Quick, one of your project stakeholders needs an easy way to get a summary of key information about your project… what do you send them?
Don’t have something in mind? You probably need a project brief. With a project brief, your entire team has a central source of truth for key project information. A good brief is the best starting point to a great project plan and, ultimately, a successful project.
A project brief is a short description of key elements of your project. Think of it as a quick summary for project stakeholders and cross-functional collaborators. Your project brief should communicate your project requirements—without bogging your stakeholders down with too many details.
Like most elements in project management, there’s no one-size-fits-all project brief template or style. The project brief you create will depend on the scope and complexity of your project. For some projects, your brief might be as short as a paragraph, for others, it might get up to a page long.
Plan to create your project brief at the very beginning of your project. If you’re getting started with project management, you may have encountered other elements of early project planning. Here’s how a project brief compares to other project management elements:
Like the name suggests, a creative brief is a guide for a creative project. Your creative brief should include your project audience, messaging and tone, distribution process, project budget, and timeline. If you’re working with an outside agency or creative team, your creative brief might also function as a statement of work (SOW), which defines the scope of your project and project deliverables.
A project brief is an overview of the key elements of your project. If you’re working on a creative project, your project design might include some elements of your creative brief—like the timeline and project audience—but your project brief should be shorter and simpler than your creative brief.Read: The complete guide to writing creative briefs
Essentially, your project brief should be a condensed version of your project plan. Your project plan should include seven elements:
Stakeholders and roles
Milestones and deliverables
Timeline and schedule
Project communication plan
Your project brief should only include your project objectives, timeline and schedule, target audience, and project scope. Think of your project brief as a shorter document that high-level project stakeholders can read and project team members can check back on frequently.
Whether or not you create a project brief or an executive summary depends on the scope of your project and the stakeholders involved. Just like a project brief, an executive summary is an overview of your project information—but it’s generally geared towards executive stakeholders. If you’re working on an expansive project with high-level executives or if you've drafted a business case for your initiative, consider creating an executive summary. On the other hand, if you’re working on an initiative with cross-functional collaborators, create a project brief.Read: How to write an executive summary, with examples
Your project brief is an overview of your upcoming project. It should include key information about important project details, so your project team can align and understand what this initiative is about. Typically, your project brief will include four key elements:
The first part of your project brief should include the project background. The project background section is a space for you to provide any context your stakeholders might not have. Aim to answer questions like:
Why are you working on this project?
What business needs, research, or customer feedback, if any, led to this project?
Do any previous projects relate to this one and, if so, how did they go and what did your team learn?
Most of your early project planning documentation should include your project objectives in one form or another. Connecting everyday work to team or company goals helps team members stay motivated, aligned, and on track. In fact, according to the Anatomy of Work Index, team members who understand how their individual work adds value to their organization are 2X as motivated as their counterparts.Read: How to write an effective project objective, with examples
Make sure to include your timeline in your project brief. Your project timeline is the best way to give your team a clear idea of key dates and important project milestones. After all, the success of your project depends on whether or not you can stick to your project timeline and deliver your project objectives on time.
Your target audience is the reason you’re working on this project. No matter what type of project you’re working on, it’s important to include your target audience in your project brief so everyone on your team is on the same page about who the audience is.
There are four main elements to a project brief, but five steps to actually complete one. If you’re just getting started, don’t be afraid to break your brief into four paragraphs or sections, until weaving the sections together feels more natural. Additionally, feel free to use bullet points, link to other documents, or use any images if necessary. Ultimately, your project brief is only helpful if you (and your project stakeholders) think it is.
The best way to begin your project brief is to add any relevant context or background information. That way, everyone starts the project with equal footing, and any cross-functional stakeholders approach the rest of your project brief (or other process documentation) with the background information they need.
Let’s say your company has developed a gaming app where people can play virtual games with their friends. In this project, you’re developing a marketing campaign to support the launch of your newest product: an in-app live video experience. To begin your project brief, you might write something like:
Currently, chat is our second most popular feature (first is connecting with friends via email). 84% of users use chat in some capacity. Additionally, in user feedback sessions, 63% of users reported being on a video or voice call with their friends on another platform while using our app. We believe that, by bringing video chat into the app experience itself, we’ll be able to increase retention and potentially upgrade free users to our monthly plan.
Project objectives are the assets and deliverables you plan to deliver at the end of your project. Good project objectives help you get a clear understanding of your project. Your project objectives will define your success metrics, which helps you evaluate the success of your project once you finish it. Ideally, aim to set SMART project objectives. SMART is an acronym to help you set great goals. It stands for:
Most users have learned to use a different video service while playing on our app. This marketing campaign will educate and promote this new feature, to increase adoption and encourage users to move away from video chat on other platforms and onto our new in-app feature. The project objective is for 40% of users who log in 1X a week to use in-app video chat at least 2X a month by the end of the marketing campaign in late May.
Failure: Below 30%
In your project objective, you’ll likely include a date or time range in order for it to hit the “T” in SMART (Time-bound). However, your project timeline is more than just the project duration—your timeline might include key milestones or other important dates.
Project duration: March 15th-May 29th
March 15th: Kickoff meeting
April 5th: Product team delivers beta version of final video chat product
April 22nd: Initial design assets are in
May 7th: Design assets approved
May 17th: Product finalized & ready to ship
May 29th: Launch day
Knowing your target audience or persona is critical for project success. Your project team needs insight into relevant audience demographics in order to produce the best work possible—which, in our example, is app development for the target audience and a marketing campaign to amplify that launch.
Defining your target audience early can also prevent scope creep—which is when the scope of the project exceeds the initial project objectives or timeline. If you don’t have a clear sense of your target audience, you might end up having to re-work some of your project, which could lead to scope creep in the form of timing delays or budget constraints.
Target audience for this campaign is high school students between the ages of 15 and 18 looking to connect with their friends after school or on the weekend. Target demographic is tech-savvy, but they have very little patience for poor functionality, bugs, or lag.
Your project brief is nearly finished. Remember: this document is mainly for stakeholders and project team members to align on key details of the project. There may be relevant additional resources, like budget, communication plan, or project roles.
At the end of your project brief, make sure to link to any relevant documentation that your team might need to access. For example, if you’ve already created a project plan, include that at the end. Alternatively you could link to a RACI chart, project proposal, or project roadmap.
For more detailed information, check out our project plan or view our project roadmap.
Your project brief is more than just a few paragraphs with project information. Rather, a project brief is a way to communicate important details and dates to your broader project team. Make sure you package it up in an easy to use, central source of truth. Once you do, it might look something like this:
There are a lot of elements to project management, and if you’re a new project manager, you might be wondering what, if anything, you need to create. Here’s a short guide of each element, and where it fits in:
Project goals provide a high-level outline of how your project connects to business objectives.
Project objectives are the actual, specific deliverables at the end of a project.
A project roadmap is a high-level overview of your project deliverables, key milestones, and project goals. Project roadmaps are most helpful for complex initiatives.
A kickoff meeting is a meeting at the beginning of your project. Your kickoff meeting is a chance to connect with your project team and key stakeholders to gain buy-in.
Your project plan (sometimes called a project overview) is the information you need to actually start your project.
A project brief is your team’s central source of truth for key project information.
An executive summary is an overview of your project plan for executive-level stakeholders.
Project status reports are progress updates that you (the project manager) should send throughout the course of your project in order to keep your project team on track.
A project post-mortem is a chance to connect with your project team to look back on what worked, what didn’t, and what learnings you can bring to the next project.
Project briefs are a great way to capture key information for your project and serve it up in an easy-to-access way for all of your project stakeholders. With a project brief, you have a way to give your stakeholders and project team an overview of the project, without overwhelming them.
The only thing that’s better than a great project brief? Managing your project in a work management tool so everyone knows exactly who’s doing what by when. Learn more about using a work management tool like Asana.