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How do we go about specifying customer needs?

In any construction project there will be a customer – the person or organisation who wants the building(s) detailed in the project.  It’s the customer who tells us what they want, when, and how much of a budget they might have.

It’s easy to see how what the customer wants is at the centre of a project, and we need to make sure that we understand what the customer does want.  So how do we do that?  Through something called a project brief.

What is a project brief?

A project brief is a formal document that outlines the customer’s requirements, goals, and objectives, in a high-level of detail, for the proposed. The beginning of a project brief starts with the formulation of a strategic definition and context which results in a project business case. The business case combines with the full brief and design development. The brief can often be determined by the client alongside any project sponsor, where applicable. The client owns the project brief, and the project sponsor holds specific responsibility for the brief.

What makes up a project brief?

There are two main parts to a client brief, each containing a vital part of the whole.

Strategic Brief

The Strategic Brief forms the first components of the development of a project brief and initiates the appointment of an early client team. The strategic brief is created alongside the Strategic Outline Business Case made up of the following:

  • A description of the need identified by the client.
  • How the need contributes to the client’s corporate strategy.
  • High level options for satisfying the need.
  • Specific requirements.
  • A description of the client and its business.
  • How the need relates to existing and future provision.
  • Assumed budgets.
  • Assumed programme.
  • Likelihood of change.

Initial Brief

The Initial Brief progresses the Strategic Brief by defining what the project will deliver and how it will be delivered. This involves extensive engagement and consultation with stakeholders. 

The Strategic Brief includes addressing the following areas:

  • The client organisation and context, vision and aims of the project.
  • Project philosophy including quality standards and management.
  • Stakeholders and relationships.
  • Existing facilities.
  • Information about site or options for site.
  • Design approach.
  • Functional requirements.
  • Technical requirements.
  • Statutory requirements.
  • Relevant policy statements and guidance.
  • Sizes, outline room data and adjacencies.
  • Building Information Modelling, quality standards and design quality indicators.
  • Environmental and sustainability standards including British Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM).
  • Known constraints including physical, operational, and planning.
  • Whole life costing and management.
  • Procurement strategy assumptions.
  • Security and information handling.
  • Health and safety and the Construction (Design and Management Regulations) 2015 (UK) or regional alternative.
  • Transport planning.
  • Programme including phasing, milestones, and critical activities.
  • Related projects.
  • Budgets.
  • Project management procedures.
  • As built quality assurance procedures.
  • Evaluation.
image of a man in a hard hat on a construction site

How do we interpret a client brief?

The client brief for a construction project includes the following components:

  • The Client:
    • Project Management Structure
    • Vision, Mission, and Purpose
    • Policies (National, Regional, Local)
    • Project Delivery Deadlines
    • Sustainability requirements
    • Design quality and associated principles
  • Site Information:
    • Constraints of the site.
  • Functional Requirements:
    • Accommodation schedules
    • User numbers
    • Specialist areas
  • Technical Requirements:
    • Flexibility around scope and brief
    • Whole life management
    • Security and management of the facility
    • Energy use targets
  • Project Requirements:
    • Procurement strategy
    • Public/Stakeholder consultation plan and schedule
    • Project budget
    • Project programme and risk/change control
    • Quality control mechanisms and inspection procedure
    • Handover details

When interpreting a client brief, it’s important to ensure all requirements and information highlighted above are specified in the brief. Usually, the client will have specified all information required to submit a bid/tender/begin the project outline; however, there may be the requirement to follow-up on the project brief and submit a technical query. A technical query is submitted to the client or project sponsor by the consultant/contractor to provide further information on a specified item of the brief which will in turn, allow the consultant/contractor to provide an improved tender/bid for the project relating to quality, cost, or budget etc.

You can read an example of project brief guidelines by New Zealand Government Procurement here.

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