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Report Writing

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One of our Project Managers has been asked to create a report for a client. However when she did the report here are some of the key points she failed to address:
- identifying the issues that needed to be addressed at the beginning
- planning what info was needed
- structuring the content into a logical, clear order.
- knowing how to present it to a client.
Ultimately she didn't address the fact the report needed to win the client.
Feedback has been given to that person on several occasions and in several ways (mainly by coaching, and showing examples of similar reports) but this does not seem to work as she feels criticised.
She, herself, suggested going on a course but those cost in excess of £1k each and given the low frequency these reports are needed, it does not warrant that expense.
Does anyone have any idea on how to help this person? Are there any books or practical exercises that could help her?
Thank you very much for your help.
Kind Regards,
Chris

Chris Flint

14 Responses

  1. The Pyramid Principle
    You might find the book ‘The Pyramid Principle’ by Barbara Minto. ISBN 0-273-61710-9 A lot of the top consultancies use this as their basis for report writing. It is excellent. Barbara Minto also runs courses on these but they are very expensive and exceed £1,000! I do have details of a similar but less expensive course if anyone is interested – email me as I don’t have it to hand.

    Alternatively, a less expensive course is through the Plain English Campaign – http://www.plainenglish.co.uk/they can offer courses and a facility to review reports etc. I highly recommend their courses, trainers and material but have never used them to review material.

    Annah

  2. Questions…
    Hi Chris,

    Before deciding upon a solution I would like to understand a little more about how the situation has arisen.

    – Does the person clearly understand the objectives of the report and how ‘success’ will be measured?
    – Do they have all the necessary skills and knowledge?
    – What is in it for them?
    – What will happen if the report is not effective (this may be as simple as job retention!)
    – Do they know the client well enough to be able to tailor the report to meet their needs?

    After the event, it would also be interesting to know how the feedback was delivered and by whom. You mention that she feels criticised but is this down to her attitude or simply the way the feedback was delivered? Most people will critique their own work when given the opportunity to review it in line with the agreed objectives.

    Finally, if it is a lack of skill or knowledge, the solution may depend in part upon her preferred learning style. Whilst books work for some, others learn best by watching, doing, being coached, etc; etc.

    I hope this helps,

    Kind regards,

    Colin Hamilton
    email: [email protected]

  3. Was the feedback constructive?
    Hi Chris
    Sounds like you have done what any good coach would do. ie saying exactly whaat she failed to address and giving examples of good practice. But getting feedback can be very hurtful – we all know that from times when we’ve had to take it on the chin!
    Was there any coaching before the event so that the person concerned would know exactly what was expected in terms of structure, content, language, style etc?
    Maybe you need to produce some ‘good practice’ criteria so anyone writing a report will know what to aim for in future.
    Be aware that to be motivating and helpful, feedback needs to be positive as well as negative
    She need specific feedback on what she did well so that she can build on that. Also, it’s not a good idea to list too many ‘areas for development’ in the feedback as no-one can deal with more than two or three at any time!
    I have some materials on giving feedback that I can let you have if you e-mail me. It’s a minefield!

    Jane

  4. Report Writing
    Hi Chris,

    Getting a writer to recognise a need to improve their report writing skills-and to commit themselves to doing so-can indeed be a challenge.

    As you know, the ability to prepare a clear, accurate report is a ‘make or break’ skill for project managers who seek to advance their careers, or to show that their contribution adds value for the organization and its customers.

    I think you’re right to question the value of classroom-based approaches to developing report writing skills. Today, I try to talk prospects out of this approach. Having delivered this type of training, I’m convinced that, for any real skill development to take place, a writer must write. Any writer committed to improving their skills must also be receptive to one-to-one coaching, guidance and helpful feedback. In other words, what you’re taking the time to do now. Painful, perhaps, but necessary.

    For the kind of money you’re talking about, your ‘project manager’ can be well along the way to a recognised management qualification: one which includes formative support and assessment of work-based projects and management report writing skills.

    For self-paced resources to support this approach, Elaine Booher’s series of communication resources can be valuable to those who seek to improve their report writing and communication skills. These can be found at the usual online sources, or at

    http://booher.com/

    Another useful resource is the trusty ‘Project and Report Writing’ (Pergamon Flexible Learning Super Series). A required activity for all my ILM programme candidates who have yet to master the art of report writing, it’s clearly better value for money than you’ve quoted for that classroom course, especially when supported by a helpful manager in the workplace.

    Usual disclaimers apply.

    Regards,

    Scott G. Welch
    http://www.cavuperformance.com

  5. If all I have is a hammer…
    What an interesting case.

    Firstly, how much is winning a client worth to your company? Rather more than £1k, I would guess. In which case, assuming that the course is any good, how does this constitute an “unwarranted expense”? The course should pay for itself in just one report.

    Secondly, I wonder if this is maybe a case of “to a man with a hammer everything looks like a nail.”

    Just because the problem has arisen in the context of training does not, per se, mean that it is a training problem. On the contrary, given the minimal information you have supplied, it seems *possible* that there are factors at work here which have little to do with training.

    Why does this person want to go on a £1k course – because they know it will resolve the situation, or because they want to be treated as someone who the company sees as being worth sending on a £1k course?

    Why has this person not learnt from previous attempts to help them?
    + Was the “coaching” not appropriate/of the required standard?
    + Is it indeed, as a previous responder suggested, the Peter Principle at work?
    + Is the person engaged in a battle of wills with the company/the training department/whoever?
    + Does the person simply not see this as being a rightful part of their job?
    + Does the person have something in their past that leads them to be afraid that they will fail? Seeing every attempt at feedback as criticism suggests that this *might* be the case.

    It seems to me that a session or two with a *properly qualified* coach (i.e. someone with a formal qualification in psychology) is required here. And that’s unlikely to come cheaply either.
    But then again, you get what you pay for.

    Best wishes

    Andy B.

  6. Do we really get what we pay for?
    Chris, having described what appears to be a ‘can’t do’ or ‘won’t do’ performance issue, and a cost v. benefit analyis of the proposed training solution, has asked this forum for help, ideas and alternative solutions. I don’t see that as ‘hammer and nail’ thinking.

    If there’s any ‘hammer and nail’ thinking here, it might just be in offering you ‘get what you pay for’ advice before understanding the performance context or value proposition.

    I’d offer that other alternatives suggested here (house standards, templates or job aids; better feedback) are at least as likely to succeed as underwriting a ‘you’re worth it’ investment in specialist training or coaching would be. Because, from where I’m sitting, keeping a project manager who can’t–or won’t– do completed staff work on the payroll is a ‘you’re worth it’ expense.

    If it’s ‘can’t do’ and development is the answer, the proposed investment in a short course could be more cost-effectively applied as a down payment on an accredited qualification that includes project writing skill development.

    If it’s ‘won’t do,’ I’d suggest what’s needed isn’t a hammer, but a mirror. And, as suggested by others in this thread, the responsible line manager should be just as capable of holding up that mirror as any “properly qualified” coach.

    If they’re not, that’s another performance issue.

  7. Context, context, context
    Perhaps it is worth pointing out that ALL human mental/emotional activity is covered by “psychology” – which means that it is applicable and relevant in almost any area of activity, NOT just those occasions where counselling or therapy is required.

    The value of having a coach adequately qualified in psychology is, first and foremost, that they *should* be able to recognise whether, in a situation such as this, the problem is simply a lack of skill – or something more profound.
    The ease with which behavioural problems can be misdiagnosed has been more than adequately illustrated by examples such as those quoted in Steven Berglas’ article “The Very Real Dangers of Executive Coaching” in the June 2001 issue of the Harvard Business Review.

    I was specifically addressing the situation described by Chris Flint, which does indeed SEEM to involve some fairly significant kind of behavioural/attitude problem rather than a run of the mill situation, though of course it is hard to tell given the limited information Chris has been able to make public.

    It was NOT my intention to imply that ALL coaching should be carried out exclusively by fully qualified psychologists, and if I gave that impression please accept my apologies.

    Best wishes

    Andy B.

  8. Thank You
    Dear All,

    Thank you very much to all of you for responding to my query.

    Being very new to Training, this has been invaluable information and a tremendous help.

    Thank you so much for your support.

    Kind Regards

    Chris

  9. Context? Exactly!
    Andy,

    Thanks for reminding us of the scope of psychology’s application in our field. I hope everyone else who has contributed to this thread appreciates that insight as much as I did.

    If you value astute insights from ‘qualified psychologists’, you might, if you haven’t read it yet, be interested in what Dr. Richard Farson has to say about the ‘Dilemmas of Change’ and ‘The Aesthetics of Leadership’ in ‘Management of the Absurd.’

    Help me to understand you. If your plea is for ‘Context, Context, Context’, then why suggest that “…a session or two with a *properly qualified* coach (i.e. someone with a formal qualification in psychology) is *required* (my emphasis) here” without first fully understanding that context?

    If the literature you’ve cited shows that poorly trained coaches have ‘misdiagnosed’ behavioural difficulties in coaching settings, can we not also cite examples of ‘properly qualified’ experts who got it wrong?

    The people who are best placed to understand and help people solve performance issues are not, in my view, outside experts, but professional managers and training practitioners at the sharp end. Part of that expertise includes knowing our limitations; when to refer someone for specialist help: *if* it’s needed.

    But by citing research showing that unqualified generalists have ‘misdiagnosed’ behavioural problems in the workplace in other settings in support of your suggestion that specialist intervention is ‘required’, It seems you’ve leaped to step D without first considering alternatives A, B, and C. Sounds like ‘two hammers; one nail’ to me.

    Practically speaking, I don’t know many organizations that would have the pocket to underwrite such a leap before considering more cost-effective alternatives. The money we’re talking about here could easily amount to one individual’s slice of the annual development budget.

    According to Dr. Nanette Miner’s ‘Evaluations Ain’t What They Used To Be’, “Alan Weiss, Ph.D., President of Summit Consulting Group based in East Greenwich, Rhode Island, believes that at least 10-20% of our audiences have a personality disorder which impacts the type of feedback they provide.” Presumably, these easily ‘misdiagnosed’ disorders might also affect one’s ability to accept feedback, or to assess its relevance and importance.

    Who knows? I might be part of that population myself. But, when faced with the reality that my own completed staff work wasn’t pleasing the boss or my readers, I was able to accept that reality and improve that performance. And without benefit of a £1000.00 report writing course or a ‘properly qualified’ coach.

    Regards,

    Scott G. Welch

  10. ??????
    Scott

    I find it very difficult to discuss with you material which you have not actually read.

    You are entitled to your opinion, as I am to mine.

    I beg to differ.
    What else needs to be said?

    Andy B.

  11. Do we really differ?
    >I find it very difficult to discuss with you material which you have not actually read.

    Andy,

    How can you be sure I haven’t ‘actually read’ this ‘material’ you’re talking about?

    And how is this relevant to the issue under discussion?

    >You are entitled to your opinion, as I am to mine.

    That’s very true, which is why I think these discussion forums are great. We’ve helped a colleague to explore a number of options for dealing with a performance issue in the workplace. Insights and resources were offered by others. I learned much from them.

    >I beg to differ.

    In what respect?

    I’d say you and I agree that training might not be the answer here. I think your ‘hammer and nail’ analogy was on target, too. But, to me, some of your convictions, and the way they were expressed, *seemed* inconsistent with the latter philosophy.

    The interventions you’ve suggested might very well be appropriate and effective in this case. I’ve merely suggested there are other, more cost-effective options worth considering first.

    Regards,

    Scott G. Welch

  12. self critique through adopting the role of the customer
    my suggestion is to coach her from the customer’s perspective. This would involve giving her a brief which necessitated her having to decide whether to purchase a product or service on the stregth of a report. The report would be written so that the faults in her own report writing were reproduced. In getting her to criticise the report this would enable her to identify the ramifications of her own shortcomings and make the process of coaching her more relevant,acceptable and effective.

  13. Do we really differ – response
    Scott

    You ask:

    “How can you be sure I haven’t ‘actually read’ this ‘material’ you’re talking about?”

    Well, if someone writes/says something like this:

    “If the literature you’ve cited shows…”

    as you did in your previous mail, I imagine they are using the word “If” because they either haven’t read the material in question, or have read it but didn’t understand it.

    I assumed that you were perfectly capable of understanding an HBR article IF you had read it, therefore …

    Best wishes

    Andy B.

  14. A little learning….
    ‘A little learning is a dangerous thing; Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring: There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain, and drinking largely sobers us again.’

    -Alexander Pope

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