A basis for action and the project brief

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Once the initial discussions about the purpose and feasibility of the project have confirmed that the project is worth carrying out, it is essential to establish the basic agreement as a document. The document will provide the reference point for all future work on the project and will be the basis for all judgements about whether the project is finally successful or not. This document is sometimes called the terms of reference, but usually incorporates some additional information in the form of a detailed project brief. The project brief becomes the basis for all subsequent decision making and planning.

The project brief is usually drafted by the person managing the project, but it is essential that it is discussed with all sponsors, and often with key stakeholders as well. The brief should be agreed as the basis for future work, since it is the record of agreement about the main aspects of the project:

  • the expected outcomes
  • the resources that will be invested to arrive at those outcomes
  • the time that it will take to achieve the outcomes.

The project brief should be a concise and clear document because it will be used throughout the project. For example, the monitoring arrangements will be derived from the agreement in the project brief. Monitoring might be carried out by a number of stakeholders in review meetings, when the agenda would be to assess whether progress met the scheduled objectives within time and budget estimates. If the initial feasibility plans and outline estimates have been fairly accurate, there may be no difficulty in keeping the project ‘on track’. However, often either the initial thinking was not thorough enough or conditions change during the progress of a project, so it is important to make arrangements in the initial agreement for changes to be made as the project progresses. Again, these decision-making arrangements should be part of the project brief so that there is no misunderstanding about the procedure that should be followed.

The project brief should be concise and clear. It is usual to use headings and subheadings and to list the main points. Remember that it provides a record in summary of the agreements on which the project is based and so represents the justification for expenditure of time and effort. A checklist of the headings is provided below.


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