How to Write a Brief for a Software Project

by Sandra Petrova

8 min read · Mar 10, 2020

Are you leading a tech project and need help writing a software development project plan? Here are a few tips for how to put together a detailed brief.

Picture the following scenario: You're the owner of a startup company and want to build a new website with a few functionalities. However, you know that if you're going to cooperate effectively with your engineering team or a development company, you need to outline your goals, budget, and deadline.

How do you do that?

You put together a software project brief. 

Every good project should start with a project brief, especially if the project has a tight deadline, a limited budget, and a whole lot of decisions.

It's an agreement on the target audience, project goals, scope, time and resources. If you consider all of these factors, you can write a great project brief that will work for everyone. 

Here are the most crucial project brief components that will keep the project from going off the rails:

Project Goals

Describe the project goals clearly. This will help the development team understand what the needs of the project are and their role in the project. Get into details. Instead of saying: "I need a new website," say, "I need a new website with a modern design, a customizable menu, and an online payment system."

Also, share the greater vision of the project with the team. Is your plan to expand in the future? It's critical for the people you will be working with to understand the direction the product would go after the initial scope. 

What's unique about the application? You want to make sure that gets emphasized! 

Make the software development project plan concise and to the point. Create a document that outlines a table and add all the important details. What is it, who is it for, why are we doing it, what is our expected outcome, what are the goals. Outside of those questions, a few additional sections to include are a "similar projects/examples" to use for inspiration, who owns different parts of the project, deadlines, and action items.

Levi Olmstead | Director of Marketing, 2nd Kitchen

Target Audience

At the core of every software solution lies the target audience. For you and the project team to create a great software solution, you need to understand the end-user. Note that it's possible to have more than one target persona. Define 1 to 3 target personas who will be using the product

The ideal description should include the target persona's:

  • age
  • occupation
  • personal interests
  • income
  • goals 
  • challenges 

For the sake of this article, we'll imagine that your business is based in New York, and it's in the vegan food industry. If you do research and find that 3% of people aged 18-29 are vegan, and 4% of people aged 30-49 are vegan, then you'll have two target personas. Politically, liberal Americans are more likely than conservatives to avoid meat or dairy. That's another fact to add to your target persona's description. 

When you have a target persona in mind, you can steer the software development project in the right direction. You'll be aware of the challenges and problems of that target persona and create a software solution that answers those problems. 

writing a software project brief
When you have a target persona in mind, you can steer the software development project in the right direction.

Functionalities 

After defining the target persona, the next item on the software development project plan is to describe the primary features of your software. What are the specific features you want to be included? Dive deep into the details. What type of payment system would it have? Do you want to include a loyalty program?

The engineering team must know what functionalities the software will have from the beginning and what functionalities you plan on adding later. It'll be easier for the engineering team to come up with an estimation once they know what they'll be working on. 

With a good understanding of the market, the user, and your ultimate goals with the software, you provide a framework for your software development project plan. That’s when you can start thinking about functionality and features that you need. It’s always good to split these features into "Essentials", "Nice to Have's", and "Bonuses." This way you can look at creating software that meets all the essential requirements, and put time and effort into "Nice to Have's" or "Bonuses" that you think are going to bring the most value with the least effort. That way you can have a core product available faster, and can look at expanding the software in the future based on user feedback, which can save a lot of time and money over creating a full product up front.

Sam Orchard, Creative Director, Edge of the Web

Mockups

Mockups are a visual representation of the product. Instead of wasting time on coding, the product gets visually created before it gets designed. It can be sketches, diagrams, or wireframes that help illustrate your vision for your product. 

It's recommended that the project brief contains mockups so that both the developers and the business reps have a clear picture of the product. It also makes it easier for the engineering team to estimate the costs and move to the development of the product faster.

For example, if you're building a website, the mockup would show the structure of the site and its basic functionalities in a static way. It will display the order of the components, but also the specific colors, shapes, and exact placement of the elements. If you already have some graphic designs, logos, or images that have been created, share them with the team members.

The Current State of the Project

Do you already have some version of the product? If yes, then point out the restrictions that users and system administrators can come across. Also, let the team know what you expect from the software development process. Sharing this info will help the engineering team to recommend you the right technology to create an upgraded and scalable product.

Budget

The success of the project depends on a well-planned and properly estimated budget. Cost estimation includes each element required for the project, including materials, equipment, and labor. 

If you have a limited budget, it's best to share that information with the engineering team so that they can choose solutions that best fit your budget and determine the project scope. The team can select a technology that costs less money, and they can work within practical constraints.

For example, if the functionalities you want exceed the budget, the developers will prioritize the work and focus on developing the essential features in the first phase.

project brief template
If you have a limited budget, it's best to share that information with the engineering team so that they can choose solutions that best fit your budget.

Deadline

A crucial step in creating your software project brief is setting a deadline. 

Do you have to release your product at a specific date or month? When can the team start working on the project? 

Knowing the deadline will help determine the size of the team and the scope of work. If the deadline is a short time away, but the plan is too ambitious, you would have to narrow the scope to release the product on time.

A recommended approach is building an MVP. A key concept of MVP is that you design a basic version of the product. The next step is to offer it to customers to test their response. Instead of building a ton of features, you build the most crucial ones, test the product, and use the feedback to plan your next steps. 

Final Word

To many people, a project brief is a dry list with dates. But for people who are invested in the project and believe in it, a project brief is a guide that will dictate how they will get to project milestones, decisions, and project completion. 

Hopefully, this post gave you a clear idea of what every software project brief should contain. Let it guide you and your team to building an outstanding product that customers will love using. 

Are you looking to build a great engineering team to bring your product to life? Get help from our top software developers!

Product Requrements Brief Image

FAQs

Q: What is the purpose of a project brief?
The purpose of a project brief is to ensure that everyone involved in the project understands the target audience, project goals, scope, budget, and deadline. It's a crucial resource that can keep the project from going off the rails. 
Q: What is included in a project brief?
The most essential project brief contents include:
  1. Project Goals
  2. Target audience
  3. Primary functionalities
  4. Mockups
  5. Current state of the project
  6. Budget
  7. Deadline
Q: What is a website brief?
A website brief is a document that guides the entire website design process. It's a detailed and comprehensive resource that serves as a reference to all parties involved. It generally covers the goals of the project, target audience, functionalities, mockups, budget, and deadline. 
Q: How do you write a software brief?
The software brief is written by project managers or startup owners. They hand it over to their engineering team or to a software company to get their project done. A good software brief is detailed, comprehensive, and contains all key points and milestones.