Several of my previous posts focused on the strategic thinking, concept and planning stages of a programme or campaign. I wanted to pick a topic to drill down into.

One of the most important and critical steps for many projects is also one of the earliest steps in the process – giving and receiving a brief.

Regardless of whether you are the project manager, or part of the team responsible for execution and delivery, many parts of the process begin with creating a brief, delivering, and receiving the brief.

What is a brief?

strtgcommsgrp - what is a brief

A good brief can make or break a programme, campaign or project.

It is both a roadmap and game plan, showing how you take a programme, campaign or project from idea to completion.

Expressed simply, the brief communicates clearly the objective(s), scope, timeline, and  desired/anticipated outcome(s) of the programme, campaign or project.

A good brief should explain the purpose of the programme, campaign or project. In turn, this understanding supports alignment between teams because they are made aware of the objectives and outcomes as well as expectations of their areas of contribution. Viewed holistically, this leads to a higher quality workflow, outputs and eventually outcomes.

Why is the brief such a critical part of project management?

At the idea and concept stage, a brief ensures leadership, management and stakeholders including external parties are aligned. This alignment is important because of the nature of ownership created through participating in a joint or team decision.

With ownership, the project is provided a stronger runway for completion, as different stakeholders want it to succeed (vs. the project being regarded as a vanity project by a single party).

At the strategy and planning stage, it is the single source of truth, allowing all stakeholders and parties involved to base and make decisions using the same data and information.

When questions come up, or tasks are unclear, the brief can guide project team members towards the right direction. This direction is usually described from the perspective of value to the organisation, or benefit to the business, or in alignment with large goals, mission or plans of the unit.

What is NOT part of a brief?

It is not enough to look at the reverse of a good brief and label it ‘bad’ or inadequate. A brief explains what is happening (the situation), where/what is needed (the outcome) and the way to get there (the roadmap and timing).

A brief should not include speculation or contribute to confusion, for example, through mixed objectives, or measurements. The project manager and recipient of the brief should not operate on different concepts or understanding of the project.

Sometimes information itself can reduce the quality of a brief. Information that is necessary to understand the landscape/situation but itself is not critical to execution must be presented separately from the brief.

An inadequate brief creates misalignment between parties, confusion, and can cause tension between team members.

strtgcommsgrp - what is not a brief

Best practice in putting a brief together if you are the project manager.

As the project manager, you have a responsibility to ensure clarity for all project team members. This clarity is the foundation that will help team members deliver the execution and outcomes you want.

Here are some best practices to observe:

Set clear goals, timelines, and responsible parties for the marketing campaign. Ensure that details involving what, why, who, how, and when are present. Avoid acronyms, jargon, and lingo. Keep it simple.

Identify the audience and expected outcomes of the project. Knowing and understanding the audience can contribute to making the narrative, positioning, messaging and content engaging, relevant, clear, and factual.

Detail the measurements that will determine success. Informs everyone about how their contributions will be measured. Every metric must support the goals and objectives.

Some tips for sharing and delivering a brief to your team.

It’s not enough to put together a good brief. Half or more of the success comes down to communicating the brief and answering the questions that come up.

Receiving a brief. Just read and follow, right?

Of course. If your purpose is to be a mindless drone, with no ownership or input of your own.

Reading and following a brief without receiving clarity, understanding and aligning with the purpose and roadmap can still result in a successful campaign.

It just doesn’t provide as much fun, experience or learning to team members. To get the most out of receiving and following a brief, team members should try to gain the following from the process:

strtgcommsgrp - process of receiving and following a brief

Sidebar: Psychology says what is heard is interpreted differently from what is said. Here’s how to deal with this challenge.

Similar to the Yanny/Laurel sound challenge of 2015, many people find that their understanding or recollection of what was heard can be different from what was actually said. Yanny/Laurel happens because “…the mind flips back and forth between the two interpretations and just how much the brain is an active interpreter of sensory input, and thus that the external world is less objective than we like to believe”.

Deborah Tannen, a University Professor and a professor of linguistics at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C, opines that “how you say what you mean is crucial, and differs from one person to the next, because using language is learned social behavior: How we talk and listen are deeply influenced by cultural experience”. Her research has found that “…ways of speaking learned in childhood affect judgments of competence and confidence, as well as who gets heard, who gets credit, and what gets done”.

Basically, what you are sharing verbally in your brief might get misinterpreted to mean something else depending on the team member listening.

This makes it even more important for the brief to be captured in a multi-dimensional manner and on multiple mediums. How does this work in real-life?

A brief must exist on a non-editable document format that is readily accessible and shareable. It can be supported by files that provide complementary information, literature, material or data. There can be a meeting, or a video/audio file that shares the project manager’s un-interrupted sharing of the brief.

The project manager can opt to receive questions prior or post-meeting and provide responses in a Q&A document for team members to read. This process can be supported by asynchronous mediums such as chat, or direct messages dealing with specific questions. The Q&As can be updated to the document as a further update.

This approach combines a static, ‘locked’ document that captures the brief and supported by a dynamic Q&A document/medium that captures ongoing questions that continue to remove ambiguity and confusion by team members as the project continues.

4 ways to get the most out of a brief from the project manager.

When receiving a brief, it is critical to be involved from the start, and to demonstrate your understanding and commitment to the objectives and outcomes.

You must understand the following 4 areas. Here are some questions to ask:

Purpose and objective: Understanding the purpose and objective from the start can save effort and resources moving forward.

Target audience: Seek to understand the target audience as people, who they are, what they do, where they do so, and how do they get information about topics, things, places.

Channels: When we know who the audience is, and where + how they gather information, we can choose to put our brand in those places, using narratives and stories they understand and which will influence them.

Measurements and timeline: Look to understand why these measurements matter, and whether they can be achieved in the time given.

Making the brief work for the good of the project.

Regardless of whether you are the project manager or the recipient of a brief, you must understand the reasons why it is in your interest to make the brief work for the team you are working with.

These reasons can be summarised as follows:

  1. There is less time spent discussing across variables in the concept and execution stages.
  2. The outcome is more effective as every party is aligned and pulling in the same direction.
  3. With context and clarity, the team’s efforts become more efficient, needing lesser time or effort to achieve the desired outcome.
  4. A brief can show the proportion of focus on the messages or the channels, helping decision makers understand the layers present in a project plan.
  5. External parties (outside of the project team) understand the priorities, directions, outcomes similarly leading to lesser confusion or misunderstanding.
  6. A good set of measurements can result in greater support for the project.

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