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Briefs In Brief: How to establish your project brief

Updated: Aug 28, 2023

When you’re planning a construction project for your business, it’s worth spending time getting your brief just right. Actually, any kind of business change plan should have a detailed brief to make sure that your objectives are set and communicated, to make sure everyone is clear about what you’re trying to achieve.

A clear project brief will lead you to a successful outcome

Establishing your brief should be the start of your change control process. Without it, you won’t have any way to say what your change looks like, what it costs and how long it will take. If you write your brief in a systematic way, you are much more likely to get the result you want from your project. Everybody will be absolutely clear what you want.

If your project delivery team haven’t completely understood what you want, you will have to deal with the pain of mistakes being made. This could cause your budget and timelines to go out of the window. It will definitely cause you a whole load of hassle.

A good brief, step by step

Let’s imagine that you have recently acquired a new building that’s a bit of a blank canvas. You want to turn it into a restaurant. If you follow the following steps, you will end up with a logical and highly detailed brief:

  1. What are your base requirements? I want a restaurant!!

  2. What type of restaurant is it? What is it selling? This question will drive the size of the kitchen. For example, if you are planning to open a salad bar, your probably won’t need so much hot food preparation equipment like ovens, grease traps, etc.

  3. Where do you want your restaurant to be? If you already own the site, this one is easy to answer. However, if you haven’t acquired the property yet, you will need to give this careful consideration.

  4. What component parts do you want? You’ll definitely need a kitchen, dining room and washrooms. Maybe you’ll want a bar, lounge and reception area too.

  5. How many of these component parts do you want? Will you have just the one dining room, or will you have more?

  6. How big do you want the components to be? You may want to maximise dining room space. Perhaps you’d like a large, statement kitchen where the clients can watch their food being prepared.

  7. How do you want them to interact? Think about the journey you’d like your customers to take when they visit your restaurant. Do you want them to enjoy a drink at your bar before you lead them through to their table?

  8. What do you want the components to look like? Where do you want doors and windows? Are you planning a special feature such as a grand staircase or a moulded ceiling?

  9. What facilities do you want in each component? Will you want air conditioning or underfloor heating? Where do you want the light switches and power sockets to be?

  10. When do you want your project to be delivered by?

  11. How much are you prepared to spend?

Your project manager or architect will talk you through these steps, guiding you on what is achievable within the constraints of your location, desired timeline and budget.

Although we’ve used the example of a restaurant here, you can see how these questions would apply to any construction project, from a new build to a refurbishment.

Understand Priorities

Obviously, different projects and different businesses will have different priorities. When one of our project managers was working at Barclays, they had a matrix to help them decide how many cashiers, personal bankers, offices, etc should be in each branch. Pure Gym, meanwhile, had different briefs, depending on whether the gym was located in a town or a city, to ensure the right facilities would be available to their target customer.

When establishing a brief for the refurbishment of a car park for Hillingdon Council, on the other hand, the brief was influenced not only by what was broken and needed fixing, but also by what would have the best political impact. Local residents wanted clear walkways, clear signage and a better payment system. These needs had to be addressed in addition to the things that would make the carpark functional.

Make it clear to everyone

Once you think your brief fully expresses your goals, it’s worth checking that it’s just as clear to other people. To be properly effective, your brief needs to be understandable.

As an illustration, when Barclays were developing the brief for their headquarters at Canary Wharf, they went to the trouble of engaging with focus groups over many months. They were determined that their brief should not only set their objectives but they wanted them to be written in such a way that they were understandable to everyone.

As you can see, following a logical system of questions can help you write a brief that not only expresses what you want to achieve from your project, but also effectively communicates it to the people who will make your plans a reality. Taking the trouble to get this right before you start work saves you from the pain of mistakes being made further down the line.

If you’d like any help establishing your brief, please contact us.

A clear project brief will lead you to a successful outcome


Elizabeth Hewitt

Director of Marketing at Iconic Project Management Limited. We specialise in retail, leisure and commercial construction.

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