Making projects work

Project Briefing Basics

Many project briefings take place around a meeting-room table, with everyone involved in the project present.  There are physical brief papers — background information, a written brief document, and so on. And there is time to describe the project, flesh out details, respond to questions and clarify points as necessary.

However, increasingly briefs are given to disparate team members in a virtual space. The team leader must trust that the team members have read the briefing documents they’ve shared online. And unless they have video chat, the team members must try to understand entirely from written words — rather than the cues of voice and gesture — what the team leader wants, and what the other team members expect.

Perhaps the biggest, and most subtle, challenge of remote briefing is for the team leader to ensure that all team members receive the same information. There’s a reason why briefings used to see all team members in the same room at the same time, and it wasn’t convenience. Briefing everyone simultaneously ensured consistency of communication, and of comprehension.

It allowed for a single, united understanding to be gained by the project’s various players. Stakeholders might realize in the meeting that they had different expectations, and would be able to thrash those out on the spot. In engaging with a discussion of the project, rather than simply digesting the information they were given, team members were able to identify and rectify gaps in their knowledge.

Taking old-school briefings as an ideal, here are a few ideas for making your next virtual, distributed briefing a success.

1. Brief everyone at the same time

It’s important to brief all project team members simultaneously, no matter where they’re located. Whether you give everyone access to documents in advance of the briefing meeting, or you unveil them once you have everyone together in a virtual space, don’t leave anyone out of any stage of the briefing.

The briefing process is where the foundations for project success are laid. Get this right, and the project outcome is more likely to meet — or exceed — expectations.

2. Have a briefing meeting

Just as important is to arrange a real-time conversation — IM, phone, Skype, web conference, whatever — with all your team members so that you can deliver the brief in person.

Providing access to documents and sending emails to answer questions is nowhere near as effective as a real-time meeting in which your team members can collaborate to garner the information they need. A live, personal exchange is much more likely to give you the chance to shape team members’ expectations for the project appropriately, and to allow your team to reach a sort of group consciousness about the project.

3. Explain overall goals and personal goals

The overall project objective will only be met if individuals reach their own individual goals. To work most effectively, each team member will need to know what the others are doing — who’s producing the outputs they require, at what time, and how those outputs will fit together.

You can silo off the different responsibilities if you really want to, simply procuring each team member’s input as you need them and gluing them together at the end, but that approach obviously negates the possibilities for creative collaboration between disciplines, and reduces the likelihood that your project will exceed its goals.

4. Address each role individually

Don’t assume that project team members will be able to infer what you want them, or their colleagues, to do. Everyone needs to know what you expect of them, but they also need to know exactly what the other team members will be doing, who they can ask questions of, and what kinds of skills and experience are available within the project team.

Outline each team members’ roles and responsibilities in the brief (documents and meeting), and explain what each person brings to the table — why they were selected — for this particular project.

5. Explain how the project will work

This step isn’t just about Gantt charts, budgets and deadlines: it’s also about who’s online when, the tools you’ll use to manage project components, the timezone, language and cultural considerations your team members need to make, and so on.

Creating a team culture, whether your team members operate in the same office, or in different countries, takes some doing. If you’ve made certain plans to establish close, smooth-running, productive working relationships that fulfill team members as well as the project brief, you’ll want to explain those clearly — and invite feedback and contributions — from the outset.

Taking our 6 dimensional model, you can plan your briefing simply and easily. You will be able to make all the key information available, and check in on any gaps that may exist in the project plan and how these might be filled.  The model will also help you answer the “why” questions and set out expectations around standards of performance for each member of the team.

In many project team briefings, the team is unclear about the strengths, skills and talents of the other members of the team, and there is no clear “hub” where information is made available to team members. That is where online tools become so valuable to virtual teams. Huddle is a good example of an application that encourages people to work together across time and space.  The model will help you to identify the skills of each team member, and to ensure everyone has access to and can use the online hub.

Of course, this is only the commencement of the project, and the skills required to see a project through to successful completion will be the subject of another post.

By the end of your briefing team members will be able to

Knowledge: Explain the concepts and principles underpin this project.

Skills: Carry out their role, and understand the roles of others.

Values: Identify the key values for this project and be committed to them.  Understand their performance measures.

Learn: Know their learning needs. How will they find, evaluate and share resources for this project.

People: Effectively work both independently and collaboratively to achieve the project outcomes.

Integration: Understand how this project contributes to the overall performance of the organisation.

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3 Responses to Making projects work

  1. Pingback: Projects and Will Rogers | Dimension 6 New Zealand

  2. Pingback: Leading academic projects – A self-study unit | Dimension 6 New Zealand

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