The key to a successful project is a thoughtful and well-written business requirements document (often abbreviated as a BRD).
What is a business requirements document (BRD)?
So, what is a business requirements document? It clearly defines everything that a project entails. It considers all facets of the project, including the expected outcomes and the key stakeholders.
This document outlines what’s needed to reach the intended project objectives. When it’s done well, it should be so self-explanatory that it removes any ambiguity associated with the project work. Nobody is left guessing — everything they need is listed in the business requirements document.
In a paper for the Project Management Institute (PMI), Paul Burek emphasized that business requirements are the “what” — what an organization wants to do upon completing a project. The requirements define the changes that will come as a result of the project work.
While it might sound overly-formal, a business requirements document is a critical element to ensure alignment among all parties involved.
What information do you put in a business requirements document?
Now that we have a loose overview of what this document is, let’s dig into the nitty-gritty of what goes into it.
Business requirements documents are similar to other formal documents such as requests for proposals (RFPs) and client contracts. With that in mind, they often include:
- An executive summary: Write this summary after completing the rest of the document. This high-level section should outline the project requirements and should summarize the following contents of the document.
- Project objectives: Describe the project’s goals and objectives and mention what the work will achieve. What are the outcomes? How does the project align with the goals of the business? To simplify this section and ensure it’s succinct, use the SMART system for project objectives.
- A needs statement: This is where you make your case as to why the project is needed. Providing rationale and garnering support from stakeholders and employees is a great way to build rapport with your peers before diving into the rest of the project.
- Project scope: Successful projects communicate the work scope from the beginning and stay within the defined boundaries unless otherwise instructed. Clear project scope will help you avoid dreaded scope creep.
- Requirements: After requirements gathering with key stakeholders, you’ll need to summarize all of the project’s requirements in this section. Be mindful of high-level requirements like the “what,” as well as technical requirements like the “how.”
- Key stakeholders: Identify the stakeholders involved in the project and lay out their roles and responsibilities. Who will do the work? What are the expectations of each stakeholder? Will the business need to hire any additional resources?
- Schedule, timeline, and milestone deadlines: Detail the project phases in this section, carefully outlining what is required and when. Create timelines and account for dependencies, as well as unforeseen challenges that could arise.
- Cost-benefit analysis: Your cost-benefit analysis is where you’ll capture the associated costs involved in the project along with the expected benefits to help you build a case for return on investment (ROI) of the project.
How to write a business requirements document
There’s no denying that there’s a lot that goes into this document. But, writing business requirements and adding them to a business requirements document doesn’t have to be an overwhelming challenge. Follow these tips for writing your own.
1. Start by learning from previous successful projects
If starting this document feels daunting, spend some time reviewing successful past projects completed within the organization.
Look at the documentation associated with these projects and use your insights to outline your new business requirements document. Some elements to consider as you review previous documentation include:
- What worked well
- What didn’t work
- Hurdles the project team had to overcome
- Dependencies that might affect your current project
- Elicitation methods used during the requirements gathering phase
2. Capture your requirements
- Brainstorming: Bring your stakeholders together and elicit ideas and themes for the project. This particular method may be beneficial if there are multiple solutions identified.
- Document analysis: Review all existing documentation pertinent to the project, including previous documentation for successful projects.
- Focus groups: Identify stakeholders to gather input from them on a smaller scale. You can dig into the proposed solutions further with pre-determined stakeholders than you would in a brainstorming session.
- Interface analysis: This elicitation method is particularly beneficial for software solutions and involves user interactions with an application.
- Interviews: One-on-one interviews are a popular way to gather input for requirements. Hone in on the stakeholder’s thoughts and perspectives related to the project and potential solutions.
- Observation: This method of elicitation is beneficial when revamping a process or workflow. When observing a worker’s process or workflow, be mindful not to interrupt them. Instead, ask them to review your documentation post-observation.
- Prototyping: Using a prototype is a great way to ensure that the current requirements meet all stakeholders’ needs. Prototypes can illustrate how a solution might work and help determine if requirements should be altered.
- Requirements workshops: Conduct collaborative workshops with your stakeholders to outline requirements together. Workshops generally have more direction than brainstorming sessions with pre-determined asks of each stakeholder specified at the beginning.
- Surveys/questionnaires: Surveys and questionnaires can help if you’re looking to obtain feedback from a larger group of stakeholders. Question design is important, so be sure to determine how best to pose questions to gather the information you need.
Don’t worry — it’s certainly not essential to use all of the techniques mentioned above. Instead, identify which ones will work best for you and your current project. Throughout the project lifecycle, ensure you listen for impacts to the requirements defined at the beginning of the project and address them as needed.
3. Add visual elements to make content more digestible
Visuals and surrounding context can increase your plan’s effectiveness and break up text-heavy chunks of information.
Research indicates that 65% of the population are visual learners, which means incorporating visuals in your document can help you convey your message and plan in a more compelling way.
For example, a business process diagram is a typical visual seen in a business requirements document. Mapping out business processes in their current state versus the proposed future state can help communicate requirements with ease.
4. Ask team members to review your document
Once you’ve finished your business requirements document, ask stakeholders to review it and validate it. This provides the opportunity for you to confirm you’ve captured all of the requirements accordingly and offers a chance for stakeholders to provide feedback and make changes before the project begins.
As an added bonus, completing a review process also contributes to overall alignment, setting your team up for success from the get-go.
Business requirements document example and template
We’ll admit that all of this can feel a little complex and academic, so let’s walk through a basic requirements document example.
Imagine that your organization wants to find a way to better track employee performance and key performance indicators (KPIs).
For the sake of this example, let’s say there’s currently no system that allows employees to track their performance, so one will have to be selected and implemented. Here’s what a very simple document might look like for this type of project (along with some helpful tips):
1. Executive summary
Our organization is seeking a performance management system to track our overall employee performance, boost retention and morale, and increase transparency between managers and employees.
We aim to have this system launched within the second quarter and will evaluate systems, implement the system, and provide adequate training to managers and employees by June 1, 2021.
There are a number of requirements we’re looking to satisfy, including career path mapping, reporting and analytics, and goal management. A number of stakeholders will be involved in the selection and implementation of this system, including a project manager, human resources, department heads, executives, managers, and employees.
This document details the selection of this system, the objectives, needs, scope, requirements, stakeholders, schedule, and cost-benefit analysis.
2. Project objectives
Use the SMART system for your project objectives:
- We will have all 500 employees trained using our new performance management system by June 1, 2021.
3. Needs statement
Back your statement with data and research, if possible, to strengthen your position:
- A performance management system is needed to increase our employee retention rates, maintain consistency across employee development paths, boost our financial position by up-leveling our talent, and motivate and reward employees. Turnover costs our organization on average $35,000, and implementing this system will allow us to save money by retaining our employees.
4. Project scope
Clearly define what work falls within the scope:
- In scope:
- Evaluating and selecting a performance management system
Implementing the performance management system
- Providing system training to managers
- Providing system training to employees
- Evaluating and selecting a performance management system
Work with key stakeholders to outline all of the requirements:
- Goal management for tracking progress
- Performance evaluation for mid-year and end of year performance reviews
- Career path mapping and succession planning
- Performance analytics
- Coaching and mentoring opportunities
6. Key stakeholders
Identify key stakeholders and outline their roles and responsibilities:
- Project Manager: responsible for holding all parties accountable to the project timeline
- Human Resources: will research performance management systems, gather requirements, provide a recommendation to the Executives for signoff, conduct manager and employee training sessions
- Department Heads: share desired needs with HR for a comprehensive list of requirements
- Executives: responsible for signing off on the selected performance management system
- Managers: will be trained on the system
- Employees: will be trained on the system
Outline all various phases of the project along with the deadline for each phase:
- Phase I: Complete requirements gathering with all stakeholders by March 31, 2021
- Phase II: Select a performance management system to recommend to Executives by April 7, 2021
- Phase III: Onboard HR team to the new performance management system by April 26, 2021
- Phase IV: Complete training materials for managers and employees by May 3, 2021
- Phase V: Conduct manager training on May 10, 2021
- Phase VI: Conduct employee training on May 17, 2021
8. Cost-Benefit Analysis
Complete a cost-benefit analysis:
- Costs of employee turnover per team YoY
- Costs of resources needed on the project team to implement the system
- Benefits of having employees aligned to company objectives
- Benefits of legal protection for terminations
How to plan a business requirements document with Wrike
While a template and example will help make the process of creating your own business requirements document feel a little more manageable, there’s no denying that there’s a lot involved in the process.
The good news is that a collaborative work management platform like Wrike can take plenty of stress and headaches out of the process by:
- Streamlining and centralizing communication
- Easily collecting requirements from stakeholders
- Providing visibility into the process
- Breaking the document creation process into smaller tasks
Ready to create your own business requirements document Start your free trial of Wrike today.