Purpose – The purpose of this article is to create a strategically positioned client performance brief with a clear and workable statement of the project requirements specified by a representative group of stakeholders. Design/methodology/approach – The application describes the relocation of a library with community facilities with a local council. This action research study of the project inception stages used the process of strategic needs analysis (SNA). This approach uses a workshop setting involving stakeholders in identifying a range of strategic options for the project problem. The development of a range of realistic options was aided by the use of a problem structuring computer program, Situation Structuring. Individual workshop participants then expressed their preferences for the final options using a second software package (Strategizer) and after a short period for analysis the results were presented to a second workshop for discussion. The performance brief was then prepared to reflect stakeholders' and the workshop's preferences. Findings – The process involved is described with the development and selection of organizational strategic options with the council stakeholders. The creation and identification of user performance indicators to guide the design development process is illustrated and a sample from the final performance brief is provided. The project is nearing completion and the local Council considers the process has been a success. Research limitations/implications – The process described has been developed over six studies in varying client environments in Australia. Further studies are needed in client organisations with a rolling program of capital works to test the robustness of the approach described. Practical implications – This work can assist the facilities manager to play an important role in the development of the initial performancebased brief during the project inception stage that can assist clients and guide the design team. Originality/value – Establishing client needs during the formative stages of a project (before design commences) is becoming an increasingly important role for the facilities manager. This work presents a description of a process that provides the means for clients and facilities managers to ensure that their strategic needs are met within the defined project.