Goldilock’s zone briefing
Sometimes briefing a colleague or agency outside your skillset is easy - you know what you want and the tasks are clear. I call this ‘transactional briefing’, which is often captured in a standardised RFP or brief. But outside this you are ‘solution briefing’ and the trick is to brief in the Goldilocks zone, which doesn't just apply to porridge or exoplanets!
It's so easy to start briefing too early with too little definition of the situation and what is needed. Equally, it's easy to be well-intentioned and start too late with too much information and definition, and then the brief can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
How do you know you're not in the Goldilocks zone?
Whether briefing too early and under-defined or too late and over-defined, at the back of your mind there's always that question: are we missing something? Have we left out some critical factors in the brief? Have we been so prescriptive that we've ruled out approaches we haven't thought of, and now won't see?
The natural reaction to avoid this, and stay in the Goldilocks zone, is to start with a standard template or set of headings and fill it in without over-working it. The result, a thorough-looking set of answers, can create false hope. They can be filled in early, look complete and feel ready to go. Of course, a brief is only as good as the data that goes in. Even if it has good, relevant data, there are the 'unknown unknowns'. Inevitably with a small set of headings or standard questions have you really unpacked your needs and situation in the right way, considering differing needs and perspectives?
The way to brief in the Goldilock's zone is not about answering a magical set of questions, but a cliche: define the problem, not the solution.
Problem sounds negative, so if you prefer, think about describing your problem as a set of challenges and goals, with barriers and opportunities.
Adopting a Problem-Solution mindset in briefing creates more open responses, but can feel like a risky and inefficient approach inviting costly, impractical and irrelevant answers. It shouldn't do, it probably means your time and resource constraints haven't been clearly enough set out in the definition of the problem (or challenges or barriers if you prefer).
Staying in the zone after briefing
It's tricky to stay in the Goldilock's zone when looking at proposals, because the natural way to assess is to look for the 'best' solution, for what looks / feels 'good', even if it is only an indicative prototype. To avoid this build and share a working set of criteria to articulate and recognise what a good solution could look like, accepting that they will probably be evolved and refined as you start scoping and developing the actual solution in detail.
There isn't a perfect brief that leads to great solutions, especially in today's environment. Shorter rather than longer briefs are good so the essence of problem isn't lost and remains your focus, and the focus of everyone who is creating and delivering the solution for you.