Writing Requirements - Tip 1 Keep your options open

Writing requirements is a skill that comes with training and experience. Junior business analysts can often find it difficult knowing where to start and how to assess if the requirements are ready to be used by the project team. Here is the first in a series of tips to help you write better requirements.

Make sure every requirement has more than one solution

Starting with the most important. A requirement needs to express what is required, but not how it is to solved. Easy to say, harder to do. Users, managers and business reps will tell you how to solve their problems and rarely start with what problem they are trying to solve. That's human nature and dealing with that is the subject of another article.

When reviewing your requirements, ask yourself:

Is there more than one solution for this requirement?

If the answer is no, then the requirement is likely a how not a what.

Take the following stated requirement from a stakeholder:

The administration officer requires a high speed duplex scanner with an automatic document feeder to scan all inbound correspondence such that 8,000 duplex pages can be scanned per hour'.

This requirement has only one solution which is to use a 'high speed duplex scanner with an automatic document feeder'. Note, I don't consider different models of scanner as multiple solutions!

Generalise the requirement by considering the outcome of implementing the solution and work backwards to the generalised requirement. Do this in consultation with your stakeholders.

Using the previous example, I'd ask the stakeholder what happens to the scanned correspondence. This will give me a clue as to why it was scanned in the first place. Lets say the administration officer explains that the scanned correspondence is filed using a unique file number which is then used for tracking.

I'd revise the requirement to:

As an administration officer, I want to be able to register inbound correspondence on arrival so that all correspondence can be tracked.

This requirement now has more than one solution. It could now be met by using:

  • a manual system of spreadsheets and filing cabinets
  • a fully fledged records management system with scanners

The selection of the best solution will depend on the other requirements and the budget and benefits being chased in the business case.