How to Plan a CMS Project - Project Brief

To start a CMS project means getting an understanding of what the client really wants. Basically, you need to draft a project brief. Although a project brief should be a straightforward document of only a few pages, it can be difficult to get it right.

A project brief contains the following elements:

  • Organizational Purpose

  • Project Purpose

  • Project Objectives

  • Target Market

The first thing to capture is what the purpose of the organization is. This is not for your benefit or the organization's but rather for the people working on the project that will be designing and developing the solution. The more they understand the organization, the better they will be able to design solutions.

The questions to ask are:

  • What is the organization about?

  • What do they do?

  • What do they hope to achieve?

The final question here is very important; expectations are what can cause projects to fail. Unless they are stated and captured, they may only surface later in the project when management reviews the prototype and notices something is missing—by which point, it's going to be expensive and difficult to implement.

Project Purpose

There are many documents that can be pointed at when asking for the purpose of a project. These include documents such as a business case or requirements. However, often these documents are long and contain many details. What they lack is what a project purpose really is i.e.: A clear, concise and measureable statement of the business outcomes the project is supposed to achieve.

This sounds simple but in reality is very difficult to write, and even more difficult to get everyone to agree to. It's more than what the organization hopes to get out of the project as it defines the specific outcomes to be achieved. Put simply, this tells you if you have succeeded or not. The expectations of what the organization hopes to achieve versus the concrete outcomes to be delivered.

A simple project purpose would be:

  • Improve our ability to manage the annual survey

  • Increase overall response rates for the survey

  • Improve the quality of data gathered

This is a clear project purpose, we know what we need to deliver: an online survey. We also know what the organization expects from this survey: increased response rates. This is where you want to start to manage expectations. In this case, creating an online version of the survey to improve management can be done with a CMS and delivered successfully. That's straightforward. The second outcome is not so simple.

Just because the online survey works, doesn't mean it will increase response rates. That would require a campaign, to create awareness and make sure survey respondents know they can fill out the survey online. This is where you would want to argue that the second outcome is not within the scope of the development project and would be the responsibility of the organization itself. By managing expectations at this point, you can save a lot of time and grief.

In worst situations, the project may never get off the ground because there is no clear project purpose, and that's a good thing. Starting without a clear purpose will only make things harder, later down the track. You'll have nothing to refer back to when trying to prove the project was a success. It also comes into play during the design and specification phases. If a dogmatic debate arises over a particular aspect of the visual design, we can point to the project purpose and ask if it will help achieve the outcome. E.g., will it help improve the quality of data gathered or not; if the answer is yes, the design feature stays, if not, it goes.

Project Objectives

The project purpose contains the outcomes which are what the project will achieve for the organization. The way the outcome will be achieved is through delivering a number of objectives. Outcomes refer to the business benefits; objectives refer to how the project will achieve the outcomes. This will be covered further but the sequence is:

Objective > Output > Outcome

So, we have started with a purpose and outcomes; now we have to go back to the specific objectives for the project. E.g., for a standard e-commerce site, the objectives would be:

  • To reliably capture orders and accept payments online

  • To maximize the value of each transaction by on-selling and up-selling where appropriate

  • To capture customer details for regular e-marketing and export purposes

  • To appropriately communicate the brand personality/look and feel

This would lead to the business outcomes captured in the project purpose of increasing revenue.

Target Market

An important part of every project is understanding the audience. Ultimately, who will be using the site? The questions we need to ask include:

  • Who are we talking to?

  • Primary, secondary, tertiary target markets:

    • E.g. Graduate Careers Australia

    • Primary Market—Students

    • Secondary Market—Employers

    • Tertiary Market—Careers Services

The reason we need to know this is so that during the design phase the specific needs of the audience are considered. For instance, an intranet has a very different audience to a corporate website. Knowing the target audience and that there may be more than one audience will help to shape the different elements of design appropriately.

Sample Project Brief

This section summarizes our understanding of your business and your website goals and objectives.

The Organizational Purpose

"The Foundation is a community based charitable organization that supports eating disorder sufferers and their carers through direct financial relief, advocacy and lobbying, awareness campaigns, health promotion and early intervention work, and professional training in primary and secondary schools."

The Project Purpose

Three years after the launch of the original website, there is a need for the site to be reviewed and extended. The purpose of this project is to rebuild the White Angel Foundation website in order to:

  • Refresh the design

  • Improve the quality and structure of content

  • Increase revenue through online shopping and donations

The core purpose of the website is to become the primary point of information for people interested in seeking information on eating disorders in Australia. The secondary purpose is to increase revenue through sales and donations.

The Project Objectives

The website should be a dynamic communication tool and achieve the following objectives:

  • Promote positive body image

  • Encourage hope and help seeking through stories and case studies

  • Provide an information channel for sufferers of eating disorders

  • Provide information to carers and families of sufferers

  • Generate revenue through online sale of merchandise

  • Generate revenue through an online donation facility

  • Improve efficiency through selling tickets to events online

The Target Market

The target markets for the White Angel Foundation website are:

  • Sufferers of eating disorders

  • Community sector organizations and groups

  • Media

  • Donors and partners