If you are a software engineer or entrepreneur, chances are you will eventually have to write business requirements. Some of the best way to learn how to write good business requirements is by studying and reviewing the actual words that other people used for their needs.
Here is a list of some great examples of how to write good business requirements:
1. Write business requirements like a user (instead of an analyst) would write them.
Practically speaking. Put yourself into your customer’s or user’s shoes. Don’t just say, ‘write a program to do this,’ but also provide the details of how it will look on screen or what it needs to do as a response to some other action of the user. Try to imagine that you need to explain to someone else — perhaps a new employee in the company — what it is you are trying to get done.
2. Keep your business requirements short and sweet.
If there’s too much stuff, it’s hard for anyone (including the software engineer) to remember it all. If you are the person who decides what the needs of your organization should be, you will probably forget a lot of details if they are not written down in some clear and concise way. That’s why it’s important to keep your business requirements brief.
3. Focus on the task at hand, not all possible tasks.
Don’t include every possible way your customer thinks they’ll want to use the software you are writing. Instead, try to focus on the one or two most critical ways they’ll want to use it most often. In other words, write down what your customer needs right now and let them decide later if they want more features added later.
4. Write business requirements like you would for a website, not for software.
A lot of people who are new to writing requirements make the mistake of thinking that they have to use the same style as if they were writing software requirements — that is, a section of requirements followed by a section of functional specs and another section of acceptance tests. Just list out your requirements in bullet form. Don’t try to write software/functional specs in the business requirement document.
5. Write requirements that don’t change.
Write down the most important things first and put them at the beginning of your document. If you’re writing goals, requirements, or decisions, write down the exact words of your customer or your boss — not what you think they would say in different situations or what you think they want. You may have to triple check these to make sure your customer/boss didn’t change their minds while you were making notes, but even if they did — hey, compromise is part of life.
6. Complain about requirements.
Here’s a simple rule for writing good requirements: if you dislike something, and can’t explain exactly why it should not be in your requirements. It is very hard to write good requirements if you have been assigned a job by the customer/boss to complain about other people’s code or style or anything else.
7. Be critical about what others write for you.
Don’t blindly accept what someone else tells you about their needs. Instead, tell them that you disagree with their idea and explain why. This is a surefire way to improve your writing of business requirements.
8. Don’t write requirements as if you’re writing an email or doing instant messaging.
It’s easy for messages to get jumbled up in words during instant messaging and emails. It’s much harder for jumbled words to happen when you are writing words down in a document that needs to be clear and concise for someone else to read it later on.
9. Don’t waste space with ‘sad face’ emoticons.
Do not use any emoticons in your requirements. This is easy to do inadvertently when you are writing down what someone else tells you and talks about being happy or sad, smiling or frowning, etc. You can make sure that such emoticons are not used by using the following rule: if the customer/boss/you cannot say what they want to say, they probably don’t want to say it at all.
10. Put the key words in capitals.
The cute little ‘magic word’, ‘TODO’, or ‘STOP’ icons that you see at the top of many websites are not really very useful. They are often just for decoration and have no practical value. In fact, they can be quite distracting from the rest of the content on a web page. You can avoid such distracting decoration by writing all your keywords in CAPITAL letters, which makes it much easier to read what you’ve written.
11. Use the Needs/Problem/Solution template.
The Needs/Problem/Solution template is a simple and useful way to write good business requirements for anyone who wants to get the job done. It basically says that:
12. Use a template to organize your requirements.
Using a template provides a very clear structure for writing good business requirements. A template can help you to write affordable, clear business requirements that will benefit the company.
13. Make a list of questions and answers before writing the body of your requirements.
This helps you to organize your ideas in a logical way since business requirements usually start by answering some questions or listing some observations (such as “we need a button labelled ‘Go’ because we want customers to be able to click it and go somewhere else on our web site”).
Other things to consider when writing business requirements.
- Develop a list of key words for the requirements.
You might want to create a list of key words for the requirements yourself, or you might use the template developed by Jim McCarthy called ‘The Good Requirements’ which is based on the template used for ‘The Good Contract’. Write down a simple list of key words and note that these words are not graphic symbols, capital letters, or punctuation marks. They’re just arbitrary labels to help you organize your ideas.
- Keep in mind that you are writing for a purpose.
You might want to state what the purpose of your requirements is at the beginning of your document and then before each separate section. This will help people who read your requirements to better understand why each set of requirements is needed and how they fit into the bigger picture. It might also help you to think about your product in a more useful way.
- Use keywords from common documents as an entire section heading for business requirements documents.
You can use headings like “System Requirements”, “Security Requirements”, “Quality Requirements”, etc. to help people quickly find related requirements in your document. As an added benefit, it will also help you to keep the document organized and well thought out. However, you should not include much more than the “System requirements” title or heading for each section of requirements in your document.
- Include a list of data requirements and system requirements.
You might want to divide your document into sections, such as “Data Requirements” and “System Requirements”. This makes it easier for someone else to find something specific without having to go through the entire document. When you group related requirements together, you may also find that some of them are missing, or are not well thought out. This is a good way to spot groupings that need more definition or attention.
- Avoid writing “this is the way it works” requirements.
It is very easy to let yourself get caught up in what you’re doing and to get so involved that you forget that your goal is to communicate information about a product or service to a customer/boss/yourself. Write down your ideas in ways that make it easier for people who will read them later on. If it helps, use terms such as “ask”, “directions” or “go here”.
Good business requirements are important for anyone who wants to build a product or service. Writing good business requirements will help you to organize your ideas and share them with others in a clear and concise way. There is no such thing as a perfect document but there are ways you can make your own documents better. By following some simple rules, such as the ones listed above, you will find it easier to write down what you want and ensure that it is useful for someone else to read.