Good questions – Creating great briefs

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Asking good questions, often, can help you find value, keep things moving, gain alignment, and so much more. Good questions create clarity, challenge assumptions, and allow teams to test the boundaries of a piece of work. In this short series, we share our experience of how to ask the right questions and give you the confidence to be curious and provocative to get results. A mini-series by Katie Stotter, Strategy Lead.

Four key questions to ask for a great brief

Great projects start with great briefs. In fact good briefs are essential to good work. Advertising legend David Ogilvy once said “give me the freedom of a tight brief”– he wasn’t talking about underwear, but rather about how smart constraints give focus to our imagination. But creative limitations aren’t the only benefit, especially when you’re briefing a team. For example, recent research by Better Briefs revealed “It is estimated that 1/3 of marketing budgets are wasted on poor briefs and misdirected work.“ A great brief should help align everybody around a simply articulated problem.

To be clear, a good brief isn’t “we need a new website and we need it by December” or “We need to get our teams on Jira and having standups.” These are to-do lists. For a good brief, we need to start a little bit further upstream than that.

A good brief needs to be clear, focussed, and get to the heart of the real challenge at hand. So I’m going to give you 4 questions to set your teams up for success by giving them a better brief. 

Question 1: What’s the real problem we’re solving?

This question reveals why. This is the reason why you need to do something rather than nothing at all. 

In the website example this might be because you want to sell new services and therefore need different features and functionality.  Or it might be because it doesn’t represent who you are as a brand any more. If we take the Jira example, perhaps it’s more that the team needs to be able to make and iterate things faster together, and having better visibility of in-flight work might help. 

Either way, starting from the real problem allows us to come up with many potential solutions and make sure the one we focus on is going to solve that problem best for you.

Question 2: What’s the history of the problem?

This question helps us understand what kind of solutions we are excluding by understanding what’s been tried before, when, and how it went. Knowing who tried what helps us find our internal champions and sometimes navigate tricky politics that come with change. Knowing why a past solution worked or didn’t means we can build on that learning rather than start from scratch. 

Question 3: Why do we need to solve it now?

This question helps us understand the urgency behind the project, whether it’s an external deadline, avoiding imminent catastrophe, or generally feels like the right time for change.

In any change project, you need to be showing progress little and often, to make the change feel tangible and manageable. So this question helps us understand what needs to be delivered and by when. 

We can also make a case for change by looking at what the problem has cost to date, the cost of inaction, and the potential benefit of solving it. 

Question 4: Are there any solutions already on the table?

This question helps us understand what kind of solutions we are including. Perhaps someone on the team already has an idea of the right solution. Do you think they’re right? Do you think that solution solves the real problem? 

A great brief sets us a question and lays out what answers are acceptable. It articulates the problem as well as the beginnings of a solution –  these four questions should help you pull together a great one.

So next time you start a project, help your teams to do their best work by giving them a great brief.