David Maister wrote the definitive guide to running a professional service firm (if you are running a PR company, I'd say it is required reading)
This is a recent blog post on the subject of ensuring you get the right brief from a client or colleague.
Wise words indeed.
When someone gives you a task to do, say something like ‘I really want to do a great job for you, so can I clarify a few things?’ Most people will say ‘Yes.’ You can then be sure you understand the following details about your assignment –
1) The context of the assignment – ‘Please could you tell me what you are going to do with this when I get it done, tell me who is it for, and where does it fit with other things going on?’
2) Deadline – When would you like it, and when is it really due?
3) Scope – Would you like me to do the thorough job and take a little longer, or the quick and dirty version?
4) Format – How would you like to see the output of my work presented? What would make your life easier?
5) Time budget – Roughly how long would you expect this to take (so I can tell whether I’m on track or not?)
6) Relative priority – What’s the importance of this task relative to the other things you have asked me to do?
7) Available resources – Is there anything available to help me get the job done? For example, have we done one of these before?
8) Success criteria – How will the work be judged? Is it more important to be fast, cheap or perfect?
9) Monitoring and scheduled check points – Can we, please, schedule now a meeting, say, halfway through so I can show you what I’ve got and ensure that I’m on track for your needs?
10) Understanding – can I just read back to you what you’ve asked me to do, to confirm that I got it down right?
11) Concerns – before I get started can I just share with you any concerns about getting this done (e.g., other demands on my time) so that I don’t surprise you later?
Yes, your client or boss should be good at delegating or assigning work and giving you this information anyway. But the truth is that many people won’t have thought through what they really want from you until you guide them through their ‘either-or’ choices.
If you have not received answers to these questions, you don’t yet know what to do, and the risk of being judged a failure is high!
Don’t rely on your superior (or external client) to give you all this information. Pull it out of him or her.