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How to Write a Fantastic Digital Project Brief
By Nina Epelle

Are you about to kick start a brand new digital project? Or have you just joined an existing one and are in the process of gathering project information? If so, pause for a minute. A Digital Project Brief will set you and your team off to a good start…

As a Digital Project Manager, whenever you’re embarking on a new project, it is always sound practice to create a Project Brief. This is one of the key elements that helps you communicate with your wider project team and ensures that throughout the life of the project you maintain an aligned view on why you’re there and what you’re supposed to be doing. The Project Brief also helps you, the Digital Project Manager, verify that you’re thinking along the same lines as the Project Sponsor and/or Client, and that you are all in complete agreement on to how to proceed. It’s a communication device that helps you collaborate with your client, your leadership team and most importantly, your creative and technology teams. So, what exactly is a Digital Project Brief, you might ask? A Project Brief is a document (generally written in MS Word or PowerPoint) created by the Project Manager at the early stages of a project. It provides a snapshot of the project’s intentions. Its purpose is to document and define what you’re going to achieve, why you’re going to do it, and most importantly, how you’re going to do it. A Project Brief is generally used for all types of projects, but a Digital Project Brief will include details pertaining to your client’s current web estates, as well as descriptions of any proposed interfaces, websites, applications, platforms or channels that will be impacted or delivered by the new project.

So, your next question is probably, well, where do I get one of those, right? Well, like I said, you, the Digital Project Manager in charge of the project, has to create it. And here’s why that’s a good thing. You know the score. You’ve just been summoned by your Delivery Lead or Program Director and advised that you’ll be leading a new project on behalf of an important client. Great, you think, how exciting! As your Delivery Lead starts briefing you on the minutiae, your mind is racing and you’re already thinking in terms of the Why, What, Who, When, How, and Where. That’s fabulous! You’re off to a great start. Grill your Delivery Lead, and the client if possible, exactly along those lines until you have built a comprehensive picture of what needs to be done. Once you’ve gathered this information, and feel confident that you’ve collected enough details to proceed, and before you launch headlong into your regular planning and costing activities, grab a coffee first, it’s time for some quiet time. At this point, as the appointed Digital Project Manager, you need to do some real thinking. And here’s why it benefits you to be the one who crafts the Digital Project Brief. You get to strategize, visualize and design the way you want to run the project from hereon in. That’s right! You have the opportunity from the outset to create a real vision, a style, and a culture for you and your project team. You get to determine how you see things evolving and the methodology and approach you want to see adopted for the life of the project. Tread with care however, as this needs to be done carefully, in a way that allows everyone else to embrace that vision and motivates them to work with you towards the accomplishment of the project’s goals. It’s true, Project Management is not quite a democracy. Someone needs to steer the ship if you’re to reach your intended destination. But, you cannot propel that ship forward by yourself. So design a project environment that everyone will want to be a part of. Writing a Digital Project Brief – Write Great. So far, so good.

You’ve gathered all of the background information and you’ve had a good think about how you’re going to run things so that you’ll have an entirely successful project. At this point, you should be in a good enough position to start writing. To some, this might be a daunting task. But don’t worry. It’s pretty straightforward once you get started. And if you have the right document structure in mind you probably can’t go wrong. Try to make your document as brief yet as informative as possible, as most people probably hate reading long, tedious and boring documents. Think about your audience and what value they need to derive from reading it. Aim to capture a sufficient amount of information to give the reader a sound understanding of the depth, scope, and expectations of your project. Ideally it should be a document that should take the reader no longer than 20 – 30 uninterrupted minutes to read. Here’s what I like to include in my Digital Project Briefs:

Outline of a Great Digital Project Brief

  • Overview of the Project: why the heck are we here? And why is this important?
  • Project Objectives: What on earth do we expect to achieve?

  • Project Scope and Exclusions: What’s included and what don’t we have to bother with?

  • Project Approach and Workstreams: How are we going to do it? What do we need to do?

  • Project Deliverables: What exactly will we make or produce and what will we be handing over to the client at the end of it all?

  • Project Organizational Structure: Who’s on the team?

  • Team Roles & Responsibilities: Who on the team is doing what?

  • Critical Success Factors: What must we do to make this thing a success?

  • High Level Project Timelines: How long have we got to do it in?

  • Assumptions & Constraints: We can only really succeed if these items are in place, right?

  • Risks: Let’s not freak out but, there’s a bunch of stuff that could go wrong, right?

  • Budget Range: Approximately how much is all of this going to cost?

  • Next Steps: OK then, who’s up next?

Once completed, why not give it to your Project Sponsor or client to sanity-check and sign off? Give them the opportunity to feed into it so that they feel included and are happy that they’re an important part of the process. Next, you need to do two very important things. One, date stamp your Digital Project Brief and version control it so that you can upload it to a central repository where everyone else can access it. Next, and here’s where things will really start coming together for you, host a Project Kick Off session with the entire project team, clients included, where you circulate the Project Brief and walk everyone through it giving them the opportunity to ask questions, raise concerns, make important contributions, and finally, commit to the overall plan. From that point on, whenever anyone joins the project team and you need to onboard them, you can say, hang on a minute, I’ve got just the document for that. So remember, no matter how quickly you’re asked to get a project up and running, always, always, always take the time to create a Digital Project Brief. As you navigate those rocky waters of Digital Project Management, you’ll need some reference point that reminds you why it was a good idea to be there in the first place. Enjoy!

Nina Epelle is a Senior Digital Program Management professional. You can read more from Nina on her blog.

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