A comprehensive business requirements document clearly defines a project. Done well, a business requirements document will do a lot of the heavy lifting for a project team, like managing expectations, setting standards, celebrating achievements, and ensuring success.
Here are the essential elements to include in a business requirements document, plus best practices and scope limitations and considerations.
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Key Elements of a Business Requirements Document
Here are 10 elements to include in a business requirements document that will help assure your team’s success.
A business requirements document is a living thing. It is created before a project starts, can change frequently, and may still be edited once everything else is finished.
Because the business requirements document will be referenced time and again, it’s important that all changes are noted within reason. If requirements or dates change, record it; if you fixed a typo, let it slide.
Even though the summary statement tends to appear first in a business requirements document, it’s recommended to be written last. It’s a high-level statement that should outline the project requirements and summarize the rest of the document.
Outline the project goals and objectives, detailing what the work will accomplish. If the project supports business processes or workflows, it should be described here.
Objectives should always be SMART—specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound.
The needs statement is intended to be persuasive. It’s the reason for the project. Think of the needs statement as a justification meant to sell stakeholders on the idea and to motivate the project team.
Detailing the project scope will help set boundaries for the work to be completed. Depending on your project, goals, team, and environment, it can sometimes be easier to identify items or modules that won’t be updated or included in the project scope instead of defining all the things that are.
Identify all the stakeholders involved, including their positions. It is helpful to list their position within the organizations involved, but also their roles and responsibilities as they pertain to the current project.
Financial statement and cost-benefit analysis
Not to be thought of as a budget, the financial information included in a business requirements document is intended to indicate the impact of the project on a company’s balance sheet.
Funding sources should be identified here, but don’t forget that any person or organization contributing may also qualify as a stakeholder and should be included in both sections.
Schedule, timeline, and milestones
Depending on the project size, information for the schedule, timeline, and milestones may be combined into a single section or separated out into their own. It’s important to clearly identify expectations and deadlines, being sure to include decision points as well as moments when work needs to be completed.
Track any and all activities, including when you need to have sign-off on project deliverables, when outside vendors need to be engaged, and when hardware has to be in place.
For long-term projects, identifying clear milestones allows the ideal opportunity for interim billing, so vendors and contractors can be paid.
Functional requirements make up the real bulk of a good business requirements document. The more detailed the requirements, the better the outcome.
Be sure to use clear, concise language free of jargon or slang. Avoid acronyms, even if they feel common. And when possible, add visual elements like screenshots, prototypes, and mock-ups. It’s a great idea to compare current state to future state when business processes or workflows are changing.
Where it makes sense, break large sections into smaller, more accessible pieces. And if requirements are optional or subject to other dependencies, break them down by must have, should have, and nice to have.
Document any reporting, analytics, and integration requirements in this section. Be mindful that some activities, such as security scans, may necessitate revisiting other sections of the business requirements document, and time should be budgeted for accordingly.
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Business Requirements Document Best Practices
There are a number of best practices that can ensure your document – and project – will be a success. Here are 8 to consider as you plan your project.
- Get input and perspective. Subject your business requirements document to peer review.
- Set reasonable deadlines. Double and triple check dates and deadlines to be sure they are achievable—it’s better to estimate high and deliver early than have projects fall behind.
- Include time for research. If contractors or vendors need to be engaged, be certain the time and costs of doing so are included. If researching a needed vendor or third-party product is a part of the project, identify it as a risk to mitigate in case an appropriate solution isn’t found, takes longer than expected, or exceeds the budget allowance.
- Be aware of regulatory requirements. Don’t forget to account for any regulations or legislation that may impact the project.
- Detail needed technology. Include details on the tools and technology that will be used and employed.
- Plan for ongoing support. If your project will require ongoing maintenance and support after implementation, specify a support plan, and list the activities and individuals involved.
- Leave time for documentation. Remember that documentation should be a part of any project. Activities should be included with time allotted to complete documentation and training materials.
- Be flexible. Stay open to identifying and evolving functional requirements, but remain aware of how changes may impact other activities, timelines, or deadlines.
Limitations of Business Requirements Documents
Despite being a source of truth and trusted advisor for a project, business requirements documents do have their limitations. Here are some of the limitations of the document’s scope and how to navigate around them.
- You don’t always need to know how something gets done. Functional requirements should answer questions of what and why but not how. Though the distinction may feel subtle, knowing how a developer will accomplish a particular task is outside the scope of these documents.
- Don’t leave questions unanswered. Business requirements documents should always answer questions, not ask them. If there are questions to be asked, or unknowns to research, do so during the creation of the document, and include the results instead.
- Include all background and details. Each business requirement document should stand alone. Assume that everybody reading it has no idea what has happened in past projects. If there are details that need to be included to offer context, include them, but be sure they are relevant and necessary.
- Plan for delays. Though few business requirements documents include a risk mitigation section, it’s wise to find ways to identify areas where timelines or activities could be impacted and in what way. A rule of thumb is to add a 20% time buffer to manage uncertainties, but adjust this as needed and appropriate.
Business Requirements Documents Inspire Teamwork
When done with care and consideration, a business requirements document fosters trust and transparency among project teams and collaborators. Communications are improved, there are fewer errors and mistakes, ambiguities and uncertainties are reduced or eliminated, and outcomes can be all but guaranteed.
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