Business requirements: Tracing project deliverables to business goals

Any successfully executed IT project is guided by pre-defined business requirements. Here’s how to ensure project deliverables and resource allocation trace back to business needs.

Business requirements: Tracing project deliverables to business goals
Thinkstock

What are business requirements?

Business requirements are a vital component of any IT project. Identified at the start of any project, business requirements describe all activities and characteristics of a project’s end product essential to meeting business goals. The process of gathering business requirements leans on the knowledge, expertise and experience of business analysts who help ensure that a project’s overall mission and components align with business goals.

Business requirements vs. functional requirements

Functional requirements are also essential to any project’s success, and too are gathered at the outset of a project. But while business and functional requirements have a shared goal of ensuring end users get everything necessary out of a project’s deliberables, functional requirements are far more granular and precise than business requirements.

Business requirements explain why a goal is worth achieving and what the "future state" of the project may look like. Functional requirements specify, in detail, how the goal will be achieved. A project team periodically reviews the functional requirements while they are being developed and compares each to the business requirements to confirm whether the project is on track.

The business requirements process

Although the process can differ slightly in length and complexity, there are key steps that should be followed to ensure that all business requirements are accurately identified, documented, analyzed, verified, and included in project planning and execution. These include the following: 

  • Identify all necessary stakeholders
  • Elicit all business requirements
  • Analyze requirements
  • Identify which documents are needed
  • Gain the appropriate approvals
  • Communicate the approved requirements to stakeholders
  • Track requirements and the progress during project execution
  • Manage any necessary changes to the requirements
  • Report the status of business requirements tracing

Business requirements gathering

The process of gathering business requirements, sometimes referred to as requirements elicitation, involves the compiling of a detailed list of all business needs and specifics as they relate to the successful operations and direction. Depending on preference, availability and needs, there are various techniques that can be used to gather requirements, including analysis of documentation, brainstorming, focus groups, interviews, observation and surveys.

Business requirements analysis and traceability

Once requirements have been gathered, each must be documented and analyzed to set out the scope of a project in relation to the desired goals. This begins with traceability.

Business requirements traceability ensures that all business activities and deliverables are linked to an actual requirement. In other words, traceability ensures that each requirement has a business-related purpose and that no requirement is useless or unnecessary.

Requirements traceability tracks the nature of relationships between requirements in a particular set, between business needs and consequent requirements, and between requirements and the various deliverables of a project.

In tracing business requirements, business analysts first identify and document all business requirements in a business requirements document (BRD). Doing so requires a clear understanding of the mission, vision, and goals of the business. The resulting BRD details the projects goals, as well as customer expectations and how the project will support the requirements of the business. This document is the basis for the project as it relates to the needs and direction of the business. Requirements may also be traced to other linked or associated requirements.

Business Analysis Body of Knowledge (BABOK)

To understand business requirements analysis and requirements tracing it is important to appreciate business analysis in general. To this end, the International Institute of Business Analysts (IIBA) has developed the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge (BABOK) to help companies and business analysts achieve “better business outcomes at the strategic, tactical and operational level.”

The BABOK focuses on five perspectives:

  • Agile practices
  • Business intelligence
  • Information technology
  • Business architecture
  • Business process management

 

Similar to the 10 knowledge areas under the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK), the BABOK also encompasses the following six knowledge areas:

  1. Business analysis planning and monitoring details the tasks needed to organize and coordinate business analysis activities.
  2. Elicitation and collaboration details the tasks that need to be performed to prepare for and complete elicitation activities, as well as verify the results.
  3. Requirements life cycle management covers the tasks that manage and maintain business requirements and determine all activities from start to finish.
  4. Strategy analysis identifies and addresses the tasks relating to business needs and ensures, where required, that a change in strategy is implemented.
  5. Requirements analysis and design definition defines the tasks needed to organize, specify, and model business requirements, as well as verify information, find solutions, and determine potential realized value.
  6. Solution evaluation outlines all the tasks needed to assess the delivered performance and value of a solution and to suggest improvements that increase value.

The value of business requirements traceability

Tracing the business requirements can save time, money, and effort on the part of the business analyst, the project manager, sponsors, and the business as a whole. It also offers the following benefits:

  • Ensures that final deliverables link directly to the initial business needs
  • Ensures that organizations reduce wasted time and resources
  • Ensures compliance with established industry standards
  • Offers impact analysis with less effort
  • Aligns stakeholder efforts with specific goals to improve productivity and buy-in
  • Improves stakeholder clarity, visibility, and accountability
  • Improves the quality of deliverables
  • Reduces risks that can compromise the project

Depending on the goal, there are various types of tracing that can be used: 

 

  1. Tracing customer needs and wants forward to requirements helps access which requirements would be affected if those needs change.
  1. Identifying the origin of every software requirement traces requirements backward to consumer needs and wants.
  1. Defining a connection between each requirement and a specific product element might involve tracing forward from the requirements.
  1. Specifying particular product elements could be traced back to requirements so that we can know why each item was created.

In terms of granularity, tracing can be performed at the requirements level, or at the model, package, or feature level, depending on the need.

Business requirements best practices

Every business and project is different, making it necessary to establish best practices that can help to increase the likelihood of capturing all business requirements and meeting project goals. Best practices should include:

  • Developing unique identifiers relating to business rules and requirements
  • Appointing a dependable and answerable business analyst to take ownership of traceability
  • Introducing uniformity and consistency in updates
  • Prioritizing the tracing of essential business requirements to avoid missing major needs in favor of minor ones

Requirements traceability matrix (RTM)

Requirements traceability usually takes shape by creating a requirements traceability matrix (RTM), which typically makes use of a table-like template or manual spreadsheet that shows the link between requirements and business needs and deliverables.

Here is an example of what a simple requirements traceability matrix might look like.

A traceability matrix is suitable for small projects and is used when there are a few requirements or when tracing is limited to high-level requirements. Larger projects will require a more robust solution as well as considerably more time and commitment.

When looking for top requirements traceability and management tools, consider your business sector, product or service, structure, and needs. Factor in collaboration, integration with other apps, requirements management, modelling, visualization and dashboarding, reporting, exporting and data storage, and scenario testing. 

Business requirements tracing is vital to the success of your projects and should be one of the first activities undertaken. Make sure your business takes this exercise seriously and recognizes the benefits, uses the appropriate traceability tools, and leverages an experienced business analyst who can get the job done right. Requirements tracing can make the difference between project success or failure.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

Get the best of CIO ... delivered. Sign up for our FREE email newsletters!