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Hot Topic Highlight - Development/Project Briefs




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What is this week's blog about?


Property Elite consultant, Abigail Blumzon BArch (Hons) MSc, MRICS outlines the requirements for understanding the preparation and development of a brief that reflects the client’s requirements.


Abigail is a Chartered Surveyor and qualified construction project manager. She has a wide range of professional expertise in a variety of roles within the construction sector.


Essential reading for RICS APC and AssocRICS candidates on the project management pathway, as well as any other candidates (e.g. Planning & Development) who are pursuing the Development/Project Briefs competency or professionals who want to improve or hone their project management skill-set.


What is a Brief?


A brief can be thought of as a way to ensure the client receives the right project – transforming their unique needs into unique building requirements through an iterative process of gathering and collating information.


The Association for Project Management describes a project brief as “the output of the concept phase of a project or programme”. In other words, it is the final stage in the iterative process of defining the client's requirements for the project.


The project brief will evolve through the strategic development stage (RIBA Stage 0), project brief stage (RIBA Stage 1) and the concept design stage (RIBA Stage 2) with the benefit of information gained from consultations with the client, specialist consultants and other stakeholders.


It typically involves the following evolution:

  • Statement of need (first attempt to describe project requirements)

  • Strategic brief (develops from statement of need and describes client requirements in sufficient detail to allow the appointment of consultants, who can then support further development)

  • Project brief (key document on which design will be based)


How should they be prepared?


It is important to recognise that you may encounter project briefs at a number of stages. For example, a project manager may be appointed to assist the client in developing a full project brief from their statement of need, whereas alternatively they might be brought into the team once a developed brief is already in place.


Briefs can be developed in various ways. However, the key is to ensure the method enables stakeholder needs and existing relevant information to be captured and translated into building requirements. This process is likely to be coordinated by the lead consultant.


While the preparation process can vary significantly from project to project, a broad process checklist may involve:

  • Review existing business case, statement of need and strategic brief

  • Site surveys and analysis of site information

  • Desktop research, e.g. planning requirements, space standards, local policy and building regulations

  • Workshops with client champions and user panels to establish needs, expectations and priorities

  • Input from other stakeholders through surveys or interviews

  • Develop preliminary briefing document

  • Iterative review with stakeholders, making changes as needed

  • Receive client sign-off to ‘freeze’ project brief


What information should be included?


A brief should be a considered and concise body of information, resulting in clear objectives.


In practice, the content will vary depending on the project, but it may include:

  • Project vision, mission and objectives

  • A description of the client, e.g. priorities and criteria that will be used to measure success and interfaces with other projects

  • Client policies, e.g. transport policy, energy policy, natural ventilation policy and sustainability policy

  • Client preferences, e.g. aesthetics, use of local materials and use of landscape

  • Site information, e.g. building and site surveys, utilities, ground conditions and planning consents

  • Spatial requirements, e.g. schedules of accommodation and users, departments and functions, zoning and circulation

  • Technical requirements, e.g. building services, fire compartmentation, maintenance, durability and lifespan

  • Planning requirements

  • Budget

  • Project programme and key milestones

  • Known risks

  • Targets for post occupancy evaluation outcomes and performance


What happens to all this information?


The project brief is likely to be presented as a report with appendices.


Where possible, requirements should be scheduled in a spreadsheet and drafted as measurable indicators. Examples might include operational energy benchmarks, construction waste reduction targets or budget requirements. This means that the lead consultant or project manager can track project performance and monitor change.


The project brief should be frozen at the end of the concept design stage and change control procedures introduced to prevent further changes without appropriate justification and authorisation.


It’s important that the final document is made available to all who may need it, although of course within the limits of confidentiality and common sense. A common pitfall in design development is team members simply not having access to the right information at the right time.


Conclusion and Key Points


In summary of the key points within this blog, a project brief:

  • Ensures the client receives the right project

  • Defines client's requirements for the project

  • Is developed through an iterative process

  • Is typically led by the lead consultant

  • Incorporates information from a variety of sources including project stakeholders

  • Collates this information into a concise body of information including a requirements schedule


The importance of a good brief can’t be underestimated, as inaccuracies or missing information can have dire consequences in later stages of the project. Challenges faced may include clients being unaware of their needs, needs surfacing too late, changing requirements and communication failures.


A good project manager will be able to guide the client and stakeholders through this process and produce a thorough brief that reflects the client’s requirements.


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N.b. Nothing in this article constitutes legal, professional or financial advice.