How to Write a Project Description: A Quick Guide


A project description seems self-explanatory, but don’t underestimate a well-written project description as it sets your project up for success. It acts as a communication tool for stakeholders and shares the project vision in a clear and actionable fashion.

Let’s talk a look at what a project description is, why it’s so important and how to write an impactful one. Then we’ll throw in some free project management templates that can get you started and show how project management tools help turn the project description into a reality.

What Is a Project Description?

A project description outlines the details of one project, including all its phases and processes involved, in a single document. It addresses the problem that initiated the project and the desired goals and objectives.

But it doesn’t have to stop there. The project description can also go into planning, including the activities that the team will execute, the timeline and even the location of the project. The benefits of the project are also outlined in the project description.

This is done at the initiation phase of the project and will be referred to throughout the project as a refresher. The project manager is responsible for writing the project description and helps guide the project manager and their team throughout the life cycle of the project.

In a sense, the project description is the setup and the project execution is the delivery. But a project description, as helpful as it is, will not manage and track your project to help it stay on schedule. What you need is project management software.

ProjectManager is online project management software that helps you plan, manage and track your project in real time to make more insightful decisions. Turn your project description into an actionable plan with our robust Gantt charts. Organize tasks on a visual timeline, link all four dependencies and filter for the critical path. Then set a baseline and track project variance to better manage cost and time. Get started with ProjectManager today for free.

ProjectManager's Gantt chart
ProjectManager’s Gantt chart helps you track your plan in real time. Learn more

Project Description vs. Project Proposal

The project description is part of the larger project proposal. While the project description covers a lot of ground, it’s really more of a high-level view of the project. While some expand on the description to include more planning with the objectives, it’s still a cursory look.

The project proposal is a more expansive document. In this context, the project description is just a summary of what is to come in the larger project proposal, which will flesh out that outline. The project proposal will sometimes refer to the project description as an executive summary. Whatever it’s called, it’s the lead into the bigger picture.

Naturally, a project proposal goes more in-depth. There are sections on the background or history of the previous projects, requirements for the project, the approach, such as techniques and skills in executing the project and, finally, who the decision-makers in the project are.

ProjectManager’s project proposal template. Download now

Project Description vs. Project Summary

A project description isn’t a project summary, though they might sound the same. As we’ve discussed, a project description is more of a high-level overview of the project being proposed. It’s usually the opening of the project proposal when a project is being pitched.

The purpose of the project is explained in the project description. It also briefly describes how the project will run and what it plans to achieve. A project summary is far more detailed. It’s very much like the project proposal defined above in that it goes into background, processes and more.

However, these terms are often used to describe different things. A project summary is more commonly used as a project description as an introduction to the project proposal. Whatever you call it, in this context, they share the same definition of being a brief overview of the project.

ProjectManager’s project summary template. Download now

How to Write a Project Description: 6 Key Steps

Writing a project description is more difficult than it might seem. Yes, it’s brief, but that means every word must count. To accomplish this, you need to understand the project inside and out, from its purpose to its scope. But the project is described simply without leaving out any key details.

That said, everything that’s critical to the project plan should be included. You don’t want to leave out anything relevant or leave anything that’s out of date. Everything in the project description should connect to the purpose of the project. Now you’re ready to write the project description, which should follow these six steps.

1. Summarize

Begin with an outline that should only be a few lines long, but answers the who, what, where, how and why of the project.

2. Define

Explain the reason for the project, such as the problem it solves or the niche it fills. This will define the purpose of the project.

3. Justify

Show your project stakeholders why this project is worth the investment. Prove that they’ll get a good return and explain your metrics if necessary.

4. Evaluate

Make a cost-benefit analysis and show how you plan to measure those gains against the cost of the project.

5. Explain the Project Approach

Here you want to briefly explain how you’ll meet the project goals and objectives. Describe the project management methodology and resources that will be used.

6. Estimate the Timeline

Forecast the duration of the project, including the working hours and resources for each phase of the project’s life cycle.

When Should You Write a Project Description?

Now that you know the why and the how for a project description, it’s time to explore the when. Obviously, the project description is one of the first things that you’ll write as it’s often the lead to a project proposal.

Writing the project description is part of the initiation stage of the project life cycle. This is the point at which a project is defined, evaluated, and, possibly, authorized by the project sponsor.

It’s best not to write the summary until you’ve done the groundwork of defining key deliverables, risks, an estimate of costs and resources. The amount of work this takes is dependent on how big or complex the project is.

Why Is It Important to Write a Project Description?

The project description is the opening in your attempt to prove the validity of the project and its return on investment (ROI). It should make the reader, whether they’re a customer, sponsor or stakeholder, understand the project and why it’s right for them.

It also acts almost as a blueprint or roadmap for the project. The project description contains important information about the project. This includes a brief look at costs and duration, all of which will make clear what it’ll take to implement the project.

What you’re doing isn’t only selling the project but also setting realistic project expectations. It’s critical that the stakeholders know the key objectives and the time and costs associated with achieving them. That way, if the project is approved, it’ll be easier to manage stakeholder expectations because you’ve already created a baseline.

Free Project Management Templates

In order to help you write a thorough project description, ProjectManager has free templates to give you a head start. Our site features dozens of free project management templates for Excel and Word that cover all the phases of a project. The following are just a few that relate to our topic.

Executive Summary Template

The executive summary is very close to a product description. It covers similar ground and can even be interchangeable with the project description. Using our free executive summary template for Word will lay out everything you need to fill in for a thorough project description.

Project Proposal Template

The project description or executive summary is the first section of any project proposal. Since you’ll need to write a description and a proposal, our free project proposal template for Word includes the intro and all the other important information you’ll need to include to get approval.

Project Budget Template

You’ll have to estimate the cost of the project in your project description. Our project budget template for Excel is more detailed than what you’ll need but all that work will come in handy if the project is approved and you have to create a budget.

How ProjectManager Turns a Project Description Into a Project Plan

The project description ideally leads to an approved project. Now you’ll have to turn the elements that you touched on into a workable project plan. ProjectManager is online project management software that has real-time tools to help you meet your objectives without going over schedule or budget.

Use The Tools You Want

While the Gantt chart is great for project managers to visually plan their schedule, it’s not the best for the team when assigned tasks to execute. That’s why we offer multiple project views, all of which are updated together in real time. Now teams can choose the tools they prefer to work with, whether that’s our robust task lists or the visual workflow of a kanban board.

ProjectManager's kanban board
Monitor Progress and Performance in Real Time

Giving teams the freedom to work how they want doesn’t mean you can’t manage them. Our real-time dashboard automatically gathers data on time, costs, workload and more. It then calculates and displays these metrics in easy-to-read graphs and charts. Best of all, there’s no setup required as with lightweight competitors. It’s plug-and-play.

ProjectManager's dashboard

Of course, your stakeholders are also going to want to stay updated on progress. They won’t need the high-level view of a dashboard, which is why we also have customizable reports that can provide greater detail. It just takes a couple of keystrokes to generate status reports, project variance reports and more. Then easily share them with stakeholders.

Related Project Description Content

We’ve touched on executive summaries, project proposals and more. If you want a more in-depth look at them, below is some related content. Remember, ProjectManager is more than empowering software. We’re also the online hub for all things project management, publishing blogs weekly and offering free guides and templates.

  1. How to Write an Executive Summary: A Quick Guide
  2. How to Write a Project Proposal (Steps & Template Included)
  3. Project Planning Guide
  4. Project Scheduling Guide
  5. 7 Steps for a Successful Project Budget

ProjectManager is award-winning software that helps you plan, manage and track your projects in real time. Our risk management, task management and resource management features keep you on schedule and budget. Join teams at Avis, Nestle and Siemens who are using our software to deliver success. Get started with ProjectManager today for free.