Or, “How Using a Project Brief Clarified My Thinking”
In This Post:
Why I created a project brief
The unexpected benefit that arose when I started using it
A look at what’s in the template and a link to download a free copy
When information is siloed into multiple disorganized email threads, it's a nightmare to dig out the things you’re looking for.
Usually, by the latter half of a project, my client’s feedback and notes have become buried in multiple hefty email threads. While I like to keep everything organized in one email, it’s not uncommon for the client to randomly fire off a new thread when the previous one inevitably got too long.
I’m diligent about copying over all their notes into my project management system (Airtable) but I couldn’t be sure the client had such a system. If they didn’t, then they would have a hell of a time looking up something we covered 2 threads and 30 emails ago.
The Solution I Crafted
I decided to make a project brief template, where I could
Record all the important details of the project
Collect all client notes and feedback in the same place
Share milestones for review
I wanted to stop all of these things from falling into a chaotic black hole of 50+ emails, spread across 3 disorganized threads. I want them all in one central location, so either I or the client can look back and see what happened several steps back, or check on details like the rate that we establish or when the next update is due.
One easily accessible, organized, central source of truth. This is why I chose Google Docs for this, and not Notion (which would have been my preference.) Everyone knows how to use Google Docs so there’s no interface learning curve or the need to create an account. And if there are any other collaborators that need to be brought in, that’s super easy too!
At first, this was an experiment. I wasn’t sure if this was something that I’d end up sticking with, or discard because it ended up being more work than it was worth.
My expectations were that it would work as I needed it to work and that it’d become something that I’d definitely use for bigger projects. Maybe not all of them, since the form ended up being several pages long (thank goodness for the document outline sidebar!)
It’s been several months now, and I’ve been using it 100% of the time! I’d found that in going through the process of filling out the template, information gaps quickly surfaced— any specs that get covered in our discussions.
There are so many necessary specs that I need to ascertain that a few invariably get overlooked. I’m reminded of Atul Gawande’s book, The Checklist Manifesto (one of my favorites), and how things always get lost in the shuffle, regardless of how familiar you are with a series of steps.
There was an even more significant effect that this process brought forth- forcing a second round of strategic review. I started to notice that the administrative process of filling in the necessary steps and resources was evoking bigger questions like, “do we really need this part?” Or, “this section is turning out to be much longer than the rest. Should it be a separate project?”
My favorite one, though, is what happens right around the “target audience” section. There can be a big difference between knowing in your head an approximate idea of who/what the project is for, and what comes out when you’re forced to write it out. This act of explicitly articulating the focus of the project sometimes reveals gaps in your thinking or assumptions that need to be verified.
More than once have I been forced to reappraise the entire focus of the project at this point, if it’s solving the right problem and in the best way. We tend to get attached to our first ideas and rarely make ourselves reevaluate them rigorously. It turns out that I’ve found a way to introduce a bit of a failsafe for that bias, and I’m very grateful for it.
I'd love to hear if you use a similar system yourself, or if you found this template useful!
A Walkthrough of My Project Brief Template
Here’s a look at what my project brief looks like, and you can download a free copy of it here.