“Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results. “
George S. Patton Jr.
“First I think my think, then I draw my think.”
This isn’t an inspiring passionate thought piece today … this is about getting a project done correctly … and well.
It is about inspiring people to do maybe not a great job … but maybe an insightful thoughtful one.
Several points before I begin:
– Every business deserves inspired projects.
Whenever I use the term ‘inspiring briefs’ people automatically associate it with the creative, or marketing, industry.
They shouldn’t. And I don’t.
Inspiring people in the grindiest of grind jobs and functions should be a mandatory in business. The truth is that every role and every function matters in an organization. Some may have a higher profile but that doesn’t mean they matter more. Suffice it to say everything matters, everyone matters and every project matters. If you believe that then everything should receive a dose of inspiration so that the output will matter.
– Every project deserves to be inspired in some way.
A lot of people argue ‘let’s just get this project done.’
I can’t argue with that.
What I can argue with is the fact that each project, big or the smallest of small, is a pebble being dropped into a pond. Even the smallest tweaks can generate big responses <that is called The Butterfly Effect by the way>. Things that matter can come at any time in the most unexpected places. If you take a moment and some energy to inspire at the onset of a project I can guarantee you will be pleasantly surprised with regard to the outcomes … in an unexpected places.
– Every project deserves context.
While I will babble and use a shitload of words to talk about creating inspiring project briefs if you read only one thing it will be this – context.
No matter how often you hear ‘make it simple and just tell me what to do’ … they are lying. Everyone wants to know how what they are doing fits into the grander scheme of things. I am not suggesting you have to belabor context but people are always more inspired if they believe, and know, that even their small project is contributing to the larger perspective.
I cannot tell you how many times I have used the Terry Pratchett quote “It only takes a tweak to make the whole world new” or quoted the Butterfly Effect when sharing the context to a sometimes jaded audience of ‘task doers.’
Corollary note to the context thought I just shared.
If you CANNOT show how the project actually contributes in some way to the larger perspective … well … you should probably be questioning whether the project is needed. This thought actually pertains to … well … everything. If a project feels like a waste of time 99% of the time it actually is a waste of time. People are pretty smart. Treat them like they are smart.
To begin the whole ‘what goes into creating an inspiring brief.’
Briefing people on projects means you have to assume you are briefing creative problem solvers who either consciously, or subconsciously, understand there is both a strategic and executional imperative attached to what they will do.
Believing anything less than that means you believe the people you have tasked the project to aren’t up to it. Well. Only up to doing what they are asked to do … and that sucks. No one … I repeat … no one likes to feel that way.
Strategy & execution. I mention that because therein lies one of the most difficult issues with regard to a project brief – brevity versus ‘full briefing.’
Simplistically I believe there are two type of project ‘doers’ … those who want the task and then do what they need to do to get it done and those who want all the information they can possibly have to center themselves on the task at hand.
This almost demands you develop a project brief within a project brief.
This definitely demands that you, the developer of the brief, cannot decide one over the other as the brief mechanism. You may prefer one over the other but … well … a project realistically ain’t about you – it’s about those who have to do the task.
This is particularly true if you are a creative partner for another business.
A creative partner brief is an internal document used by them to get the solution required … from the various disciplines within the business.
A business brief created by a client/business is a project brief which outlines what is needed and why.
There is a fundamental difference between these two project briefs.
As a point of principle I don’t believe a business should approve their creative partner’s project brief. However … that said … I do believe the creative partner should approve the business project brief – it is a commitment to deliver against it.
But. I digress.
The starting point must be write a project brief, always write a brief, no matter what the project is.
A brief, at minimum, disciplines thinking forcing an articulation of what is needed.
They also provide a reference point when evaluating the actual outcome.
However … step one is not ‘write a brief’ or even ‘what is the most effective way to write a brief.’
Step one is thinking about what you need and how whoever you are tasking with the solution can deliver against the task at hand.
I could argue that, and context, is your only step in a project brief.
Put it this way … if you can only effectively communicate what is needed and why it is important to the larger perspective you have a fighting chance to not only get what you need but even a chance it will be an inspired outcome.
Only after step one has been written down on an index card <your go-to brevity outcome summary> do you grab whatever insane project brief format your organization has cobbled together and start trying to write an inspiring brief <within what is typically an incredibly uninspiring format>.
I am all for formats because they not only increase the odds of some consistency within the organization in terms of direction but also in a very indirect way increase the odds of some type of ‘inspiration.’
A format is simply a mean to an end.
Tell people what you need.
Tell people what needs to be done.
Tell people why it needs to be done.
Tell people why someone will care it will be done <in an advertising agency this is typically some people/target/user insight … but I could argue that any time you can tell even your janitor crew that their particular project enhances the organizational ‘life’ or makes productivity better – because people feel better – this is an integral part of a brief>.
Tell people why it matters.
Notice I didn’t say “tell people how it will be done.”
I will admit that this is a very very thin line. I tend to lean toward ‘offer a construct on how it should be done & let the task doers do within the construct’ rather than ‘here is what you will do and what you will do and … well … step by step.’
This is Patton’s opening quote. And this is where ‘inspiring’ plays a role.
Give some freedom within a task and they will often surprise you with the results.
A project brief writer versus a committee writer.
This is absolutely relevant to an inspiring project brief.
A project brief written by committee will be sucked dry of any and all inspiration. It will simply become a ‘how to do’ project which the doers will feel like it is a checklist to meet so that they don’t get something shoved up their ass at a later date.
Committee project briefs breed mediocrity and ‘cover your ass’ outcomes.
If that’s what you want than go right ahead.
Can a single author project brief create some inefficiency? Sure.
But they also increase the likelihood of some inspired outcome.
Everything in life, and business, is about tradeoffs <even project briefs>.
I am not suggesting it is not important to listen to everyone’s voice in the process but one person should be responsible for the project brief.
Inspiring the objective.
Once again … I believe all project briefs should incorporate both inspiration and direction.
To be clear … inspiration is more about the task ambition than some esoteric ‘we will change the world.’ Inspiration is about solving a problem or an issue.
Resolving something <not just doing something for the sake of doing something>.
Let me digress for a second with regard to specifically marketing and communications.
– Increase awareness is not inspiring or a credible objective.
– Far too often we assume that everyone believes marketing can solve the problem and get to the task … convince people marketing is a viable solution.
– The target. In today’s world where attitudinal targeting is becoming significantly more effective providing a simplistic clear specific target is difficult.
Suffice it to say some representative “this is Jane and this is Joe” symbolic target is stupid.
Suffice it to say just stating a specific age group is stupid.
The more you can be specific with regard to what you want someone to actually do <versus what they are currently doing> or what behavior you are asking them to change … the better off you will be. The target may be attitudinally driven but inevitably in marketing you are trying to drive behavior <or you have your head up your ass and do not know what you are doing>.
Back from my digression.
Briefs should provide every piece of information needed to find & create a solution for what is needed.
And while a brief should offer some clearly defined parameters it should not include invented mandatories or unnecessary detail <like politics>.
The more truth and authenticity and clarity … the more likely you can take some pride in the brief. This matters. It matters because then it isn’t simply another ‘to do’ on list of things to be done but instead the project will be injected with your sense of pride <even if it is a little dose>.
Task doers notice that crap <albeit … it is good crap>.
If you inject some pride they will know you care … and they will care a little more.
But please not I purposefully suggested some authenticity.
Fake caring or fake pride or fake importance and … well … you are screwed.
Maybe not on that project but over time … well … people are smart.
You don’t need to love your project brief but you should be able to look at it with some pride.
Maybe this is ‘context’ but lets just call it ‘the plan.’
I don’t give a shit how large or how small a project is … in today’s world everyone feels like their plate is already not only full … but overflowing.
A project brief to anyone is pretty much all about changing minds and persuading people to do or feel something they are walking in pretty sure they are not going to want to do.
This means you have to have a plan.
You are asking them to do a tactic within that plan.
And you need to show them how that tactic not only is part of the plan … but its role in meeting … uh oh … “the objective.”
How the tactic contributes to the plan’s objective.
I don’t need a big hairy audacious plan <all the time> but the plan has to be big enough that people will feel like it is worthy of being inspired and investing energy into the task at hand.
I have no formula on how to do this. The ‘bigness’ of your plan will be contextual.
Not all tasks are equal.
All tasks, or projects, are important but importance is not an equal opportunity employer.
The description of the bigness of your plan is in relation to the task at hand.
In other words … the plan has to be slightly bigger than what is actually attainable to those doing the task. They need to understand they are contributing to something that the organization can attain but they individually probably cannot do on their own.
That’s about all the guidance can give you on that one.
Sharing the brief.
Face to face … or at least with some verbal introduction <no emailing ‘here is what need to be done>.
Here is why face to face is so important you should move earth & heaven to make it happen.
If you do a brief properly to a good task team, as noted before, you will have a mix of people with different wants & needs in the brief and the brief discussion.
As a corollary … if you do a brief properly there will be a mix of responses. As a project brief deliverer … regardless of your seniority or peer relationship with those doing the task you will be everywhere … directing & supervising. In some cases you will have to show detail and in other cases you will have to explain strategy. It is not that the brief sucks nor is it that the task doers aren’t trained properly … the fear of doing the task right or well, anticipation of what needs to be done and timelines crowd a person’s head multiplying the noise in the head so that what is typically an easy connection doesn’t connect. You have to be there to connect. Your job isn’t just to share the project brief but to hold people to task and doing the things for which they are trained, or capable of doing, and that will allow them to succeed.
There you go.
Inspiring project briefs.
You cannot go wrong by trying to treat any and all project briefs as something more than ‘this is something we need to get done.’
I know I am suggesting an increase in overall effort within a business because more often than not we pick and choose where to ‘be inspiring.’ Some would suggest it is a survival technique to get through everything that needs to be done in the business world.
I would actually suggest it is a death technique in today’s business world.
In a business world where pretty much any cubicle, or desk, or any person standing in any department, has the opportunity to tap into a far larger knowledge world you cannot really tell where the next idea is going to come from. The most inane project could actually generate the tweak that will make the whole world new.
Simplicity & the Project Brief: