Agile Technique Brief: Requirements Cards


Quick Summary
Screenshot Agile methodologies like Scrum and Extreme Programming (XP) often build on "user stories" as a way of capturing and tracking feature requirements. This brief explains how to use the technique—referred to here as requirements cards in order to widen the horizon to customers and stakeholders.


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What this is

This technique brief describes a technique for expressing business requirements, or features, in a succinct way that supports an agile development approach. The format explicitly includes the business value of the feature—which helps prioritization for each iteration and release—and the definition of "done" for this feature from the ultimate customer¬ís viewpoint—which aids in testing to ensure the requirement has truly been satisfied.


Why it's useful

This approach to expressing features has three primary advantages over other methods of expressing requirements in statement form (i.e. "The system shall..."):

  • It identifies who will utilize the feature and receive value from it, thereby providing a useful context for implementing the feature.
  • It includes the business value delivered by the requirement, which provides information that can be very useful to the project team when deciding which requirements to deliver and in what order.
  • It records details of the requirements in a form that can be used to develop tests ensuring that the requirement has been satisfied. In other words, it provides a definition of "done" for the requirement.

While the approach described in the technique brief is really a way of expressing requirements (or user stories, if you prefer), it also supports eliciting requirements, analyzing requirements, and planning projects based on feature delivery.


How to use it

This technique can be used at any point in the project where it is necessary to establish, add to, or refine the list of features for a project. The steps below assume the team has already established a commonly understood and agreed upon project purpose, which clearly states what the project is intended to do.

  • Hold a Requirements Workshop to establish your list of features. Your first iteration should include the entire team; later iterations capturing new, refined, or revised features may use smaller groups.
  • Identify the likely stakeholder and user groupings for the solution, for use as roles on the requirements cards.
  • Begin a discussion about the overall business context for the solution. As ideas for potential features come up, record each one on an index card or sticky note using the format discussed in the technique brief, and clarify wording and completion criteria with the rest of the team so they meet the guidelines.

(This section is continued in the downloadable document.)

About the Author

Kent J. McDonald, partner and co-founder of Accelinnova, has more than a decade of experience guiding successful projects and designing business solutions in a variety of industries, including financial services, health insurance, performance marketing, human services, non-profit, and automotive. By addressing common questions about project leadership, Kent demonstrates how agile practices can be applied in organizations, focusing on his "Words To Lead By: Collaborate; Iterate; Serve The Team; Consider Context; Practice Excellence; Reflect And Adapt; Deliver Value."

Kent has a Bachelor of Science in Industrial Engineering from Iowa State University and an MBA from Kent State University. He is co-founder, and Treasurer of the Agile Project Leadership Network, is a founder of the Agile Iowa Group, and is on the planning committee for the Agile 2007 Conference. He welcomes questions about project leadership with a focus on value at kent@kentmcdonald.com.


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