10 Tips for Developing Business Requirements

What’s the difference between a large-scale IT project that succeeds and one that fails? In many cases, it can boil down to the quality of the business requirements document. According to an IT manager of a large investment banking firm, “lack of robust business requirements at the outset is the key reason for IT project failure across firms around the world.”

Purpose of a business requirements document

The purpose of a business requirements document is to clearly describe what must be accomplished from a business perspective. A good business requirements document brings clarity to the process and allows the team, including management, engineering, vendors, and other resources, to achieve the desired outcome and then measure the results against the requirements. At any point in the process, anyone should be able to read the business requirements document and understand what’s going to be accomplished.

To ensure your next business requirements document provides the foundation for the success of your upcoming IT project, check it against this list of critical content, formatting, and communication tips:

1. Make requirements verifiable and measurable.

One important purpose of a business requirements document is to measure results, but unverifiable requirements can’t be measured. Take for example, a requirement that says, “the system must be easy to use.” What exactly does that mean? A generalized statement such as this must be made specific so that it can be tested throughout the development process.

2. Do not include the solution design.

The requirements focus on what needs to be done, not how to do it. (The “how to do it” will be covered in other design documents.)

3. Format requirements as separate paragraphs.

It’s important to do this so that each requirement can be linked to details in subsequent design documents. Specifically, each requirement should express a single concept, such as:

  • Quality measurements will be gathered monthly through online surveys.
  • The quality information gathered will be maintained in a database.
  • The database will have a reporting/query tool available for ad hoc queries and reports.

4. Use details wisely.

There are the two common mistakes with details:

  • One mistake is including more details than are relevant to the reader. Ask yourself, does the reader really need to know this detail? If not, take it out.
  • The other mistake is not including enough important details. To avoid missing critical details, take a wide view of the field or domain of the business process – review industry studies, reference architectures, industry and vendor white papers, and of course Google.

5. Use uncomplicated sentences and chunk information so it’s easy to understand.

Simple sentences are more understandable. In addition, they lend themselves to more precise evaluation when the project is completed. To accomplish this, break out details into bulleted chunks so they’re easier to grasp. Take a look at the following example that shows how a complicated sentence can be restructured.

Original: Assessments of functional quality must be derived through an online survey of multiple business line managers, senior executives, sales and marketing managers, production managers, and customers and then maintained in a database and available as monthly reports or through ad hoc queries.
Revised: Functional quality assessments will be gathered monthly through an online survey of the following participants:

  • Multiple line of business managers
  • Senior executives
  • Sales and marketing managers
  • Production managers
  • Customers

This information will be entered into a database and will be distributed through:

  • Monthly reports
  • Ad hoc queries

6. Avoid unnecessary words.

If the words do not add meaning to a sentence, leave them out. For example:

Original: There must be the three following results from this process:
Revised: The three results must be:

7. Use simple words rather than “complicated” words.

For example:

Difficult Simple
facilitates helps
substantiate prove
presently now
exemplifies shows
usage use
represents is
utilize use

8. Avoid using “it” and “this” without a clear antecedent.

Using the antecedent in place of “it” or “this” helps in two ways.

  • The repeated antecedent adds clarity to the sentence.
  • If the sentence is “lifted” from the text, for traceability purposes the meaning will remain understandable. For example:

Original: Add course location aids for all course locations. To facilitate this, add or update class libraries for all software development environments. This will allow students to get directions to course locations at the office as well on mobile devices.
Revised: Add course location aids for all course locations. To provide this location functionality, add or update class libraries for all software development environments. The course location aids will allow students to get directions to course locations at the office as well as on mobile devices.

9. Use terminology consistently.

Avoid using different terms for the same thing. For example:

Original: Click the Resources tab. After you click this button, a list of resources displays.
Revised: Click the Resources tab. After you click this tab, a list of resources displays.

10. Review the document and then spell check and proofread.

Read through the entire document to be sure the document makes sense and flows logically. Don’t forget to spell check. And then, proofread the document, checking for missing words and incorrect numbering or cross-references. Then check that the table of contents refers to the correct page numbers. In a final pass, read the document aloud slowly to catch anything you might have missed previously. (For more information on proofreading, see TechWRITE’s blog entitled, The lost art of proofreading.)

© 2011, TechWRITE, Inc.

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