The foundation of a successful project is a well-written business requirements document (BRD). The BRD describes the problems the project is trying to solve and the required outcomes necessary to deliver value.
When done well, the business requirements document directs the project and keeps everyone on the same page. However, requirements documentation can easily become unclear and disorganized, which can quickly send a project off track.
To avoid project creep and ensure that your team delivers the right value, follow these tips for writing a perfect business requirements document.
What is a business requirements document?
A business requirements document describes the business solution for a project (i.e., what a new or updated product should do), including the user’s needs and expectations, the purpose behind this solution, and any high-level constraints that could impact a successful deployment.
Essentially, a BRD acts as the guideline for stakeholders to make decisions regarding project priorities, design, and structure to ensure the project remains aligned with the overall goals of the business.
It also represents a basic contract between the customer and the vendor outlining the expectations and deliverables for the project. The BRD sets the standards for determining when a project has reached a successful completion.
Business requirements vs. functional requirements
Although the terms are often used interchangeably, business requirements are not the same as the functional requirements for a project. The business requirements describe what the deliverables are needed, but not how to accomplish them.
That information (the “how”) should be documented in a project’s functional requirements. These are typically outlined within the software requirements documentation for development projects, but some organizations include a functional requirements section in their BRD. These functional requirements detail how a system should operate to fulfill the business requirements.
Business requirements are the means to fulfilling the organization’s objectives. They should be high-level, detail-oriented, and written from the client’s perspective.
In contrast, functional requirements are much more specific and narrowly focused and written from the system’s perspective. Functional requirements are the means for delivering an effective solution that meets the business requirements and client’s expectations for that project.
Though the distinction is subtle, it’s important to know the difference between business and functional requirements to ensure effective requirements elicitation, documentation, and implementation. Understanding the difference also helps you keep the project properly focused and aligned so that your team can meet both the user needs and the business objectives at the end of the project.
Anatomy of a great BRD
Most businesses follow a template for all their project requirements documentation. This is helpful for keeping documentation standard across the organization.
The structure may vary but a basic BRD will include the following sections and components:
- Project overview (including vision, objectives, and context)
- Success factors
- Project scope
- Stakeholder identification
- Business requirements
- Scope of the solution
- Project constraints (such as schedule and budget)
- Quality control measures
Some teams may need to include additional sections depending on the needs and complexity of the project, such as a current assessment, a future process map, and training needs.
Additionally, depending on the organization’s documentation process, sections for functional and non-functional requirements may also be included in a BRD rather than in separate requirements documents.
Top 5 tips for writing the perfect BRD
Now that you have a grasp on what a business requirements document should accomplish, you can follow these guidelines to make sure that you write an exceptional one.
1. Practice effective requirements elicitation
Even if you write an impressive BRD, it won’t be effective if you haven’t identified and documented all the requirements necessary. To ensure your BRD is complete and cohesive, you’ll need to apply proper elicitation methods.
A Guide to the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge (more commonly known as the BABOK Guide) lists nine primary elicitation methods:
- Document analysis
- Interface analysis
- Focus groups
- Requirements workshops
You could use all nine or a select few, but you will certainly need to incorporate multiple approaches to gather a comprehensive set of requirements.
Whatever methods you use, consider the following tips for improving your elicitation process.
Continually gather requirements
While most requirements gathering occurs early on in the project lifecycle, the business analyst should always be open to identifying and documenting new requirements as needed. It can be tempting to sweep new information under the rug if you’ve already progressed past the initial stages of the project. However, the end product will be better if you have fleshed out all the requirements necessary—even if they were added later in the game.
Get to know your stakeholders
Build a rapport with your stakeholders and learn how they operate. Tailor your elicitation methods to their style or preferred method. While some people work best in interviews, others might prefer to prepare written answers. By adapting your methods to the person, you will be more efficient and effective in gathering requirements.
Always be prepared
Come to stakeholder meetings prepared with questions and even answers. The right questions are often enough to get the ball rolling, but if the team is struggling to find an answer, propose one yourself. Offering options can get the group brainstorming and thinking through the problem more strategically.
2. Use clear language without jargon
Requirements documents are often long and text-heavy. To prevent confusion or misinterpretations, use clear language without jargon. Keep in mind that multiple stakeholders will be using this document, and not all of them will be technically-minded. By keeping your language clear, you can ensure everyone can understand it.
When you do need to include jargon or other technical terms, be sure to add those to a project dictionary section in the document. This section can serve as a useful reference of all uncommon terms found throughout the document so no one misunderstands the requirements.
3. Research past projects
A great way to jump-start your documentation process is to research similar projects your organization has completed in the past.
Review the documentation for those projects and use those insights to help you identify requirements and other key points to include in your own BRD. These projects can also help your team justify certain requirements based on successful past results.
4. Validate the documentation
Once you’ve finished writing the requirements document, have a subject matter expert and the project stakeholders review it. This is the time for everyone to validate the information and offer feedback or corrections.
This step is crucial to a creating a successful BRD. Without it, you risk missing key requirements or leaving critical errors that could set your project off track.
5. Include visuals
Although BRDs tend to be text-heavy in nature, visuals play an important role in presenting and clarifying information and making the document more user-friendly. Break up walls of text with data visualizations such as process flows and scope models.
One of the most common diagrams for a BRD is the business process diagram. This diagram visualizes a workflow process and how it relates to your business requirements. Depending on how complex your documentation is, you can use the process diagram to present high-level processes or drill down into more comprehensive and detailed processes for multiple requirements sections.
Use Lucidchart to build and share process visuals and requirements documentation with ease. Our extensive library of ready-made shapes and templates lets you quickly draft a professional-quality diagram in a fraction of the time it would normally take you.
Plus, data linking allows you to link other documents and files directly to your document so you have updated information all in one place. And with multiple sharing options, you can keep stakeholders on the same page throughout the documentation and development process.