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Best practices for capturing “business requirements” for your software project

For any business to succeed, it must have clear objectives and a plan to achieve them. Every business needs to have a rooted comprehension of what they are achieving and what tools or software they will need. Without these even, the most solid business-model can easily fail.

This is why the most successful software development projects begin with well-written business requirements documents (or BRS). Business requirements documentations fundamentally aims to identify the problems the software development company has to overcome and the requirements needed to do so.


{What are the business requirements?}

Requirements are essential to ensuring that all stakeholders and other team members are on the same wavelength as the software development group. They act as a starting point for a project’s development process as they keep all team members aligned to a single, clearly defined goal.

High quality, detailed business requirements documentation also helps projects within budget and ensures it is complete within the desired time-frame or schedule. According to the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge, business requirement are defined as;

“The practice of enabling change in the context of an enterprise by defining needs and recommending solutions that deliver value.”

The process of defining a company’s business requirements involves considering the tasks and goals of the business and customers’ needs. Unsurprisingly this can be a complex task and requires input and questions from various people involved throughout the organisation.

For a company’s business requirements to be useful and attainable, there are some tools and steps that can be taken during the requirement gathering process to achieve the best results. Below will cover what features a good business requirement should contain, the processes needed for effective requirements analysis

{Why are business requirements important?}

Before it is possible to explain what good business requirements should look like, you must first be aware of why you need them to begin with. Business requirements are centrally important as they establish an agreement between the software teams and the stakeholders that clearly defined a project’s objectives and how to implement them.

If business requirements articles are unclear or confusing in their message, it can send an entire project off-track and cause significant disruptions, resulting in project delay and overspend.

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{What business requirements documentation should contain}

Properly written business requirements documentation should guide project shareholders and software developers towards making decisions about the projects structure, design and priorities.

Owners should note that business requirements are not the same as projects user requirements. Business requirements documentation aims to answer ‘why‘ a project is needed and contain high-level statements detailing its goals, objectives, and needs. Business requirement documentation should be highly detailed, written from the client’s perspective, and aim to meet the organisation’s objectives.

{Project purpose}

A business requirement document for a software development project must sight the projects intended purpose and how the end product or service will meet the end-users needs. This is why the first section of a business requirement document should begin with a project outline. This should include the following:

• The vision or mission of the project.
• The primary objectives of the software development project.
• The context (i.e. where the project exists within its marketplace).


{Project Description}

The initial description of a project for a business requirement document should explain to both stakeholders, software teams and the end-user why the product or service exists. As you can imagine, this is a vastly important part of any business requirement document and should be as detailed as possible to avoid confusion or misunderstandings once the plan begins.

When writing the description section of a business requirement document, you may wish to include:

• A high-level description detailing what the software will accomplish.
• Background information and description of the project.
• All of the shareholders and involved parties.
• Business drivers steer business processes and development.

The idea of the description stage in a business requirement document is to set the scene for any client or end-user. This is why it should succinctly convey all the necessary background information about the project.


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{Goals and objectives}

This section of the business requirement document should further detail the project’s ultimate goals and primary objectives.

You should also explain how the project’s goals align with a company or organisation’s larger strategic objectives and how they will ultimately benefit the client.

{Project scope}

Setting the project scope for a software development plan is essential in writing any business requirements documentation. Software developments often run the risk of scope creep – which is when a task gradually and naturally drifts outside of its initially established scope. To avoid this, you should always make sure that you include all the relevant information you can.

Setting the scope when creating a business requirements document establishes the organisation’s responsibilities and the vendor. One of the most common reasons for miscommunication when creating software solutions can be traced back to confusing or unclear project scope.

{Project requirements}

In this section of the business requirements document writing process, you should delve further into your development or product’s goals and aims.

You may wish to use the SMART technique when detailing your product or development requirements. These are goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound.

Setting out your goals in this way allows an easy way to communicate to your software development members what your requirements are. SMART goal setting also gives people something they can refer back to further on in the development process to make sure things are on-track.

{Identifying stakeholders and end-users}

To deliver an effective software system or solution, businesses must understand all stakeholders and their needs. A stakeholder is defined as;

‘An individual who is materially affected by the outcome of the system or the project(s) producing the system.’

This, on a surface level, includes any person who will ultimately use the system (i.e. the client) and any members of the software development team. However, the end-user and development team are not the only stakeholders and shareholders.

In reality, there can be multiple stakeholders for even the most minor sized project team. This is because anyone who is affected by the product through a trickle-down system also becomes a stakeholder.

For example, if a new software system requires investors to develop, these investors then become shareholders. If these developers then decide to use third-party software, then all of the additional supplies involved in the process become stakeholders, and so on… The first step to identifying your stakeholders is to understand the different categories. These include:

• Users (the end-users of the system or products)
• Sponsors (managers, department heads, shareholders etc.)
• Developers (project managers, software engineers, designers, coders etc.)
• Authorities (Expert market-leaders or organisational departments)
• Customers (end-users or people who will interact with the software or product)

{Required resources}

To ensure that the business requirements document you have written is fully comprehensive, you must then carry out proper elicitation techniques. The primary elicitation methods are:

• Document analysis
• Brainstorming
• Requirement workshops
• Surveys
• Focus groups
• Observations
• Prototyping
• Interviews
• Interface analysis

Businesses may wish to use any of the above elicitation methods to generate a comprehensive list of requirements or a mix of a few different approaches.

{The requirements gathering process}

Requirements gathering – often known as ‘requirement elicitation’ – is the name given to identify all the requirements needed to carry out development. Essentially the requirements gathering process involves working out what you are building and the software requirements needed to do so.

Establish goals and milestones

The earlier on in the requirements gathering process that you establish set goals and milestones, the easier things will be as the development progresses. Without established goals when requirement gathering, you are setting yourself up for a fall in future decision-making, as there is no set framework for each step or stage of development.

By having established acceptance criteria from an early stage in your companies life-cycle, you can make sure that nothing causes the product to drift off-course. When you are setting out your goals and objectives as part of the software requirements gathering process, you must ask yourself, customers and the client one significant question:

“Does “x” help the achievement of the organisation’s goals or objectives?”

If ‘yes’ is your answer, then there is a good chance the requirement meets the acceptance criteria. If not, then it is probably best kept on the back-burner for the time being.

Document all requirements elicitation activity

During the midst of a requirements elicitation activity or brainstorm, it is easy to convince yourself you understand everything perfectly. However, as time progresses, the grasp you have on certain thought branches becomes less clear. This, as you can imagine, has the potential to slow developments success.

For this reason, you must document all elicitation activity (however trivial or unimportant it may seem) so that all team members across the company are aligned to the same goals.

Communicate with all stakeholders

As mentioned, not all stakeholder in a software development plan may be immediately apparent. This is why you should use probing questions during interviews to identify who the primary users are. Often these users are not major decision-makers in development, but they do play an essential role.

When some users feel that their ideas and contributions in interviews are not heard, it can lead to a growing sense of discontent, which has been the downfall of the success of many past developments.

Practice transparency

Communication and transparency between each stakeholder is another crucial aspect of successful software requirements gathering. While giving stakeholders a cursory glance at your notes may be partially helpful; a better idea is to have them review each stage of the process and get them to sign-off on things.

When working on a software development that spans multiple different tasks and resources, radio silence is never a good thing. By getting stakeholders to review and sign-off each step in the development process, you can ensure that the development moves in the right direction. Furthermore, if you are running an agile project it is imperative that you present updates to stakeholders frequently as part of a formal review process, whereby the development team receives vital feedback and guidance.

Centre on business requirements

During the requirements gathering phase, it is essential to remember that you listen to what each stakeholder says – rather than just those that align with your skillset or preferred tools. Even if you have already decided about what product/tooling to use, you must try to adapt the product around the user’s needs, not the other way around.

The requirements gathering process aims to establish the ‘what’ rather than the ‘how‘, which is why listening to the responses you get is a crucial first-step from which everything else is based. It is also essential that the “non functional” requirements are captured (e.g. speed/responsiveness, scalability, transactions/system load, etc). If non functional requirements are not considered early on then the developed system will most likely need to be refactored (at some cost) due to inability to scale.

Know your priorities

When gathering requirements, it is crucial to prioritise your system requirements and needs based on business value. Often, requirements gathering sessions can quickly unravel into a ‘wish list’ gathering session, where stakeholders tell you everything they want.

The idea is not to ignore these requests but rather to methodically and rationally prioritise what you hear into what is attainable and what is not. Requirement prioritisation should be heavily focused on “business value”, i.e. what will features/fixes will help progress the business most efficiently. Understanding your priorities in this way can help keep your efforts focused on meeting achievable, realistic goals.

Make space for missed requirements.

As humans, we all make mistakes. This is as true anywhere as it is within the requirements gathering process, and there will always be things that you forget to mention or topics that go undiscussed. However, recognising this allows you to plan around it by building time during the developments life-cycle to arrange further requirements gathering.

As requirements gathering is a fundamentally human process, it is, by extension, not static. By making plans for future requirements gathering early on in a developments life-cycle, you can make sure that the scope does not shift.

{The consequences of not gathering requirements for your project}

It is not uncommon that a stakeholder may disagree with ideas or next steps when requirement gathering for a software-based development. Another common challenge when requirements gathering spans from a stakeholder misunderstand the implications of their suggestions or underestimate the amount of effort involved in the development process. One of the most common reasons for a project’s failure is a lack of requirement gathering or poorly defined requirements.

The baseline for web-based developments is continually evolving as the timeline progresses, meaning they require constant and careful management to make sure the system stays on track. Having faulty requirements, uninvolved clients during the requirements gathering process or unclear software requirements can be the downfall of even the most successful-looking projects.

The process of business requirement gathering is one of the most critical steps in development. Below are some of the most common pitfalls that businesses may encounter when requirement gathering:

• A lack of clearly defined success criteria.
• The client is changing their minds too frequently.
• A lack of communication between clients (or over-communication).
• Clients get hung-up on technical details or specific software system tools or techniques.

For software development to be successful, businesses must voice any requirement issues early on in the life-cycle. As the saying goes;

“fail to prepare, and you prepare to fail.”

To ensure that your requirements gathering techniques are adequate, below are some excellent requirements gathering practices to follow:

• Never assume you know the needs of the end-user or customer – ASK them.
• Ensure the end-users are involved in the requirement gathering process from the beginning.
• Clearly define the project’s scope to avoid drifting off-track.
• Prototypes can be great for illustrating to a client or customer your envisioned end-product.
• Write an easy-to-understand, precise requirements documentation before you progress with development.

The stronger a foundation of understanding a client and company has over the trajectory of development and attaining its goals – the smoother this process will be. This is why the requirement gathering process is such a critical part of a company’s development and something that should be valued highlight, and  – if rushed or skipped, it may come back to haunt them.

Businesses in need of help during the requirements gathering / project scoping phase of their project may want to consider using out Fast Track service. Our business analysts will work closely with your team stakeholders to ensure a formal specification is created that accurately reflects both the functional and non-functional requirements, ready for a development team to implement.

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