Writing the Project Description Using the Issues-Solutions-Benefits Framework
Now we are going to roll up our sleeves and start writing.
Once you have identified the Issues, Solutions, and Benefits for your project, you can start putting them into the framework. This, in fact, is the easiest part. The hard work was really done in parts one and two where you tracked down the information and identified each part of the framework.
Keeping with the same three examples, I will show you how to take that information from bullets to a short description in no time.
If you can sketch out each of the issues, benefits, and solutions using this type of matrix, you can string them together to make sentences and then paragraphs. You can even leave blanks for the data you are unsure of.
Then give this matrix to your technical staff to complete. This way you are not giving them a blank piece of paper to write on their own.
(Note: The following examples are made-up. I don’t know if they are technically accurate or use the right terminology. Do not show these to an engineer. Do not use these for your project descriptions. These are not taken from my firm or previous firms.)
Issues: DOT needs to add capacity to SR 123 because of a new hospital and medical school opening. The additional traffic during peak hours caused the road to be graded as an F.
Solutions: ABC Engineering designed the road to fit an additional travel line within existing right of way in both directions. The design also was completed within existing right-of-way.
Benefits: Additional capacity increased vehicle per hour throughput by 25%, meaning that the average driver saved 8 minutes during peak hour times. By staying in existing right-of-way, DOT was able to save $3m in property purchases and avoided public relations challenges.
QUICK DESCRIPTION: SR 123 had been a nightmare for commuters for ages. With the opening of the new hospital and medical school, traffic during peak hours increased by 25%, causing the roadway to be graded as an F by DOT.
The design solution by ABC Engineering provided…..[insert specific technical features such as dimensions of lanes, stormwater/drainage, sidewalks, etc.]
Our solutions provide additional capacity to SR 123 increasing the vehicle per hour throughput by 25%. This means that the average driver saved 8 minutes during peak hour times.
Our design also stays within existing right-of-way, saving DOT $3m in avoiding property purchases. It also means that no local businesses or homes were taken for this improvement.
Issues: The Best Elementary School is more than 50 years old and severally overcrowded.
Solutions: ABC Architects provided a design solution that adds student stations while incorporating new technology and learning styles.
Benefits: The student/teacher ratio decreased allowing for better test scores. New design saved the School Board on maintenance and energy cost by 10% each year.
QUICK DESCRIPTION: The Best Elementary School, has been in the Maple Park neighborhood for more than 50 years. The school board wanted to keep this icon, but knew it needed to upgrade to today’s educational environment while serving the growing neighborhood, they turned to ABC Architects.
We provided a design solution that not only added student stations but incorporated new technology and spaces conducive to new learning styles, such as 21st Century. The renovated school decreases the student/teach ratio resulting in an increased test scores of 15%.
The facility design that featured [insert features about energy saving design elements] also saved the school board nearly 10% each year in energy costs. Our design keeps the charm that the neighborhood loves while incorporating modern learning environments.
Flipping the Framework
The great thing about using this framework is that you can move the pieces of the framework around for any project description. You can keep the Issues-Solutions-Benefits or you can try Issues-Benefits-Solutions or even Benefits-Issues-Solutions.
Benefits generally have the most impact on a reader, especially a proposal reviewer. Remember, they answer “what’s in it for me?” so that is what the reader is going to resonate with the most.
If you have good benefits, that are well articulated, then you should lead with these. Don’t assume your reader will wait until the end of the description to get to the good stuff.
An example of leading with benefits could look like this:
The newly renovated Best Elementary School has increased the test scores by XX% and decreased annual energy costs by XX%. The Best Elementary School has been in the Maple Park neighborhood for more than 50 years.
The school board wanted to keep this icon, but knew it needed to upgrade to today’s educational environment while serving the growing neighborhood, they turned to ABC Architects.
ABC Architects did this by providing design solutions that not only added student stations but incorporating new technology and spaces conducive to new learning styles, such as 21st Century.
Specific design elements include….[insert the design elements.]
Our design keeps the charm that neighborhood loves while increasing student performance new learning environments.
This above example is a much more powerful project description than just listing features of the design elements.
Project Description Types
There are three different types of project descriptions that are used most frequently: Long Description, Short Description, and the Resume Description. You can use the Issues-Solutions-Benefits framework with variations for each project description type.
As the name implies, this should be a very detailed description of your project. It should include several paragraphs to describe each issue, solution, and benefit separately. It should also include detailed sections highlighting different aspects or disciplines of the project.
For example, for a new airport terminal design project it will have separate paragraphs to describe each of the following:
- Terminal usage – domestic or internal passengers, number of gates, kind/size of aircraft served, other terminal affected by new terminal
- Support spaces – ticket counters, baggage areas, support offices, etc.
- Retail or other revenue producing elements
- Signage and wayfinding
- Baggage handling and screening areas
As you can see, if you described the issue, solution, and benefit for each of the bullets above, the description will be quite lengthy.
Typically, you will need to interview each discipline lead to get the specifics related to their area. These descriptions are best to write for project cut sheets, award packages, qualification packages and your website portfolio.
Each aspect of the project might have its own Issues-Solutions-Benefits framework.
They take the most time to fully develop but provide enough information that you can edit and modify to specific proposals as well as short and resume project descriptions.
Not every project will have a long description, but those that are your firm’s larger or marquee projects.
This is usually a one-paragraph description that is used in the body of a proposal or when you have to display multiple projects on one page due to page limitations.
Unlike the long description where you will write a paragraph for each discipline or area of the project, the short description condenses that to either a sentence for each or focuses on a specific part of the project.
You will still use the Issues-Solutions-Benefits Framework but in a much more condensed manner. It might be used for the general scope of the project (similar to the examples above) or just a specific scope item or issue.
Generally, you will follow this formula:
Sentence 1: Sentence stating the client’s issue (the project need).
Sentences 2-4: Sentences briefly highlighting your firm’s solutions to the issues.
Sentence 5: The summary of the benefits that your solutions provide to the client’s issue.
Again, this can be flipped to state the benefits first, then the issues, and ending with your solutions. This is the hardest to write but has the most impact.
Almost every project should have a short description. That short description should also be saved in a central folder or database so you can search on the keywords.
Resume descriptions are very similar to the short descriptions. The main difference is that they are modified to the person’s resume you are formatting. This modification happens in the solutions portion of the description.
For example, if you are using the same short description for a roadway engineer and a lighting designer, their solutions are going to be different.
The roadway engineer’s solutions should describe how the alignment was configured, the thickness of the pavement, etc. The lighting designer’s solutions will describe what lighting system was used, the distance between the poles, and the height of the lighting poles. The benefits will most likely be different in these examples as well.
You cannot just copy/paste the short description into the resumes for all disciplines. It does save time, but you are weakening your proposal. Take the time to get the resume descriptions developed.
So now you have learned how to find project description information, how to differentiate the elements of the Issues-Solutions-Benefits Framework, and how to pull them together to write your own project descriptions.
Use the Issues-Solutions-Benefits Framework to write your next project description. Report your struggles or Ah-Ha moments in the comments below.
Read Part One: Sleuthing Out the Project Information
Read Part Two: Understanding the Issues-Solutions-Benefits Framework