Delivering a Great Requirements Document

When thinking about or being tasked with capturing a customer’s detailed requirements, beyond the high-level Business requirements … for me, it’s hard not to immediately draw mental pictures of that well referenced tree swing analogy. For those not familiar with the analogy it simply points out that without proper requirement definition a customer looking for a tree swing could have any of the swings in the illustration delivered to them.

Purposely jumping off the tree swing for a moment… and focusing on software solution marketplace with its vast product range with a plethora of configurations, outcomes and customer experiences, it has never been more important to queue up those powerhouse discovery questions to ensure that you have accurately and clearly understood both the functional and non-functional requirements of your customer. If we do this we avoid delivering the wrong outcome for the client.

A functional requirement typically describes the behaviour (such as automated workflow) or presentation of a configured component that meets the specific needs of the customer, whereas a non-functional requirement describes the systems operation… such as a Web Servers Availability etc.

My Top DO’s and DON’T on Producing Great Requirements Documents

DOHave a sound understanding of the customers high-level Business Requirements prior to meeting with them to perform the deeper dive discovery.
DON’
T
Ask a series of unnecessary/repetitive questions where the information has already been provided in advance. This opens your ‘incompetence account’ with the customer and doesn’t build the necessary rapport or credibility for downstream engagements which are required to deliver success.
DOSchedule a Discovery Session with all applicable stakeholders, communicating in advance a structured approach with an agenda or at a minimum a simple email to highlight discussion points for the Discovery session.
DON’
T
Avoid the inclusion of the IT Manager and/or Senior IT Representative in your Discovery session.

DOUse the phone wherever possible to help qualify any gaps in understanding of the customer’s requirements. Verbal communications result in far fewer misinterpretations of conveyed information over those which can occur in a series of detailed emails.
DON’
T
Fill the Requirements document with verbose, non-specific or redundant content (e.g. marketing content) that doesn’t help define or qualify the customers’ requirements for review and approval.
DOUse a very good healthy balance of quality images, screenshots and diagrams to present your clean understanding of the customer requirements in your proposed technology.   Microsoft Visio is my go to application of choice.
DON’
T
Make wild and nonsensical assumptions, when they can be solved with a short call or a qualifying email.
DODocument the specific non-functional requirements for success even if they are requirements for the client to deliver on. IE IT landscape changes needed, additional staff training needed etc
DOScale the length and depth of Requirements detail with respect to the level of complexity of the solution delivered. See Solution Complexity to Requirement Detail Chart below.

Using the Correct Weight Approach

Following on from my last ‘DO’ recommendation, Requirement documents should contain the appropriate weight of detail/content to be classed as an ‘efficient document’. Obviously producing an overly wordy document for a small, yet simple project can frustrate many customers as they struggle to digest all of the details. On the flip side unconsciously leaving a lot of important detail out OR left only to verbal references will effectively leave the gate WIDE open for assumptions to be made on all sides. Poorer outcomes are consistently achieved when this lack of detail and specification exists within the documentation.

Solution Complexity to Requirement Detail Chart

Hopefully some of these quick tips will help you produce superior requirements documents for your projects.
Contribution By:

Tony Smith

Former Professional Services Director