If you want to get things done – from the simplest task to the most complex project – you need a clear project brief. Let’s have a look at ten things you need to include, to create a clear project brief that you can then rely upon.
First of all, what is the aim of your job, task, mission, or project? This is the big picture of what you will be trying to achieve. Above all, you must include a clearly articulated goal at the heart of your project brief.
Why will you be doing it? Unless you know the context and what it is wanted for, you will find it hard to make robust choices when you encounter problems. And, of course, we all find it hard to motivate ourselves when we don’t know what we are doing something for. We are just children at heart and desperately want to know ‘why?’. So be sure to set out the purpose as part of your project brief.
Know who you are doing it for – your customer, client, boss, sponsor. And who else will take an interest? It would be great if, just once, we could do a project free of all politics. Dream on: it won’t happen! So your project brief must include a list of your main stakeholders and what each one is likely to want form your project.
Time – Cost – Quality. Find the point of balance that suits your stakeholders. It is crucial for you to understand how, to gain on one of these three, you must compromise the others. Know which one you most need to protect when shift happens. Know which one has the most flexibility. Build contingency into all three. Ask: ‘When do you want it? How much can you pay for it? How good does it have to be?’ Document these answers in your project brief.
Define the scope of work to be done: what is ‘in’ your project and what is ‘out’. The latter are sometimes called ‘exclusions’. And from this, determine the deliverables that you will promise. In the UK, we tend to talk of scope and refer to the work/tasks. In the US, scope more often refers to the deliverables/products. Pick which approach suits you best, and… put it in your brief. And always be explicit in stating your project exclusions too.
Once you know what you will deliver: how do you want it? Define a specification for each deliverable, so that you know what ‘done’ will look like.
When you produce a deliverable, how will your customer, boss, or client know whether to accept it? It must meet pre-agreed standards. Determine these and document them in your project brief. There is a simple rule: ‘no standards: no acceptance’. Then create a quality assurance and control regime to ensure you only deliver products that meet the standards you have set.
What constrains the choices you will make in designing and then in creating your products? And what other activities (inside your organization and outside it) will your project be dependent upon? These are your constraints and dependencies. Make sure these are documented in your project brief, so you can design your products – and then your plans – around them.
Any project brief must set out what resources (people, materials, assets) you will need, and what limitations you are under when drawing them down. When you calculate the cost of these, you will be able to build your project budget. Although a full budget may not be an essential part of your Project Brief (it’s too early for that), you will need to give an estimate of the resources you require. And therefore, you will be able to give an indicative budget.
There is nothing wrong with making assumptions: project management, like daily life, relies on them. But make sure you crystallise them as explicit statements in your project brief, so that you can test them before proceeding. That way, they won’t make an ass of you.
All of the above is critical, but it comes to nothing unless your client, customer, boss, or sponsor formally signs off your project brief. Only when this happens can you safely proceed, knowing that any changes can be handled in a controlled way. So the question will arise about documentation. Your Project Brief is one of the few documents I identify as essential, in the article ‘The Secret to Getting Your Documentation Right‘.
… is the first of our Ten Critical Things to Learn about Project Management.
… is the first component of all of our core Project Management courses. But if you want to learn more and aren’t yet ready to commit to a paid course, why not try our free 4-video program. Just signup for your free Project Management Fundamentals course here.
But most valuable of all, if you need to start your project right, and get a robust Project Definition is our Project Manager’s Project Definition Kit. This is an innovative course and resource kit, so you can take a jumble of ideas, needs, and requests and turn it into a well-defined project.
Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 13 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to ProjectManager.com and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was an successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.