A Simple Project Checklist for Occasional Project Managers
May 29, 2021

5 Steps to Writing a Clear Project Brief

By Brian McHale

Just been put in charge of a new team project at work?

Not sure how to pitch your ideas?

That all sounds very familiar.

If you’re an occasional project manager (aka project management isn’t actually your full-time job but you sometimes take on the challenge anyway) then this is the article for you.

We’re going to teach you everything you need to know about writing a knock-out project brief that will set your team up for success.

Think of your project brief as your foundation. Presenting a project to stakeholders can be daunting.

But with a killer brief under your belt, you’ll have nothing to worry about.

So, without further ado. It’s my turn to brief you!

Stay tuned for a deep dive into the ideal project brief and six essential steps for success.

Writing marketing plan

 

What is a project brief?

A project brief is a document (physical or virtual) that outlines the key elements of a project.

Your brief is an essential information source both for your team and any project stakeholders.

In other words, a project brief, is essentially the movie-reel highlights of a corporate venture.

It contains all the essential project details in clear, concise, and well-structured terms.

As such, this is by no means a lengthy document.

In fact, the best project briefs are usually no longer than a page in length.

Your main aim should be to clearly communicate needs and objectives.

What need is your project meeting? What approach is your project taking? How will you measure success?

Unlike a project plan, your project brief is about selling your ideas.

It’s all about getting the okay from stakeholders and getting your project off the ground.

 

What is a project brief for and when should I be using one?

Project briefs are useful in a variety of situations.

This is one of the most fundamental documents in any large project.

It is the prerogative of the project manager to create and present their brief.

Anybody taking on a project management role should prioritize their project brief first and foremost.

But what exactly is this document for?

A project brief is the framework behind any project.

Project briefs project goals, objectives, timelines, budgets, data, research and reports to key stakeholders.

In other words, your brief is the key ingredient for gaining the backing your project needs.

What are the key elements of a project brief?

A project brief needs five things: context, targets, reasons, objectives, and timelines.

These are the factors that make up the skeleton of a successful, meaningful project.

 

Context

Every good project brief starts by providing sufficient context.

That means offering forward the background information that informs your project.

Provide your stakeholders with adequate context for what’s going on.

You need to convince them that your project is necessary.

And the best way to do this is to show them why your project is necessary. What need is your project meeting?

For example

Perhaps you’ve been put in charge of a social media campaign.

You might be presenting a project that seeks to increase social followings by 10% by next quarter.

In this scenario your need might be that the company’s competitors are outperforming you in online views.

Providing some data to back this up, would provide the context your stakeholders need in order to see the value of your project.

 

Targets

The best project briefs are clear about who their project impacts. Who is your target audience?

Continuing with the previous example, your target audience would be online prospects active on social media platforms. Now you can tailor every facet of your strategy towards them.

 

Reasons

You’ll need to be able to back up everything you claim with reasons. Ask yourself this question.

Why were you prompted to work on this project in particular? Was it inspired by a recent performance review? Is it following on from a previous project? Has it been spurred on by feedback?

 

Objectives

Your stakeholders are going to want to know all about your objectives.

And by that, I mean clear, defined, metric-oriented goals. And keep them realistic.

The best project plans include precise data-driven objectives that you can prove to be attainable within your project timeline.

And that leads us nicely onto our final element…

 

Timelines

Your project timeline is super important.

As well as a completion date, the best project briefs include individual timescales for each part of a project from commencement to completion.

Presenting a well-crafted timeline will show stakeholders that you’ve got your chickens in a row.

Free Project Plan Template in Excel

Click to download our Free Project Plan Template in Excel to begin simplifying your project management.

How to write a clear project brief in 5 steps

I think you’ve got the general idea.

All that’s left is to write that thing.

Now that you’re familiar with the essential components that go into writing a stand-out brief, lets dive in a little bit deeper.

Writing a fantastic brief doesn’t need to be too difficult. By following these six steps you’ll be set up for success. And once you’re done don’t forget to practice your pitch!

So, without further ado, here’s our 6 steps for writing the perfect project brief.

 

Step 1: Provide adequate context

First things first, set out the context behind your project.

This is where you’ll want to detail all that background information and research that has gone into forming your project.

After providing adequate context finish off with a brief overall project description that aligns with the research you’ve already presented.

For example: perhaps your team is launching a new productivity app.

For context, provide some feedback from your market research groups.

If you carried out any preliminary surveys, now would be a good time to discuss them. What features were most important to your target market?

 

Step 2: Don’t shy away from the numbers

Next, it’s time to talk objectives. And don’t shy away from the numbers.

Stakeholders love success metrics.

As well as broader project objectives, try to home in on specific deliverables that you plan to achieve by the project completion date.

Have you heard of the SMART method?

If not, listen up.

The SMART method is a tried and tested technique for picking meaningful objectives.

Here’s an example…

  • Specific – to launch a productivity app for our internal team that increases workplace efficiency.
  • Measurable – to measure workplace efficiency in terms of employee output against cost.
  • Achievable – outline the resources and skills you have available to make this happen
  • Realistic – outline how this venture matches your organization’s ethos and goals
  • Timely – to achieve this 10% increase with the next quarter

 

Step 3: Show that you’re a well-oiled machine

Clarify your project timeline and budget, including any key milestones along the way.

This shows that you’ve got everything under control and demonstrates to your key stakeholders that this project is realistic and achievable.

Your key milestones might look something like this…

  • June 1st – project commencement
  • June 30th – prototype ready
  • August 1st – product finalization
  • August 15th – launch!

 

Step 4: Make your target audience very clear

Make note of your target audience and emphasize why this particular demographic is key to your project’s success.

Once again, it’ll be useful to bring in some numbers at this point.

And if you can back this up with some qualitative research as well then, all the better.

 

Step 5: Outline the scope of your project

When we talk about project scope, we often end up rambling on about vague ideas of what a successful project might mean or look like.

But the best project briefs outline the scope of their projects in highly specified terms.

Project scope is better measures in terms of deliverables, objectives, specific tasks, roles, and features.

For example, you’ll want to outline the roles that form part of your project’s overall scope.

It can also be helpful to identify those factors that fall outside of this scope.

How about an example?

Looking for the perfect example to help you get started?

We’ve got you.

Take a look at this A+ project brief template below.

Note how everything is clear and easy to follow.

A great project brief is all about clarity, not volume.

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