10.10.2016 : Matt Wheeler

The art of creating an outline brief

The Outline Brief forms a baseline for the project. I think of it like a filter; starting with the big picture strategy which drills down through constraints, risks and budgets to functional requirements.

I’m continually surprised by how few projects take the time to establish a brief. A brief documents and records all the information the design team needs. It allows the client to record the background, intent and purpose of their project. It often forms part of the clients’ business case and is a central place to record sign-off from stakeholders. But, most of all, it gives everyone involved a clear understanding of the project and how to make it successful.

Within a project there are essentially two kinds of briefs: an Outline (or Strategic) Brief and a Design Brief. The most important being the Outline Brief which is a globally recognised, multi-industry method of capturing key requirements for projects, and goes onto inform the Design Brief.

The Outline Brief forms a baseline for the project detailing key decisions, documentation, and work stream and workshop outputs for review and approval by the Project Control Group. I think of it like a filter; starting with the big picture strategy which drills down through constraints, risks and budgets to functional requirements. As the project progresses, it is used as a reference to check whether the project is on track and being true to the objectives.

The best briefs are ones developed right at the start of the project, prior to starting design. And are where the project managers come on board prior to, or together with, the architect/lead designer to work with the client to produce the briefs.

The image below shows the best time to create a brief is at the point a project idea is formulated. Too often we miss this opportunity and the design brief becomes the first document capturing requirements.

Once the Outline Brief has been completed, the Design Brief can be created to align with the original project requirements. The latter will include constraints and requirements for the design team, along with some of the look-and-feel parameters should they be traditional, contemporary, high class or budget.

The recipe for successfully delivering an Outline Brief

In my mind, it all starts with a good project manager. Someone who will guide, facilitate and drive the development of the briefs. Who will identify the right people to be involved to achieve buy-in, facilitate open conversations and encourage a fun environment.

Regardless of the size of the project, there are logical bite-sized chunks and a general order to approach an Outline brief. And a good project manager will start by providing a clear roadmap, ideally pictorially, to demonstrate the process of working through the brief development.

These bite-sized chunks, are best approached in a workshop format in this order:

  • Workshop One: Is all about setting the scene. You’ll walkthrough the roadmap, agree the project sponsor and governance, and establish project success criteria and objectives.
  • Workshop Two: Is where you outline the requirements, discuss the lifespan of structures and approach to sustainability.
  • Workshop Three: To establish boundaries and budget, identify constraints and outline programme aspirations.
  • Workshop Four: To identify risk and opportunities.
  • Workshop Five: For pre-concept design and, if needed, cost estimate alignment.
  • Workshop Six: To bringing it all together.

The project manager will then finalise the written brief document, circulate and achieve the all-important stakeholder team signoff.

Having said this, you don’t need to be too rigid with the process. An Outline Brief is a great opportunity to have some fun and build a relationship with the client and team. The time spent creating a brief early, plays dividends later in the project; with a shorter concept design period and clarity for the design team.

About the Author

Matt Wheeler

Business Director - Project & Cost Management

Matt is a project and property development advisor with a passion for helping improve Auckland for our future generations to enjoy. As a thought leader, Matt enjoys strategising and connecting the dots with new ways of doing things.

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