Picture this: You’re in the elevator, and the CEO steps in. She turns to you and asks about your latest project. What do you say?

If you’re able to give her a high-level summary of your work, describing project objectives, timelines, and the target audience, congratulations. You’ve just presented your project brief.

Learning how to write a project brief is the first step toward successfully managing and communicating your initiative’s goals and requirements. It also serves as a valuable tool for uniting your project team behind a common objective.

Here’s everything you need to know.

What’s a project brief?

A brief is square one for all of your project planning activities. The document provides a concise description of a project’s core elements, including:

  • Objectives and goals
  • Project scope
  • Deliverables
  • Milestones
  • Timelines
  • Target audience/end users

The project brief’s primary role is to provide a single source of truth for all information related to the project. Consider the brief a communication vehicle ensuring alignment between stakeholders and cross-functional collaborators on crucial aspects of the project. Its purpose is to organize project requirements and unite the team as a cohesive unit working toward a common goal. It’s good practice to keep the project brief in an accessible location — digital or physical — so participants and stakeholders can review the contents as needed.

As the project manager, you’ll leverage the information in the brief to create a project plan. Use it to prompt discussions with team members, higher-ups, and other participants about the most efficient ways to achieve the project’s goals.

The contents of the project brief should be comprehensive enough for everyone to understand the project's what, when, where, and why, but not so detailed that someone not affiliated with the work would feel overloaded with information.

What’s included in a project brief?

The length of your briefs can vary depending on the project’s scope, complexity, and your team’s needs. Some may be as short as a paragraph, but they should never be longer than a page.

The essential elements of your project brief include:

1. Project summary

Begin with a brief project description that provides context for the work, including information on project intent.

2. Goals, objectives, and deliverables

Next, summarize your project’s goals and objectives — the specific assets and deliverables the project will produce. Keep your team on track, engaged, and motivated to deliver by the due date by tying those project targets with your company’s overarching goals.

3. Success metrics

Decide how your team will determine the success of the project. Select and communicate key metrics — such as objectives and key results (OKRs) or key performance indicators (KPIs) — to the group, stakeholders, and sponsors.

4. Project timeline

Establish a timeframe for your project’s delivery. Include a schedule of important dates and milestones to help track progress.

5. Target audience

To get motivated, your team needs to understand who’s going to benefit from their work. Include information about the intended audience and impact to help them develop deliverables geared toward the correct target market and prevent scope creep.

6. Background information

Make the project brief relevant to stakeholders by including basic information regarding resources. If you have the space, you can profile each project member, including roles and responsibilities and an overview of their skill set.

Project brief versus creative brief

Project and creative briefs are very similar documents and share some common elements. In fact, if you’re working on a design project, you’ll likely create both.

But a creative brief is longer than a project brief, outlining specific guidance regarding design and strategy. It offers critical information regarding:

  • Target audience
  • Messaging and tone
  • Distribution strategy
  • Budget
  • Timelines

If you’re working with a design agency, you can use your creative brief as the contract’s statement of work (SOW), the formal document that outlines the agreed-upon scope, objectives, deliverables, timeline, and other essential aspects of the engagement.

Project brief versus executive summary

Audience is the primary distinction between a project brief and an executive summary. While the brief targets stakeholders and working groups, describing the project’s many moving parts, you gear the contents of an executive summary toward decision-makers in the C-suite.

An executive summary outlines a project’s essential business information, linking the work to the company’s long-term goals and strategic plans. Not every project will require one, but if you're partnering with upper management or have already written a business case, consider drafting an executive summary to complement your brief.

Project brief versus project plan

A project plan expands on the information contained in the brief. The contents are similar, but you provide more granular details concerning:

  • Goals and objectives
  • Success metrics and KPIs
  • Stakeholders, roles, and responsibilities
  • Budget
  • Milestones and deliverables
  • Timelines and schedules
  • Communication plans

Project brief versus project charter

A charter is a formal document that outlines all the details of a project to secure executive or client approval. The contents are far more exhaustive than a project brief and, as such, can serve as an SOW contract between the project manager and client.

The project brief should align with the contents of the project charter, but its purpose is to inform, not earn approval.

How to create a project brief

Take a step-by-step approach to writing your project brief to make sure you cover all your bases. Here’s how:

1. Establish context

Get your team on equal footing by starting with the relevant background information they need to see the project’s big picture. Your outline should answer these questions:

  • Why is the team working on this project?
  • What prompted the client to launch the project?
  • Were they successful? What lessons did those projects teach?

2. Communicate project objectives and success metrics

Your team must understand what they’re working toward, so outline the project’s objectives and goals according to the SMART framework (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound). Once you settle on a concise and clear statement, select the metrics you'll use to define success and communicate them to all invested parties.

3. Define project timeline

Establish a firm timeline for delivery by setting the project’s duration, important milestones, and due date. Then, create a roadmap that accounts for each task’s necessary resources, including time.

4. Profile the target audience

Your project’s success depends on your understanding of the intended audience. Include information such as personas and demographics to gear your team’s work toward the right market.

5. Provide additional resources

Help your stakeholders and team members round out their understanding of the project by linking the project brief to other pertinent resources, such as the:

Your project brief should be easily scannable, so consider formatting the information using bullet points and tables. Include visual elements such as images, charts, and graphs to make it easier to read.

Project brief example

There’s no hard and fast rule for formatting a project brief — it depends on the needs of your project, stakeholders, and teams. If you’ve never written one, the following template can help you start on the right foot.

Project Brief

Project Name Name of your project.
Date Date project brief is submitted.
Project Client Name of your client.
Project Overview Project summary.
Goals & Objectives Agreed upon outcomes and work needed to accomplish them.
Project Scope Outline of project deliverables.
Constraints & Assumptions Limits, risks, and assumptions.
Target Audience Your target market, personas, and demographics.
Success Criteria Measures of success and metrics for tracking it.
Budget Detailed breakdown of project costs.
Timeline Project schedule, including duration, milestones, due dates, and the completion deadline.
Roles and responsibilities List of team members, titles, and areas of responsibility.
Resources List of additional documents, including the project charter, project plan, communication plan, RACI chart, RAID log, and other pertinent details.

Create a successful project brief with Tempo

A project brief is a fundamental project management tool to promote the success of your team’s endeavors. Take it one step further by combining it with Tempo’s powerful Roadmunk software to help you create a roadmap of all your project phases and activities according to your schedule, identifying dependencies and minimizing bottlenecks. Then, add JIRA-enable Timesheets to monitor staffing resources to ensure your team delivers their work on time.