Are Detailed Requirements Really Needed for Agile Projects?

A question I hear often nowadays is:

Our development team has switched to Agile/Scrum. Are detailed requirements really needed when following an Agile process?

Boy look up and scratches his headThis is a somewhat controversial question, as some Agile development teams seem to think detailed requirements are *evil*. I’m only slightly exaggerating!

However, for software of any complexity, most companies I’ve spoken with find it nearly impossible to build the software using just user stories on index cards.

The best answer to this question perhaps comes from Mike Cohn, one of the best-known proponents of Agile and the author of the popular book User Stories Applied: For Agile Software Development. Cohn has said in his blog:

“I like to think of a user story as a pointer to a requirement… rather than as a requirement itself.”

I believe this is a very important distinction to understand.

  • While user stories are great for planning sprints and following Scrum (or other Agile processes) – they are often woefully insufficient to document all the requirements for a software of any complexity.
  • As a result, for many stories it is indeed necessary to create detailed requirements, while using the stories as pointers to these requirements.

Next question that usually comes up is:

Where do we document detailed requirements (our Agile tool doesn’t seem equipped to do so)?

Fortunately, this question has an easy answer:

  • Small companies: Microsoft Word, Google Docs, and Wikis.
  • Medium & large companies: Accompa or a similar tool. Such tools allow your team to document detailed requirements using structured data – and collaborate in a powerful fashion.

Once you create detailed requirements using such a tool, you can point your user story to the detailed requirement. Accompa, for example, offers turnkey integration with popular Agile tools (such as Rally, VersionOne, and JIRA) to allow easy creation of such pointers.

Editor’s Note:
Interested in learning how Product Management or Business Analysis teams can improve their effectiveness in working with Agile Development teams?  Get our FREE eBooks:
A Practical Guide: Product Management & Agile Development
A Practical Guide: Business Analysts & Agile Development

Michael Shrivathsan

I'm your author, Michael Shrivathsan, an expert in requirements management with successful experience at several innovative companies in Silicon Valley, USA over the past two decades. I'm also a USPTO patent recipient. For my day job, I'm the VP of Product Management at Accompa, we make the popular requirements management software.

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