How to write a great project brief by answering 3 questions
If you’re hiring a freelance designer it means you are currently in 1 of 2 groups. You’re either about to work on a project that matters or you’re not.
If you look at the past year, you can trace back most of your success to just a handful of projects. That’s out of potentially dozens of individual projects in that timespan.
The odds that you’re working on something valuable are starting to dwindle.
But wait a sec. What’s so different about successful projects anyway?
Nothing at first. They’re indistinguishable. You’re equally excited about projects that turn out to be average as you are the ones that have big results. They even feel just as likely to create the outcome you want, or else you wouldn’t do them.
That means if we’re being honest, by definition, most of the projects we’re considering taking on end up being average.
A good example is your content marketing. If you’re lucky, you had 3 or 4 blog posts blow up last year that generated more traffic than all others combined.
So how can you be one of those people who always works on precisely the right thing at the right time?
As a designer myself, I’m ashamed to say I never fully appreciated how hard it is to create a project brief. After all, it’s not taught in school. Yet, it ends up being a fundamental skill in business.
You don’t need to be hiring someone or even working with a team to benefit from creating a great project brief. They help even if you’re working alone.
You just need to ask yourself 3 important questions.
- What are you trying to accomplish? If you have an idea for a project it means you have a problem you need to solve. Be explicit about what that problem is. What will you be able to do as a result that you couldn’t do before? For example, if the project you have in mind is a mobile app, the reason you want to create it might be that you’ve noticed a lot of your traffic comes in on a mobile device, but doesn’t convert at the same clip as your regular traffic. That tells you (and anyone on your project) a lot more about why your project should exist, than just saying you need a mobile app.
- How will you measure success? Now that you know exactly what you’re trying to accomplish, dig deeper. What does success look like? What happens if you create this app? Will you convert 5% more mobile visitors into customers? Is that a meaningul increase in revenue for your business overall? What will you do with this additional revenue? Will you invest it in another area of your business? Where? See, thinking about how you’ll know whether or not this project is successful means you’re more likely to make it one. You can’t hit a target if there is none.
- Why move forward with this project now? The last question is about your project at this point in time. You’ll want to think about whether this is a new problem or an old one. Ask yourself why you didn’t do this project six months ago. And how this problem has changed or evolved over the last few years. These questions transform your timeline requirement from: “we want to launch in 3 months” to “we need to launch in 3 months because that’s the start of football season, and when we get a huge spike in traffic”. That’s a totally different type of deadline.
The most important thing to remember: talk/think in problems and goals NOT solutions.
You’re going to default to talking about the thing you want to create at first. That’s common. That’s normal. That’s average. But remember you’re not looking for average.
That’s why instead you’ll force yourself to talk about the problems and goals of the thing you want to create. You’ll avoid questions that most people focus on like: 🚫 What do I want to build? or 🚫 What’s my budget?
These things put you into a box that you can’t get out of. They force constraints on not just you but the people you work with.
They create bad projects.
A great project brief breaks out of artificial constraints and re-focuses you on the things that really matter.
Focusing on problems and goals instead of solutions at the start multiplies your effort when it’s time to create a solution. You’ll finally be confident you’re truly working on the right solution.
Now how do you decide which these projects to move forward with? I’ve got a formula for that too below.