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An effective project brief is important to provide clarity and alignment and can be used both internally and externally to make sure you get what you want out of the work. In this video, Kevin teaches you how to write a project brief for strategy and innovation projects. A project brief template is included at the end of the post.
Hello, Kevin Namaky here. And today I’ll teach you how to write project briefs for your strategy and innovation projects.
The Importance of Project Briefs
Why are project briefs important? The first thing we should probably talk about is why we have project briefs at all. Why are these even important when it comes to your strategy and innovation projects?
There are a few things that project briefs will help you solve for whether you’re using them internally or externally. They can really be used for either. You can use these internally if there’s a project you’re creating a team around to tackle, working with a team that you have inside your company. You can also use a project brief if you’re engaging an external vendor and agency, a consultancy, brand strategy company—anything like that.
You’re going to want to have a project brief or have a briefing and align on what you really need—to make sure you get what you want out of the work. It’s going to help do a few key things.
Briefings help establish clarity. We need clarity at the beginning of a project around things like what we’re trying to achieve and how we’ll get there. You need clarity on what you’re going to be solving for and, if you don’t have that clarity, you can run into a lot of issues.
You need to align with key stakeholders and cross-functional partners, and a brief helps you do that. It establishes a process and the expectation that there’s going to be a process that you will go through, promoting alignment among your team alignment and with agencies or external partners. Align it with anyone who has a key input into what needs to happen with the project.
Another thing project briefs help you do is avoid inefficiencies. I’ve seen numerous projects, and you’ve probably seen projects yourself, that are inefficient. In the strategy and innovation space, a project usually takes too long or maybe it has more steps than it needs to have. Maybe it has the wrong steps. Maybe those steps cost more or consume more resources than what is ideal to solve a project. We want to try to avoid inefficiencies. We want to make sure we solve for the right issues so it’s more efficient and more effective and we don’t end up with rework or having to do project steps again.
We don’t want misalignment between key stakeholders at all. I’ve already talked a little bit about alignment. We want to avoid misalignment between key stakeholders and misalignment about what everyone expects to be achieved during the project and how that process is going to go.
Those are some key reasons you need to create a project brief at the beginning of any strategy or innovation project, whether it’s internally or externally. We’re going to go from a sad team to a happy team at the end of this. Having a process that starts with a brief is going to help everyone have common expectations and it’s more likely you’re going to have everyone happy at the end of a project.
Key Components of a Project Brief
Here’s what I recommend as a project brief and its key components. Now, your brief could have slightly different things in it, but I think there are some key elements that every good project brief for strategy and innovation needs to have. If you don’t have some of these things, you might run into trouble. So, let’s hit on some of the key ones.
Background & Key Issue
One of the things I see in creative briefs, which also applies to project briefs, is a little too much background. You do need some background here, and you want some context for why the project exists and why the team needs to go about embarking upon this journey. But you don’t want the background to be overly long and contain tons of unnecessary information. Typically, this is going to be a paragraph or two and it’s going to be relatively brief—just give some surrounding context.
That said, the most important piece when you write this section is the key issue. It must contain a key issue—and that’s an issue from the business’s perspective. Why does this project exist? Why should this project exist? Why is this project needed by the business? And what is that key issue that we’re solving for by embarking upon this project?
Keep in mind that it’s not a consumer issue. You’re going to get into the project work and you might identify consumer issues to solve for but that’s not the same thing. In this section, you want to identify the issue for the business. What is the business issue that this innovation or strategy project is going to solve?
The project objective is, put very simply, “What do we want to say we’ve accomplished once this project is complete?” And we want to be very singular and focused on that. It’s not a laundry list of a million things. It’s a single statement that answers that question. What do we want to have achieved when the project is complete?
Another way to look at it that you might hear is, “What does success look like?” If we do this project successfully, if we meet the key issue head-on, to address that issue and solve it, what does that success specifically look like? We need to be very specific in success so that when we get to the end of the project, we know if we’ve gotten there or not—that we’ve gotten to the right place.
Required timing is relatively straightforward. When does the key issue need to be solved? When will we need to have achieved whatever we’ve set out to accomplish? Very straightforward, but you do want timing in there. And I see a lot of project briefs that don’t have timing requirements.
We need to know how fast we need to have something done because it will influence the project plan that we recommend. If I need to know the answer to an innovation challenge in a month, the way of getting there might look very different than if I had six months or nine months to answer that question.
Critical Questions to Answer
What we want to think about is the sub-questions underneath the core challenge or core business issue—this objective that we’ve set out. What are the sub-questions that we need to know the answers to in order to address the bigger challenge or objective?
So, if you think it through, usually you can break it down into sub-questions. I’ll give you a quick example.
If your core challenge is to establish a five-year line extension pipeline for a category that you compete in, then you might have some critical questions to answer underneath of those sub-questions. If you were to break it down, things like:
- What are the consumer needs or occasions that aren’t being met by products today?
- What are some of the ideas we could generate that might solve some of those needs?
- If we have some ideas, how do we know which of these ideas should be prioritized over others?
Those sub-questions inform the project plan that answers the core challenge.
This may seem obvious because we’ve got a project objective that answers a key issue. So, it should be kind of easy to see what the deliverables are. But I think it always helps to have a section where we spell it out.
Deliverables are the specific things that get handed in at the end of a project—that we need to be able to walk away with. Whether they’re physical or digital, something’s going to get handed in that captures the answers to the team’s questions. It could be new product concepts, engineering drawings, or designs. It could be a strategic recommendation document outlining which geographic market to enter next. Whatever those things are that need to be handed in, we want to list those under deliverables.
You may also want to consider key deliverables along the way in the project. Maybe there’s a key deliverable at the end, but there are also a few milestones leading up to that where you have a key deliverable along the way for key stakeholders, or to capture things and bring the team along.
Guardrails are relatively straightforward. You basically want to outline what is in verses out of scope. Not every project has guardrails. But I think it’s helpful and I definitely recommend trying to at least capture some guardrails every time you initiate a project. If the team has not discussed guardrails, you should prompt that discussion with the team.
You could also use this section to document the assumptions you have about the project you’re leading. These are the things that I assume you mean are in scope. And these are things I assume you mean are out of scope. Write them down on paper so that all the assumptions are there and, when you share that back to the team, they can confirm or point out anything that needs to be discussed.
Available Documents & Resources
This one is often overlooked, but available documents and resources are meant to uncover historical information and input to your project that could save you time, give you a head start, give you a good direction, or onboard the team onto the project. We’re looking for historical pieces such as prior research.
Let’s say you have an innovation project where you want to enter a new category and research was done two or three years prior around that idea. If it makes sense for the brand to go there, you want to bring that out in this section and identify it to make sure the team has it.
Recommended Project Plan
Next, we have the recommended project plan. I think you always need a recommended project plan for your innovation projects. The trick is when you’re writing a project brief, you may not have the plan yet. And if you’re writing this brief and using the brief as a way to gather information and align everyone in order to inform a project plan that you’re going to develop for the project, then you can leave this section out initially and consider it optional.
If you have the information you need and you’re using the brief to capture everything you’ve heard as a way to set up your recommended project plan, and you know what that plan is, then you’re going to include it here as part of the brief.
The recommended project plan is a singular document, so you can do it either way. It depends at what point and how you’re using this brief. If it’s prior to developing your project plan and informing it, or if it’s to help set up and present what your recommended project plan is.
Budget & Resources Required
There are two ways to use this, and it really depends on what point you’re at and if you’re working internally or externally.
You may have a project where the team is setting direction, and we know how much we have to spend to make it happen. Our budget is X. It could be $5,000, could be $500,000, whatever your budget is. You’re going to put that in here and say, “Here’s what we have available to complete this project.”
You also may have a situation where you don’t have a given budget and what you’re doing is recommending based on this project plan—these are the resources or budget that’s going to be required. To complete the plan in this way, you can consider it a question of resources required and you would simply outline that. What funds may be required from a research standpoint? Maybe you want to do some consumer research or some market research. Do you need to buy third-party data and get access to data? There’s a cost to that potentially. Do you need to do R&D testing (research and development)? Something like that would need to be included. You might need to hire a part-time or a full-time employee in order to work on this project so that FTE needs to go in as a resource required.
Get the Project Brief Template
Those are the key, most important sections that should be in a project brief if you’re doing a strategy project or an innovation project. Whether you’re leading:
- a high-level corporate project about the portfolio of brands
- a project about markets the company wants to get into
- innovation projects that are drilling down into specific categories, brands, or products…
This project brief format works very well to align the team, get everyone on the same page and set a good starting point for the work that you’re about to do. It will make your work more efficient and more effective. So go out there and get it done.
Download the project brief template below.
LEARN TO WRITE A PROJECT BRIEF FOR STRATEGY & INNOVATION
If you need help teaching your brand team how to write an effective project brief, click here to learn more about training opportunities.
Or if you need a consultant to help you with an innovation process, click here to learn more about brand consulting opportunities.
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Kevin Namaky is CEO at the Gurulocity Brand Management Institute, a marketing education company that trains and consults for notable brand teams including Kimberly-Clark, Scotts Miracle-Gro, Bolthouse Farms and Gorilla Brands. Kevin is a featured instructor for the American Marketing Association, lectures at the IU Kelley School of business, and has been featured in Ad Age, Forbes, Fast Company and the CMO Council. Previously Kevin worked for 20 years in the corporate and agency world growing notable brands. Follow Kevin on LinkedIn.