Sounding Board - how is it used?

The term Sounding Board is used for a technique that is used in change processes. It is a moderation and feedback method designed to capture views and assessments of different stakeholders and users. The background of this method lies in the effort to actively solicit feedback. The so-called Sounding Board plays a central role in this.

It is a body that meets regularly in moderated meetings and provides advice to the various projects and processes. A sounding board is therefore there to capture the mood, opinions and, in general, feedback from the entire workforce of a company. The method originated in change management, where it is all the more important to involve and capture everyone involved and to know what is going on in their heads. A change process will inevitably fail if everyone secretly thinks it's stupid and just carries on as before. In many other areas, however, a sounding board can also have positive effects.
Two men and two women sitting at a table in a business meeting laughing

One term - two meanings

The term sounding board basically has two meanings. A meaning of the term could be sounding body as well as test group. In other words, either a pool of different sounds that are picked up or a pool of people on the basis of which insights are to be gained.

In project management, sounding board refers to the feedback method just described and, at the same time, to the body made up of its members. This board, this committee, does not make any decisions. It serves as a collection point, but also as an analysis point of the feedback. The term sounding board is basically not entirely inappropriate, because the sounding board in a company is actually supposed to collect all the different sounds and gain insights from them. The sounding board has long since been used in more than just change management. Sounding boards are used in the development of marketing campaigns to capture feedback and ideas at an early stage. In research and development projects, the goal of a sounding board is also to capture opinions at an early stage of the project. In portfolio management, sounding boards are used to sound out which projects, which may be competing for resources or budgets, are the most promising. If the sounding board is truly independent and objective, it often succeeds in hearing voices that would otherwise be lost in the crowd of opinions and, more importantly, in the face of generally accepted opinion. Basically, a sounding board can also be used in general management and consulting. The possibilities of the method are manifold and it always makes sense when honest feedback is desired across several hierarchy levels.

Composition and purpose

The composition of the Sounding Board is not necessarily defined. The choice of members usually depends heavily on the purpose of the board. It is conceivable that certain key people from a company are integrated into the sounding board. Perhaps it makes sense for someone responsible from marketing or customer service to be involved. Depending on the project, it may be a good idea to involve someone from the customer side or an external partner. So a sounding board can be composed in very different ways, including a focus on certain aspects. Between five and 70 people is not uncommon, depending on the size of the company and whether there are different or even international locations that should all be represented on the sounding board. Make sure there is some diversity on the sounding board. Bring together professionals from a wide range of backgrounds and mix qualifications and experience to cover as broad a range as possible. In this way, you will get a wide-ranging picture of the mood, which will also be recognized and represented in all its facets. If you are planning a sounding board in which as much expertise as possible is to be bundled, 10-15 people are often sufficient, although they should then be independent experts in their respective fields. So depending on the purpose, the composition changes accordingly.

Procedure of a meeting

So how does it work when the sounding board meets? This also depends on how it is composed and what it is used for. Is it a matter of freely obtaining feedback or an opinion, or are variants to be compared in a targeted manner?
 
Example open feedback:
Prepare the meeting in such a way that you inform the members of the sounding board about the contents of the meeting. Everyone should form an opinion in advance on the basis of the topic and collect ideas. Indicate how feedback will be collected: Verbally or in writing? - And how it should be recorded (logged). Does a clear decision need to be made at the end or is it more about collecting ideas? Determine whether opinions and ideas should only be formulated or also discussed. You decide. Afterwards, you will have a collection of ideas that you can publish, analyze and compare.
 
Example Evaluation:
A sounding board can also be used to evaluate alternatives. However, this is only possible if there are already variants on the table that the sounding board can compare. In this case, the variants are presented and each member gives individual feedback on each variant, which in turn is recorded and discussed if necessary (but not mandatory). Make sure that there are always fixed time slots for presentations as well as for the feedbacks, so that everyone can have their say and a comparison of the variants is also possible.
Autorin: IAPM intern 

Key words: Project management, Change management, term, feedback

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