Business Requirements Document: What it is & How to Write One

Written by: Josh Brown

Published: May 03 2022

Success in the business world is never guaranteed.

And the chances of a project succeeding drop substantially if the project isn’t backed by a strong, comprehensive plan.

Even before you start planning the “nitty-gritty” aspects of your next project, though, you need to be sure this plan is built on a solid foundation.

In short:

You need a business requirements document.

What is a Business Requirements Document?

A business requirements document is a formal report that gives an overview of an upcoming project, with a specific focus on the high-level impact the project is intended to have on the business.

A business requirements document (BRD) defines:

  • What successful completion of the project will “look like”
  • What — and who — is needed to achieve this success
  • Why the project is necessary to achieve your intended business goals
  • Why achieving these goals is essential to business success


(A BRD will also explain what a project is not intended to accomplish. More on this in a bit.)

Note, again, that BRDs focus on business outcomes (i.e., business requirements) — and usually don’t dig into the technical, ground-level tasks involved in a given project. Once a BRD has been approved, the team can then draft a more technical functional requirements document for the upcoming project.

(As Paul Burek of the Project Management Institute explains, BRDs show what a project is intended to accomplish, while FRDs show how the team will accomplish it.)

Why are Business Requirements Documents Important?

While it’s certainly possible for a project to succeed without creating a business requirements document, it’s not likely by any stretch of the imagination. 

(In these cases, chances are the team just got lucky — and probably has no idea how to replicate this success in the future.)

That said, let’s take a deeper look into why creating a BRD is essential to project and business success.

Define Business Goals and Rationale

Above all else, a business requirement document allows you to define your goals for an upcoming project — and to tie these goals to your overarching business goals using clear rationale based on data and other hard evidence.

This may again sound like a formality where you’ll simply be documenting that which you already know. But the truth is, projects often fail due to a disconnect between ground-level project goals and overarching business goals. 

In taking the time needed to hammer out both your goals and the rationale behind these goals, you’ll all but ensure that successful completion of the project will lead to positive outcomes for your business.

Create Alignment Among Stakeholders

Going along with the above, a business requirements document ensures that all involved stakeholders have a uniform understanding of the project in question.

Essentially, a BRD acts as a Single Source of Truth for all high-level information about the project. From the start of the project, all stakeholders will know where the team is headed — and will be able to keep up with the team’s progress over time. Stakeholders and team members can also refer back to the document throughout the project to keep everything on-track.

Business requirements documents also usually include language specific to individual stakeholders or roles related to the project. This helps all involved parties stay focused on their responsibilities — while also seeing how their efforts play into the “bigger picture” within the organization.

Reduce Errors and Avoid Risks

As we said above, creating BRDs helps validate your upcoming projects, and keeps your team focused on tasks that will actually move the needle for your business.

The flip side of this is that adopting BRD creation as a standard operating procedure (SOP) leaves you less likely to waste time, money, and other resources on projects that don’t pay off in any meaningful way.

A BRD might also address any blockers that may hinder progress throughout completion of the project. In uncovering these challenges before you begin developing a game plan, you can create contingency workflows to minimize the impact of these pitfalls — or simply avoid them altogether.

Achieve Consistent Project Success (and Business Growth)

It’s safe to say that projects — and overall businesses — backed by a BRD are generally more likely to succeed than those without such documentation processes in place.

What’s more, improving the quality of your business requirements documents — and of your creation processes — will allow you to build an ever-stronger foundation for every project you face. So, you’ll not only consistently outperform your less-prepared competitors, but also consistently improve your own performance over time, as well.

Components of a Business Requirements Document

Let’s now take a look at some of the key elements of a business requirements document.

Note, however, that all BRDs should be unique to the situation at hand, and may include more or fewer sections depending on the circumstances. Similarly, many sections can be broken down in various ways for specific purposes. Finally, certain sections can often stand alone — or may be included as a subset of another section.

Overall, though, a business requirement document will typically include the following:

Executive Summary

The executive summary of a BRD is a brief synopsis of the project’s business goals and business requirements.

Here, you’ll quickly explain:

  • The problem the project intends to solve
  • The intended outcome of the project
  • What successful completion of the project will enable your business to do


Example executive summary in a business requirements documentSource

Project Objectives

This section expands on the executive summary, providing a more detailed explanation of the information listed above.

This involves providing clear, quantitative evidence tying the problem you’re facing to your current mode of operation — and tying your proposed solution to the intended business outcomes. Here, you’ll typically list your team’s business and project goals in SMART format to ensure clarity for all stakeholders.

A few examples:

  • Adoption of new software will be complete by January 2023.
  • Reduce customer support response time by 25% by next quarter.
  • Improve year-over-year sales by 10%


This section may also include additional info regarding your company’s future plans upon successful completion of the project. 

(Alternatively, this might also be included as an additional “Needs Statement.”)

Project Scope

Here’s where you’ll define the boundaries of the upcoming project in order to maintain focus — and to avoid scope creep, missed assignments, and other miscommunications.

The key pieces of information to include here:

  • Project deliverables
  • Project milestones
  • Acceptance criteria


This section should also include a list of things the project won’t aim to accomplish. 

Here, you might refer to tasks or outcomes that may be associated with the main objective — but that aren’t directly related to it. For example, a site redesign will not involve creation of new blog content.

Example of writing scope for business requirements documentSource


The Project Scope section can also include the following subsections (if they don’t stand alone).

1. Assumptions

The Assumptions section details the assumed conditions under which the project will proceed.

The goal of this section is actually to uncover incorrect or incomplete assumptions that may eventually throw the project off-course. Catching these issues before technical planning is underway can save your team a ton of time and other resources in the long run.

And, it again maintains alignment between project workers and stakeholders in terms of what’s expected on either side. That way, if things go wrong due to unforeseen circumstances, all involved parties can immediately start working toward a solution rather than blaming the other for the team’s shortcomings.

2. Constraints and Limitations

Here’s where you’ll identify any blockers that may hold your team back from achieving your goals.

Such blockers may include:

  • Budgetary limitations
  • Time constraints
  • Technological capabilities
  • Employee abilities
  • Company policies


In identifying these blockers, you’ll be able to avoid them (or at least minimize their impact) when creating a more technical plan for your project. And, in cases where blockers are unavoidable, you’ll at least know not to waste too much time and effort on an initiative that won’t go anywhere.

Source

Business Requirements

Your business requirements are actually pretty basic statements regarding what you intend to do through the completion of your project.

Source

Essentially, it’s the elevator pitch for your project objectives. 

It’s what accomplishing the SMART goals you’ve set for your team actually looks like in the real world. 

Most importantly:

It’s the underlying, foundational improvements that will ossify and transform your operations not just for the moment, but throughout the existence of your company.

Personnel Requirements

This section will define the quantity and quality of manpower needed for successful completion of the project.

Details to include here:

  • Employee position/role
  • Responsibilities and qualifications of role
  • Time required per role
  • Cost of employee/manpower throughout the project


This can provide more insight into the above-mentioned limitations of your project team at the moment — and plays a role in the financial aspects of the project, as well.

Project Schedule & Timeline

Here’s where you’ll set time-based deadlines for your team to reach the milestones you’d defined earlier.

This timeline is often broken down into phases, with each “phase” referring to the time between subsequent milestones. From there, you can define who’s responsible for what throughout each phase — and can call specific attention to dependencies, handoffs, and related blockers.

Financial Statement / Cost-Benefit Analysis

Finally, a cost-benefit analysis is needed to solidly validate the project from a financial perspective.

Essentially, this section will provide a breakdown of the financial costs associated with the project, along with the projected financial benefits of investing in the initiative. In certain cases, you might also consider the projected costs of not undertaking the project so as to illustrate the true impact it will have on your company.

This will also help you create alignment around the more subjective, intangible costs and benefits associated with the project. This can help you avoid chasing after achievements your stakeholders don’t care about — and keep you focused on your stakeholders’ top priorities.

Glossary

A glossary may be necessary if your BRD includes a fair amount of technical jargon — regardless of your stakeholders’ background knowledge.

Obviously, your non-technical stakeholders will need a reference point for certain terms and phrases in order to digest the BRD in full. Moreover, the glossary can help avoid confusion and miscommunication with regard to acronyms and other references.

How to Write an Effective Business Requirements Document

We’ve already touched on some ways to optimize each section of your business requirements documents.

Now, let’s look at the key things you can do at each stage of the document creation process to ensure your BRDs are as effective as possible.

Planning Your BRD

Full disclosure:

A lot of planning goes into creating an effective business requirements document.

The good news, though, is that the better your plan, the easier it will be to actually create your next BRD.

Here’s what this entails.

Reverse-Engineer Successful Past Projects

If you’ve never created a business requirements document before, you don’t need to go in completely blind.

Instead, look to related projects and successful initiatives from the past to see what you may have already been doing in this regard — and what needs to be done to flesh-out, formalize, and optimize the process.

If possible, you may want to actually create and present a mock BRD using a past project as a guide. This will give your team and other stakeholders experience with these documents in a no-risk environment — allowing all involved parties to understand what the overall process involves.

Collecting and Documenting Requirements

Next, you’ll need to elicit the business and other requirements of the project.

This is the most critical aspect of the planning phase, as it will lead to a comprehensive and focused understanding of what needs to change in order for your business to grow.

There are a number of effective ways to elicit and identify business requirements from stakeholders, including:

  • Brainstorming and workshopping sessions
  • Surveys and focus groups
  • Historical data analysis


The methods you choose will depend on a variety of factors, such as the focus of the project and who the stakeholders are. Additionally, some methods may be more practical in certain circumstances due to stakeholder availability or preference.

In any case, you need to be wary of a few obstacles that often arise when eliciting requirements.

  • A lack of focus — either on your end or your stakeholders — can derail interviews and discussions, leaving you with little information to run with. Strategic questioning and prompting is essential to keep conversations on-track.
  • Haphazard collection and documentation of responses can decontextualize these responses and render them useless. This is where an internal knowledge base is crucial.
  • Internal pivots and external changes can cause the data you’ve collected thus far to become moot. Here, there’s not much you can do besides remaining as flexible and agile as possible.


Choose the Right BRD Template

Though most business requirement documents generally follow a similar formula, they don’t all look exactly the same.

It’s vital, then, that you know what sections to include for your specific purposes. You also need to know how to organize and present your BRD in order to maximize stakeholder engagement. 

Thankfully, there’s no shortage of free business requirements document templates available on the web. Many of these templates will include prompts and additional info to guide teams through the documentation process.

That said, these templates should only be used as suggestions for getting started. Eventually, you’ll want to have your own BRD templates — multiple for various purposes — to quickly get your projects started.

(And, even so, you’ll always want to double-check that your chosen BRD template includes all the sections and components you need it to.)

Writing Your BRD

Once you have all the information you need to write your business requirements document, it’s time to get started.

As you write up the document, be sure to follow these best practices.

1. Be Simple and Concise

No matter how knowledgeable or tech-savvy your stakeholders are, it’s important to be as simple and to-the-point as possible throughout your BRD.

A few pointers here:

  • Use short sentences and avoid jargon
  • Use bulleted lists liberally
  • Keep technical explanations to a minimum


Even if your stakeholders can likely understand and digest more longform, technical documentation, that’s not what your BRD is for. Rather, the goal is to communicate the business case for a project along with quick-hitting evidence to support your claims.

(Remember, technical explanations should be reserved for your functional requirements documents.)

When jargon and other technical language is unavoidable, be sure to include a glossary of terms for your less tech-savvy audience members. This, again, will avoid early confusion that could end up snowballing if left unchecked.

2. Include Visuals and Multimedia

Charts, diagrams, and other visual aids should be used throughout your BRDs as appropriate.

Some examples of when to use visuals:

  • To communicate historical data
  • To illustrate new workflows and timelines (or changes to current ones)
  • To showcase relationships between processes, stakeholders, etc.


Source

These visuals not only make the information easier to digest, but also serve as reference points for stakeholders to return to throughout the approval process.

Review the Document With Your Stakeholders

Before finalizing your BRD, give your stakeholders one last chance to comb through it for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

Some key areas to focus their attention on:

  • Historical data, statistics, and calculations
  • Correct (and necessary) use of technical language
  • Factual accuracy (especially regarding assumptions, risks, and other unknowns)


It’s also important for your stakeholders to look for what’s not included in the BRD — be it missing data, an overlooked risk, or additional evidence of the project’s effectiveness. In any case, getting multiple sets of eyes on the doc will help you fill in the cracks and create a comprehensive BRD to base your project planning around.

Review BRD and Overall Process

Moving forward, your project post-mortems should include specific focus on your business requirements document — and on the process of creating it.

1. Communication

Firstly, you want to consider how well the document communicated the information you’d intended, as you’d intended it. 

This should again be a collaborative effort with your stakeholders, as multiple perspectives will be needed to identify what’s missing, what could have been explained better — and even what could have been left out.

2. Data Collection

You’ll also want to revisit your processes for collecting data, eliciting requirements, and communicating with your stakeholders. 

In turn, you’ll be able to make laser-focused improvements to your document-creation processes — for BRDs or otherwise. 

(For more help here, check out our guides to internal communications and asynchronous communications.)

3. Project Review

Your BRDs will play a key role in your overall project reviews, too. 

Using a combination of your BRD, FRD, historical performance data (and other project-related documentation), you can compare projected outcomes to actual outcomes. This can potentially help you draw correlations and conclusions that could lead to far-reaching improvements to your overall operations, such as your:

  • Project planning processes
  • Data collection and analysis processes
  • Employee and team enablement efforts


Document Your BRD Processes and Templates With Helpjuice

As you solidify your BRD-related processes from start to finish, you’ll need to document and store these workflows for safekeeping and repeated use.

You’ll also need a place to store your ever-growing collection of BRD templates, too.

This is where Helpjuice comes in.

Our knowledge base software allows you to document, store, and retrieve internal documents and organizational knowledge from any device with ease. This will help you quickly get new projects underway — and keep your project planning heading in the right direction.

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