How Good Requirements Writing Skills Can Help You Develop a More Successful Career in Business Analysis

Author: Adriana Beal

A business analyst was in danger of losing her job due to the negative feedback she was getting from her manager, unhappy with the quality of her requirements documents. She reached out for help during her participation in Crafting Better Requirements, and after looking at her work products, it became clear to me that this BA was working hard to understand the business problem, and was in fact providing solid analysis to identify the right solutions. The problem was the way she was presenting her findings: they didn’t add up to a quality requirements specification that the development team could use to produce the expected enhancements to the system.

For example, instead describing the capabilities that the system must provide (“a new required field to capture the reason when a transaction is canceled”), her documentation focused on the business process that would use the capability (“managers will enter a valid reason for canceled transactions”). The requirement wasn’t clear or testable, as it didn’t explain to the developers how or when the reason would be entered, nor how the system would be able to verify that the reason was indeed “valid”.

After I pointed out the wrong pattern she was following in her documentation, she was able to quickly adjust her requirements documents to communicate the expected system behavior. Her valid information about the business process was preserved as contextual information, but excluded from the requirements statements and acceptance criteria.

During her learning process, she also became aware of the level of detail necessary to make her requirements complete enough for the implementation team (for example, what type of field was expected to capture the reason for cancellation? a menu of fixed values? free text?). Now that she knew how to translate her knowledge about the desired solution into quality requirements, the development and testing teams finally had all the information they needed to implement and test a solution that was fit for purpose, and her manager was much happier with her performance.

After almost 15 years helping organizations build better software and recruit business analysts for their software project teams, I’ve come to the conclusion that what differentiates good from great BAs is the ability to write clear, concise, complete, and nonconflicting requirements. Even in agile projects, when documentation is kept to a minimum, requirements writing skills are instrumental to the process of defining the boundaries of user stories, and specifying, in acceptance criteria, what is needed for the story to be considered complete and working as intended.

While good problem-solving and analytical skills are the qualities that get you in the game — the price of admission — the ability to effectively communicate requirements via textual and visual models is the differentiator that elevates a business analyst to a higher performance level. As the BA in the example above proved, it’s possible to have good analytical skills, and still fail to translate that knowledge into actionable documents that ensure a common understanding of what needs to be built.

Superior requirements writing skills complement other BA competencies, and can significantly contribute to the success of software projects. BAs who know how to write solid requirements documents are better equipped to avoid mistakes such as over-specifiying a solution, which creates unnecessary constraints for the delivery team, and under-specifying, which misses important business or user requirements.

When you are capable of producing complete and accurate requirements documents, the value of your contribution to software projects grows drastically. There’s no better way to convey to your boss that you’re a superstar, and get access to the opportunities that come with this label, than exceeding expectations in the most obvious way: delivering value via defect-free requirements that lead to fewer change requests, higher customer satisfaction, lower development costs, and faster time-to-market.

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