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How to write project requirements that drive results

Last updated

11 January 2024


Dovetail Editorial Team

Reviewed by

Mary Mikhail

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Every project has a set of stakeholders who are responsible for and invested in its overall success.

A project’s successful completion can be game-changing for any business and those involved. However, certain conditions must be met for a project to be considered complete. These conditions, also known as project requirements, outline the essential components of the project itself.

Project requirements help keep all team members on track, defining clear goals and expectations and providing parameters for everyone to work toward. Without project requirements, you and your team could get stuck in the weeds—or worse, come to the end of the project without key components being completed.

By devoting time to creating clear project requirements and understanding their importance, you have a better chance of meeting deadlines and delivering top-notch results.

What are project requirements?

Project requirements are the specific standards and conditions that must be met for a project to be considered successful.

Well-defined project requirements help keep everyone on task and focused on their unique goals. They also lay the groundwork for the project’s planning, execution, and results.

While project objectives are commonly confused with project requirements, the two are quite different.

Project objectives are a high-level overview of the project’s goals, focusing on the organization’s overall vision. Project requirements are more granular, detailing the specific deliverables that must be done for a project to be considered complete.

Why are project requirements necessary?

With a solid plan in place, including a timeline, expected results, and project requirements, managers can focus on meeting deadlines. Clear project requirements reduce the risk of things going wrong. They give team members a complete understanding of the project, helping them determine the budget, scope, and resources required.

Project requirements also help prevent conflict or misunderstanding between stakeholders. No manager wants to deliver a completed project to their CEO or in a group meeting only to realize there was a deep misunderstanding about the expected project outcome. Clear, well-defined project requirements put in place at the outset of a new venture help you avoid this type of scenario.

Different types of project requirements

Four types of project requirements should be evaluated when outlining a new project’s scope and desired outcome. Everyone in the organization, from the team members involved with the technical aspects of the project to the stakeholders approving it, should align with these requirements.

Functional requirements

Functional requirements focus on the product’s required features and behaviors.

There’s no room for ambiguity in functional requirements. They should be clear and concise so that developers working on the features can understand exactly how they should work.

Non-functional requirements

Non-functional requirements don’t describe a specific action or service. Instead, they are focused on the end product’s or solution’s overall attributes and characteristics.

These requirements don’t describe functionalities and can be referred to by everyone on the team, not just developers, as they are non-technical in nature.

Technical requirements

While functional requirements should highlight the desired outcomes of the feature or product, technical requirements are even more granular. They cover a project’s technical aspects, including the software and technologies needed for the project to be completed successfully.

Details on programming languages and operating system compatibility are a few examples of the technical requirements you might need to include in your project guidelines.

Business requirements

Every project should have a high-level goal attached to it. This goal defines the outcomes and objectives the project hopes to achieve from a business perspective. This is the place to include organizational goals so that team members and stakeholders can ensure the project aligns with the company’s mission.

Examples of business requirements could include increasing customer satisfaction, driving revenue growth, and reducing costs.

Examples of project requirements

Regardless of what your project requirements are, share them with everyone on your team before starting any work and use clear, specific language. This helps keep everyone in alignment, from developers to managers, and prevents you from having to make major changes unnecessarily down the road.

Project requirements should fall into one of the four categories above. Here are some examples of project requirements across these categories:

  1. Functional requirements: user authentication. The system should allow users to log in securely using a username and password.

  2. Non-functional requirements: security. The system must comply with established industry standards for data protection.

  3. Technical requirements: operating system compatibility. The application should be compatible with Linux and Windows operating systems.

  4. Business requirements: customer satisfaction. The project’s end result must enhance customer satisfaction by providing new channels to reach support services.

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How to identify and document project requirements

After the project is created and communicated to your team, you can follow these seven basic steps to create comprehensive, clear project requirements:

Define the project scope and requirements

Before you begin outlining requirements, detail the full scope of the project. This will include the project’s objectives and provide you with a reference point as well as a roadmap.

Clearly define ownership in this document, too, so that everyone on the team knows what they are responsible for.

The project scope should include a timeline, as well as any external elements involved. For example, if you’re working with an external team or contractor on any part of the project, you’ll need to factor in their response time and tasks.

Brainstorm with your team

Sit with the team members who will be involved in the project and brainstorm to create a preliminary requirements list. With this kind of starting point, you’ll be prepared to meet with stakeholders and managers.

Interview stakeholders

Once you have a starting point for your project requirements, you’ll likely sit in a meeting with stakeholders to review what you have gathered in detail.

Take this opportunity to interview others so you can identify the critical features and functionalities they believe are most important. Speak to all decision-makers on the project so that nothing is left out or overlooked.

Perform a gap analysis

A gap analysis compares the current state of the product or solution with the desired future state after product development. Doing this can help you identify specific areas of improvement that you can include in your project requirements.

Observe and document

Talking to team members and stakeholders is an important part of developing clear project requirements, but observation can be another powerful tool.

Take time to watch and document end-users and leaders in action and take their behaviors into account when fleshing out the project requirements. Observation can yield valuable insights into specific actions that you might not get from conversation.

Review project requirements with stakeholders

Once you have drafted a final set of project requirements, review them with everyone who had a hand in creating them. Doing this ensures that everyone is on the same page and has the same understanding of the project’s goals and the overall roadmap.

Be open to input and changes

Ideally, the project requirements you end up with will be usable and unchanging throughout the project. However, unexpected developments are common in any business. Stakeholders leave, and teams are shaken up, even as new products and solutions are greenlit. Remain flexible and be aware that you could be asked to change any or all of the project requirements at any point.

Document the project requirements in a format that’s easily accessible to everyone on the project. They should be saved in software or in a document that can be easily shared so that you can quickly send the requirements to anyone involved.

It can also help to give stakeholders direct access to the document so they can log in and view progress at any given point.

Waterfall vs agile project requirements

In project management, many professionals have a preference for either agile or waterfall. The two approaches are quite different, so it’s important to fully commit to one method or the other.

Waterfall is the traditional method of project management. It prioritizes well-defined stages that feature formal handoffs as the project moves from one phase to the next. It’s a linear process that follows a specific date or schedule. Waterfall features minimal scope creep and precise project plans.

Agile is a newer approach to project management. In an agile framework, project managers divide the work into “sprints.” Sprints are time-based bursts of activity that last between one to four weeks.

With the agile approach, bigger projects are broken down into smaller pieces. This enables end-users to receive value as quickly as possible. Agile boasts flexibility, both in terms of deadlines and organizational structure.

One methodology isn’t any better than the other. Different types of projects can be particularly well-suited to either agile or waterfall.

Technology organizations typically favor agile as development teams often receive a greater level of autonomy in agile-framed projects. Sales, marketing, and customer support teams might prefer waterfall, because waterfall delivers a large, complete vision all at once, rather than in smaller, more frequent batches.

Six tips for writing project requirements

Clearly-written project requirements help keep everyone on the same page and ensure a successful project. Here are six tips for writing project requirements that will keep your team aligned and satisfy stakeholders.

Engage end-users

Whether you’re developing a new app or refining an existing product, end-users are the people who will have the most to say about your completed project. Engage end-users to help build out your project requirements. This will enable you to understand what’s important to them and the requirements that affect their experience.

Be concise and clear

Use plain language that everyone involved in the project can understand. Even if the majority of your team is composed of developers and more technical folks, assume that end-users with no hard technical expertise will be reading and evaluating the project requirements. The project requirements should also be specific enough to guide your team members as they work through each task.

Leverage high-fidelity tools

While it’s best to share the actual project requirements among team members in a simple format (such as a spreadsheet), displaying them to stakeholders via high-fidelity tools can provide an exciting look at the end result.

You can use visual prototypes, mockups, and other tools depending on your available resources and the digital tools you use.

Be flexible

As noted, many projects end up changing course at some point, whether due to new team members being brought in or stakeholders changing their requirements for the product or service. Be flexible and know that you may need to adjust project requirements accordingly. If you work on an agile team, the project will already have flexibility built in.

Develop a process

Having an established process in place for things like requirement proposals and version control can help you keep the project on track.

Set processes also minimize delays, which can cost your organization money and time.

Ensure completeness

Establishing and documenting project requirements requires you to juggle many tasks and deadlines. However, ensuring project completeness is another important skill.

Carefully track the data associated with each task to make sure everything is finished on time and to specification. Stay in touch with every team member on the project, communicating with them regularly to be sure they have everything they need to fulfill their responsibilities.

How to ensure project requirements have been met

Communicate with stakeholders when each milestone has been met to keep the project on track and make sure nothing is overlooked. Once your project requirements have been fulfilled and all the tasks have been checked, conduct a post-project review. This should be done before you share the project’s results with stakeholders and managers.

During this review, check the interview questions you outlined at the project outset and compare them against the project results. This will indicate stakeholder satisfaction with the project.

You can also ask your team some questions about how they believe the project went. Consider asking them what they believe went smoothly and what they learned from the process. If there’s anything they aren’t satisfied with, especially regarding the project requirements themselves, make a note of it for future endeavors. Finally, share the results with stakeholders.


Who is responsible for project requirements?

The project manager is typically responsible for curating and documenting project requirements. They will outline the project’s scope and conduct interviews with stakeholders and other team members, as well as make any necessary changes to project requirements along the way.

While the project manager owns the requirements, the process should be collaborative. It’s particularly important to include the development team, since they can give you direct insights into how the various requirements contribute to the overall project.

What are the common types of requirements in a project?

There are four standard types of project requirements:

  1. Non-functional requirements

  2. Functional requirements

  3. Technical requirements

  4. Business requirements

Depending on the type of project you’re tackling, you might not need all four in your project requirements. For example, your requirements might focus on the business and non-functional categories if you’re working on a customer service-orientated project.

What are project needs vs requirements?

When defining project requirements, carefully consider needs versus requirements. Just because a stakeholder wants a certain solution doesn’t mean that it’s realistic or that it can be incorporated into this particular project.

A need is what the customer or end-user wants to happen, while requirements are the components that you and your team can incorporate to make those a reality.

To determine needs, interview end-users and solicit feedback about what sort of improvements would lead to increased satisfaction. Take them into account when crafting project requirements.

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