The pre-design stage of construction projects has become a focal point in design management research in the last decade, as it is primarily the source of problems such as rework, change orders, and contractual claims. In particular, it is widely acknowledged that client briefing is an intractable problem which many projects encounter. Primarily this is because little attention is given to assessing the needs of the client, stakeholders and those of the design team. With this in mind, this paper presents a soft system approach known as strategic needs analysis (SNA) to assist clients, stakeholders and their design teams in determining their strategic needs for a given project. The rationale for using a SNA approach during the early stages of the project development process and in relation to the strategic environment of the client organization is presented and discussed. The SNA process is described and applied to two case study projects. It is concluded that SNA can improve the strategic decision-making process of a project, as clients are able to identify their strategic needs and thus improve the effectiveness of the briefing process.