How to Write a Project Description: Key Criteria and Steps
A well-written description of any project makes it possible for the intended audience (e.g., the sponsor, the customer) to understand the concept and context of the proposed project and to realize whether to approve and finance the project.
Writing a project description document is a general task of the project manager or deputy, who is supposed to correctly and comprehensively identify the idea, goals, background, approach, outcomes, and other data.
Furthermore, the document should define the project as a worthwhile, economically practical, and reasonable endeavor to convince the sponsor of the need to make the necessary investments.
In this blog, I’m going to talk about the following:
- Project description definition
- Criteria to use to write this document efficiently
- Typical structure and sections of the document
- Steps to take to develop the document content
Project Description: Definition
Project Description is a formally written declaration of the project and its idea and context to explain the goals and objectives to be reached, the business need and problem to be addressed, potentials pitfalls and challenges, approaches and execution methods, resource estimates, people and organizations involved, and other relevant information that explains the need for project startup and aims to describe the amount of work planned for implementation.
The project description focuses on creating a clear and correct understanding of the project in the minds of the people and organizations involved in the planning and development process. The project team (which is supposed to do the project) uses the document to get a general idea of what amount of work and under what requirements is planned for completion. The senior management team regards the project description as the vital source of preliminary information necessary for strategic planning and development.
I need to note that some people are confused with the terms “project description” and “project background. “ They might regard both terms as equivalent. But the terms are not the same, and they have different meanings. Earlier, in one of our publications, we briefly discussed the project background and how it differs from the project description. Please read more here. I also recommend the service at www.domyassignment.com, which delivers plagiarism-free “do my assignment” orders to students worldwide.
Writing Criteria: The 4C Rule
When writing a project description for requesting funding, it is always essential to keep the structure and content of the document clear and understandable for the target audience.
Personally, I try to follow the rule of 4C when I need to write a description for my future project or when I’m in charge of leading the team who are supposed to do this job. The rule says that the project description is written well and efficiently if it is Clear, Concise, Complete, and Credible. The 4C practice serves as the critical criterion for document writing and development.
Keep this rule up when you describe the content and idea of your project. Here’s what I mean:
- Clear means your document uses simple, generally accepted, and unambiguous words and sentences to describe the critical point. It would help if you never tried to make the document more complicated by using confusing words and ambiguous instructions in the text. You can only use special terms and definitions if the project requires that (e.g., in an engineering project, it may be necessary to write about some technical terms and math calculations). However, avoiding special terms and definitions in project descriptions is best.
- Concise means the project description “describes the project” without reference to other projects or unrelated information. It would help if you never mentioned something directly linked to your project and its context. Otherwise, you’re likely to confuse the reader or keep the reader unfocused on the critical points of your project.
- Complete means that your description includes everything that concerns and deals with the project. Although you must keep the document concise (as I said above), there is the need to make sure the text is 100% complete for the intended audience. You must be sure that the document covers every critical aspect required for the reader to understand and comprehend the project and its context.
- Credible means you refer to up-to-date and relevant information in your project description document only. You should never use data unrelated to the matter or that does not support the idea of your project.
I engage my team in following the 4C rule at every step of project development. We regard this rule as a foreseeing method (4C = Foresee) that lets us minimize the risk of failure, predict future events and ensure the success of our effort by developing Clear, Concise, Complete, and Credible documentation. Therefore, we use the method as the critical criterion for writing any project document, whether it is the project description, the scope statement, a kind of report, the funding request, the feasibility study report, or anything else.
The Structure of a Project Description
Below I list the key steps you can take to develop the structure and content of your sample project description. Please use the given checklist as an additional guide for creating the document.
A sample project description paper includes the following structure:
- Section 1. Project Title and Overview. The project title must refer to something other than the business need and the problem to be tackled. It must simply state what kind of project is conducted (e.g., “Increasing Employee Efficiency” or “Improving My Project Management Methods“) and how it will contribute to the intended business or personal goal.
- Section 2. Purpose and Need. In this section, you need to describe/explain the project’s primary goal. The objective of the project should be set in favorable terms. You must never forget that the purpose of a project is not merely to complete a job but rather to change something for the better (e.g., improve the business, fulfill customer orders promptly, increase employee efficiency or productivity, save public funds by decreasing the number of people in a project team, etc.).
- Section 3. Business Drivers and Significance. You must describe the problem that needs solving and its potential impact on the business or personal goals. It would help if you were sure to mention the problem, or part of it, in sufficient detail. At the same time, you want to ensure that the reader understands how the context of your project aligns with the overall business objectives. For example, if your project will reduce costs or enhance customer satisfaction, you need to explain how it will do that
- Section 4. Benefits and Costs. In this section, clearly state the project’s business benefits and how much it will cost. Also, it would help if you clarified that there is a business case for conducting the project. References to the project appraisal and cost-benefit analysis are also required here.
- Section 5. Implementation Method. This section concerns the process, standards, and practices for conducting and managing your project. You have to describe a preferred project management method. Besides, you need to indicate the team members’ primary responsibilities, including who is responsible for each task.
- Section 6. Timeline. Here you can include a simple Gantt chart or an activity timeline to show the project schedule and milestones. A simple task list also would be helpful.
- Section 7. Requirements. You should describe the project’s requirements and boundaries according to the organization’s policies and procedures. You may use templates provided by the organization you are working with, or you can write your own needs if the company does not have a project management policy.
- Section 8. Expected Outcomes. Finally, you want to include the results and benefits of the project, as well as critical success factors here. These results must be quantifiable and measurable. They must prove that the project is worth completing, not that they have written the project document thoroughly and credibly.
- Section 9. Appendices. You may include any additional information (e.g. reference lists, glossaries, tables, diagrams and other visual aids) here.
Each section should be kept short and precise. Each paragraph in the project description should contain one main idea contributing to your project’s overall understanding. At the end of each paragraph, you should use bullets to list the main project objectives and tasks.
Key Writing Steps
Taking into account the typical elements of the document structure, you must complete the following steps to write a project description template:
- Summarize. Summarizing the project means explaining the aims, outcomes, significance and benefits. You must use 3-5 sentences (or less) for writing the summary. The title of your project is to be placed at the beginning of the paper. Avoid using unnecessary and parenthetic words and expressions.
- Define. Defining the project means explaining what purpose to reach and what needs to address. Under the goal, you write about the primary intent for the project startup. Under the need, you must define the business problem to be solved or the opportunity to be exploited.
- Justify. Justifying the project means proving that the project underpins some business goals and is significant to success of the performing organization. You must identify business drivers that lead change to the project and determine how the project impacts the performance of the organization.
- Evaluate. Evaluating means identifying the benefits gained upon successfully completing the project. You need to use the cost-benefit analysis results to explain the ratio between the benefits and the cost to be covered.
- Approach. Approaching the project means selecting, approving and describing a method that is efficient for implementing the goals and objectives of the project within the current operational environment. You must have an approach and a methodology explaining how to phase the project and what lifecycle to follow.
- Schedule. Scheduling means preliminary estimating the time length needed for the project. You’ll need to develop a timeline showing the total estimated working hours required. Note that the timetable will be used later during the planning phase to create the project schedule and estimate activity durations.
- Compensate. Compensating the project means identifying the results to be gained as a compensation of all those resources and effort invested in the implementation process. You need to create a description of the desired outcomes that are anticipated upon successful completion of the project. This data will be used later in developing the deliverables list.
When all the steps of writing the project description are taken and completed, you must review the document for errors and mistakes to ensure it is correct. In addition, you should follow the 4C rule to check and manage every piece of data included in the paper. Also, Dr. Will Cantrell (Michigan Technological University) recommends these tips.
I hope my publication was helpful for you. Please drop a line or more about your vision of the project description document, or just leave your comment on the article. Your feedback is appreciated! Thanks.
Writing a project description may sound like tedious routine work, but remember that the document represents the essential part of your business plan. Also, it is worth noting that your sample project description may be updated and changed to suit the needs and requirements of a particular industry – healthcare project management, for example.
After you complete the document, you can easily integrate the project into your system. And it is not just the description that you need to create but also any form of the business or operational plan, which is much more detailed and technical.