people with one person being briefed by another with the 3rd person acting as observer. They rotate among the 3 roles and then I review the outcomes. I start the feedback by asking the what the project is all about. Very few people get anywhere near the actual brief!

Poor briefing leads to misunderstandings and wasted effort and there are many ways that they can be improved.

The key one is for the briefer (the person giving the briefing or who should brief the project manager or team) needs to accept that briefing is a skill and without this, the negative views of project managers will prevail.

Most project sponsors make the mistake of not briefing their project managers effectively.It need not be this way.

Now I can give you the 8 point plan for better briefing however I have set that aside and you can download this here if you wish.

However, I want to mention a story about a lot of effort, 2 weeks wasted on a project and some disengaged stakeholders.

A story of wasted time and disillusioned stakeholders 

I met a project manager who mentioned that his briefing was non-existent. His sponsor told him in a few minutes about a new project and then went to a meeting. The duration of this interaction was less than one minute.  The project manager (he assumed he was) tried to get more information from the sponsor however he kept getting put off with booked meetings cancelled. Knowing there was a project to develop and deliver he set about being proactive meeting some key stakeholders. However, some were very reluctant to meet and they were not too forthcoming with information when they did sit down with him.  This meant going around these people to meet yet more stakeholders. He worked really hard over a two week period to establish some basic facts, facts which the sponsor could have given in a more effective briefing.

Briefing of project managers is not thought as a skill or thought of as necessary by a lot of project sponsors. Project managers, you can change this by being more assertive and using your people skills. Project sponsors you can change this as well by accepting there is a need to spend time briefing and to get feedback on how successful it was.

The alternatives…2 weeks wasted…stakeholders not engaged and a disillusioned project manager.

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