How to Write a Simple Project Brief: Template & Examples
Your sales team just sold a new project and handed off all the information they have to you on the shared drive. While they put a lot of good stuff in there, it would easily overwhelm your team and stakeholders—and they don’t have that kind of time to spare.
Now it’s up to you to figure out what needs to be pulled out and shared with your team so they understand the project’s most important parts. By doing this, you’ll get them up to speed quickly and allow them to see how they fit into the project.
The perfect place to put those key highlights? A project brief.
Let’s take a closer look at what a project brief is and how it’s used in project management.
What is a project brief?
A project brief is an easy-to-digest document that outlines the critical components of a project for your team and stakeholders. While a project plan details how a project will get done, a project brief defines the who, what, when, where, and why.
As the project manager, you’ll want to create a project brief right at the start of an engagement before your team gathers for an internal kick-off meeting. The length and format—and even the elements you include—will depend on the size and complexity of your project and client.
While you might be tempted to include all the good details you uncover from your sales team in your project brief, this isn’t the place for it. The key is to make it approachable enough for your team and stakeholders to understand without leaving any critical information out.
Challenge yourself to keep it to one page so people will actually want to reference it. After all, any info beyond that is up to you to track, not everyone else.
Project brief vs creative brief
Like a project brief, a creative brief is a document that outlines high-level details of a creative project. It focuses on the strategy and design aspects of the project and may include information about target audiences, competitive differentiation, strategic direction, messaging, and more.
If you’re managing a project that involves creative work, you’ll likely create both documents. The project brief will paint the broad strokes of your entire project, while the creative (or strategic) brief provides more specific direction for the creative portion of your project.
Project brief vs project charter
You might also be wondering about the difference between a project brief and a project charter. Think of your project brief as a high-level summary of the project charter.
A project charter is longer, more formal, and goes into all the extra information you left out of the brief. Its goal is to outline all the project details and secure client approval. While it’s not the official project contract, it often serves as a scope contract between a project manager and their client and is a go-to reference when scope creep happens.
The project brief should align with your project charter but live as an abbreviated, less formal version that seeks to inform vs contract with approvals.
Your project might have both documents or just one. It really depends on what makes sense for your team, process, and project. I personally lean towards fewer documents and pages, but some projects and clients need more formality.
What’s the purpose of a project brief ?
The project brief can serve many purposes. Here are 3 reasons a project brief is important in project management:
- It provides information and clarity. Outlining the who, what, when, where, and why of a project gets your team up to speed on the work they’ll soon be involved in. It also clarifies each person’s role in the project and how they can best contribute.
- It establishes a common understanding to mitigate risk and confusion. If you’re not doing a project charter, you can use the project brief as a sort of agreement. Review the brief together to confirm your scope, goals, and more—all while addressing any gray areas and red flags. Getting everyone on the same page helps reduce project risk and avoids wasting time in areas outside the project focus.
- It creates excitement and rallies the teams together. Sharing the project brief in a pre-kick-off meeting allows you to introduce everyone who will be involved in the work and establish a unified vision for the project. This goes a long way towards creating a “We’re all in this together” environment.
Who’s responsible for writing a project brief?
So who should create the project brief? Well, that depends on how your team is structured.
Ultimately, the project manager should own responsibility for the brief. That being said, your sales team or account manager might start filling out the template with the information they have as part of your sales to production hand-off process.
At the end of the day, though, it’s up to you as the project manager to ensure the brief is fully complete and that your team and stakeholders understand all aspects of it.
What elements should you include in a project brief?
As I noted, what you include in the project brief will depend on your team, client, and project complexity. Here are some common elements that typically make up a project brief:
- Brief description of the project
- Overview of the client/organization
- Project goals and/or success criteria
- Project team and stakeholders
- High-level timeline of major project milestones
Let’s walk through the basic steps for creating a project brief.
How to write a project brief with examples
The hardest part about writing a project brief is striking the right balance between information overload and giving team members something they’ll actually read and reference.
Do your best to keep it short, simple, and accessible, while ensuring the information you include is truly useful. These steps can help you focus on the details that matter most when creating a project brief.
1. Summarize the project and its purpose
Start with a short elevator pitch that outlines what the project is all about. Use this section to explain why the project is happening now and how it will provide value to the organization.
Here’s an example of what the project summary might look like for a website redesign brief:
2. Outline what the project needs to accomplish
It’s a whole lot easier to deliver a project win when everyone’s working toward the same goal. Show your team what success looks like by listing the top 3-5 goals the project must accomplish.
If you can, tie these project goals to business objectives. That way, your team understands how their work will impact the company as a whole.
3. Provide some background about the client
You don’t have to unpack your client’s whole backstory here. Instead explain who the project is for in 2-3 sentences.
Feel free to include any quick facts the team should know about your client’s organization or market as bullet points, like we’ve done in the sample below:
4. Introduce key players and their project roles
Your project brief is a great place to give everyone a quick rundown of who’s who on the project. I recommend breaking these introductions down into 2 groups:
- Project team: List each core team member’s name and role, and include an image to help clients put faces with names more easily. Noting percent allocation will give the client a clear picture of how much time each team member has dedicated to this project.
- Key stakeholders: List the name, title, and project role for each key stakeholder on your project. Be sure to identify the decision-maker and main point of contact for your client if those roles have been decided. Stakeholder photos may be tough to come by, so don’t sweat it if you can’t include them in your project brief.
You can see what these sections might look like in the project brief example highlighted below:
5. List key deliverables with dates
You may not be ready to commit to a full-blown project plan at this stage, but it’s important to sketch out a timeline for major deliverables. Aim for 5-10 items to keep your timeline high-level.
Many people process images better than text, so I recommend creating a quick, visual timeline in a project management tool like TeamGantt. Simply add key deliverables as milestones on your gantt chart, then throw a screenshot of that timeline into your project brief.
Before you wrap up this section, be sure to mention any major out-of-scope items and/or project breaks. In our sample project brief, we called out-of-scope items out in a different color so they don’t get overlooked.
6. Include any other important items of note
Finally, add any key notes that can provide clarification or insight about the project. You might outline risks with mitigation strategies, possible phase 2 items, or recent shifts in the marketplace.
This section of the project brief will likely be a group of random items, and that’s just fine. You just don’t want to lose anything that could spark an important conversation or idea for the project.
Here are a couple of additional notes we included in our sample project brief:
Project brief example
This sample project brief gives shows you what your final product might look like when all the elements come together.
Tips to make your project brief more effective
Now that you’ve got the basics down, let’s review a few ways you can add even more value to your project brief.
Use a template to save time
Your time is best spent thoughtfully adding content to your project brief—not messing with a tool and fixing formatting.
Creating a project brief template is an easy way to make your process repeatable. This saves you and your fellow project managers time, while establishing brand consistency across your organization.
We created a free project brief template to help you get started more quickly. Choose between landscape or portrait format, then make a copy of your own in Google Docs (or download it as a Word document). Simply drop in your logo, and customize the details to fit your project.
Just make sure everyone has access to whatever tool you use and feels comfortable editing in it.
Do the work
Let’s be honest, as project managers, we’re often overloaded with projects and to-dos—especially at the start of a new project. You might be inclined to just fill in the blanks and call it a day. But that’s defeating the point.
The thing that really brings value to a project brief is the experience and thought you put into it. Consider who the client is, what the project’s about, and what information will help your team get to work with confidence.
Remember: This document sets a foundation for the project. It’s worth spending time to get this right.
Use all your resources
As a project manager, you have access to lots of resources—whether it’s the sales team, new client, RFP, project proposal, CRM, etc.
Take time to talk to the right people and dig through all the documentation. Most existing documents will likely be set aside as you and your team start creating new ones, so make sure key info from the past comes forward and gets shared.
Adjust your project brief’s format and contents as needed
Your project brief will likely evolve over time as you incorporate this document in your process. You may start to see that some information isn’t helpful while other important details are missing.
Revisit the brief’s value every couple of projects to ensure you’re making the most out of its use.
Build a free timeline for your project brief
TeamGantt makes it easy to create a simple timeline for your project brief so everyone knows when to expect major project deliverables.
When you’re ready to draft a comprehensive plan, just pick up where you left off, and schedule all your tasks. You’ll have all the features you need to keep your team in sync and ensure projects finish on time and on budget.
About the author: Lynn Winter
Lynn is a freelance Digital Strategist who combines 20+ years of experience in content strategy, user experience, and project management to bring a holistic approach to her work. She has spoken at numerous local and national conferences and hosts an annual conference for Digital Project Managers called Manage Digital (http://managedigital.io/). You can connect with her at lynnwintermn.com.