Every successful project has a detailed and well developed business requirement document (BRD). The BRD describes the problems the project is trying to solve or the opportunities the project is attempting to benefit from, and the required outcomes necessary to deliver value. The business analyst is usually the person who develops the BRD.
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.
What is a business requirement document (BRD)?
Definition: A business requirements document describes the business solution for a project (i.e., what a new or updated product, service or result 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.
Business requirements document also emphasizes on the needs and expectations of the customer. In simpler terms, BRD indicates what the business wants to achieve. The BRD indicates all the project deliverables at a high level. 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.
In outsourced projects, 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.
Objectives of a business requirement document:
Project utilize BRDs for the following objectives:
- To build consensus among stakeholders.
- To communicate the business needs, the customer needs, and the end result of the solution that must satisfy business and customer needs.
- To determine the input to the next phase of the project.
Sections in a Business Requirement Document 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 business requirement document BRD will include the following sections and components:
- Executive Summary
- Project overview (including vision, and context)
- SWOT analysis
- Success factors
- Project scope
- Desired goals and project objectives
- Stakeholder identification
- Current state
- Future state
- Business requirements and corresponding priority
- Assumptions, Limitations, Constraints
Additionally, depending on the organization’s documentation process, sections for feature analysis, competitive analysis, benchmarking results, functional and non-functional requirements may also be included in a BRD rather than in separate requirements documents.
Steps to Create a Business Requirement Document
- Project scope: The project scope draws the boundaries of the project and helps managers decide what is included in the project and what isn’t. Having a clear scope helps keep the team aligned and avoids unnecessary wastage of resources. All project functionalities or special requests need to be included here.
- Goals and Objectives: In this section, describe the high-level goals and objectives of the project. What will the project ultimately achieve? Who’s it for? How does the project goals tie up to the overall business objective and mission? Describe in detail what success will look like.
- Need for the project: Provide a rationale for the project. Having a needs statement in your document helps convey the importance of the project and how it will impact the company’s bottom line in the long run. This helps gain stakeholders’ and employees’ trust and confidence in the project and ensures smooth implementation.
- Identify Stakeholders: Identify key stakeholders to elicit requirements from. You can include each person’s name, department, and their role in making the project a success.
- Conduct a SWOT analysis: A flawless business requirements document (BRD) should contain a SWOT analysis of the project and how it fits in the big picture. The analysis should carefully articulate the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats that the project has. Adding this section to your BRD helps boost your credibility with upper management and external partners as it shows how aware you are of the project’s limitations and scope.
- Requirements: The next step is gathering requirements from stakeholder and documenting them. Read more about elicitation techniques.
- Assumptions, Limitations, Constraints: The team working on the project should be made aware of the possible assumptions, limitations and constraints in creating this document, and its contents.
- Executive Summary: The executive summary summarizes the entire document, outlining the need for the project, its requirements, and how does it tie up to your overall business goals. Develop this section after completing other sections, and place it at the top of the business requirement document BRD.
How to write 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.
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 document FRD. 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.