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Clear Project Brief (10 Things to Include)

Clear Project Brief

If you want to get things done – from the simplest task to the most complex project – you need a clear project brief.

So much so that this is one of my ten tools that will help you get better Project Management results. It also documents step 1 of our 8-Step Template for our Project Management essentials.

PMI Talent Triangle - Technical Project Management

What does that really involve?

If you want to get things done – from the simplest task to the most complex project – you need a clear project brief.

What is a Project Brief?

Clear Project Brief

Clear Project Brief

A Project Brief is a somewhat less formal version of your Project Definition. Its what you might use in a smaller project. That said, the two terms can be used interchangeably.

For this article, though, I’m going to consider a project brief as an earlier – and therefore less structured – phase of thinking than a formal Project Definition. It’s the sort of thing you’d prepare at the start of the Definition Stage of a larger project. Or maybe you’d prepare one before the Definition Stage, as part of wining support to do the work to define your project robustly.

If you are doing a small project, then this set of thinking will stand you in good stead, as a precursor to planning it out.

Let’s have a look at ten questions you’ll need to answer, to create a clear project brief that you can then rely upon.

1. What you want?
Your Goal

First of all, discover 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.

2. What it’s for?
Your Purpose

Why will you be doing your project?  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.

3. Who it’s for?
Your Stakeholders

Know who you are doing it for – your customer, client, boss, or 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 from your project.

4. What’s the Balance Point for the Triple Constraint
Your Priorities

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.

5. How much of it do You Want?
Your Scope

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.  The approaches are equally good, but it’s a mistake to mix them up. Pick which approach suits you best, and… put it in your brief.

And always be explicit in stating your project exclusions too. These are the out of scope activities or products.

6. What are the Design Criteria?
Your Specifications

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.

7. What will be the Acceptance Criteria?
Your Quality Standards

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 quality control regime to ensure you only deliver products that meet the standards you have set.

  • Quality Assurance: the process that locks quality into the way you do things.
  • Quality Control: the process that checks completed work conforms to quality standards

8. What are the Outside Influences you need to be Aware of?
Your Constraints and Dependencies

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 you document these in your project brief, so  you can design your products – and then your plans – around them.

9. Who and What will You use to get Your Project Done?
Your Resources

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 is rarely 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.

10. How will you Avoid Making an ASS of U and ME?
Making Your Assumptions Explicit

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.

…and, the all important… Sign-off

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‘.

Defining your Project Brief

… 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.

Project Managers Project Definition Kit

Project Managers Project Definition Kit

What is Your Experience of Creating a Project Brief?

Do let us know what you think of our list. Have we got everything, or have we missed something you would always include?

About the Author Mike Clayton

Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 14 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.

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