August 25, 2023

How to Build Agile Requirements Documentation

Software Development
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What is the Requirements Phase?

The requirements phase is the first part of the Agile cycle, in which the goal of an activity is defined before any actual work begins.

During this phase, product owners must determine what they want to build and why they want to build it. This can include getting user feedback, allocating resources, and aligning with stakeholders outside of the development team.

Next up: The Design phase >>

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Wait, Doesn’t “Agile” Mean No Documentation?

It’s true that one of Agile’s core principles is to value working software over detailed documentation. However, some Agile teams interpret that principle to mean documentation is not necessary at all, when that isn’t the case. Regardless of work style, it’s always helpful to have recorded context of projects and decisions.

That being said, documentation — both the process of creating it and the result of having it — looks different in an Agile framework than a traditional, or waterfall, methodology.

Traditional requirements documentation is fully written and approved before the project ever begins, and it’s usually not subject to change after that.

Agile requirements documentation is different. Since Agile methodology prioritizes flexibility and a constant feedback cycle, it is more open for change and development throughout the working process. Think of it more as a resource that evolves as you work rather than a set standard to adhere to.

Agile methodology puts the user first, and when forming requirements documentation, the first priority should always be an explanation of why the features to be developed matter to the user or stakeholder.

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What Does Documenting the Requirements Phase Look Like?

Start With User Stories

Requirements documentation for Agile teams often takes the form of user stories. User stories are short, to the point, and describe the need for the project from the user’s perspective.

Typically, they take the form of a brief narrative stating who the user is, what they need to be able to do, and why they need to be able to do it. They can link to additional context, such as research or compliance documents, as well.

User stories can be placed into larger groups called epics, which are a collection of stories that form a greater user need.

Once you have your user stories that help you define the features you’re going to create, it’s also important to document your goals for those new capabilities. What do you expect to happen as a result of the new functionality, and how will you define your success? Make sure to write SMART goals that you are able to easily track and measure. 

Compile in Confluence

We recommend using a Confluence page to pull together all the information you might want to include in your requirements documentation, from user stories to goals and anything in between.

You can embed user stories from Jira that automatically sync and update on your Confluence page and include visuals that supplement or illustrate key concepts. For example, process flow diagrams or high-level UML diagrams can demonstrate the intended function of a new feature and contextualize it within your current systems.

A Confluence page also allows you to organize information from the requirements validation process. This might include data you’ve gathered from customer surveys, workshops, or other methods. 

You can group these ideas to form them into user stories through brainstorming and visualization exercises such as empathy mapping or affinity mapping. This allows you to organize the data for your own team and communicate details to stakeholders.

When you use a Confluence page as your hub for requirements documentation, you can be more flexible than if you used a dedicated requirements management tool. This allows the requirements documentation to be a true resource for your team, and one that evolves with your work.

See more tips for how to supercharge your Confluence documentation >>

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Why Requirements Documentation is Important — Even for Agile Teams

Documentation in the requirements phase can help your team identify potential issues and consider multiple solutions before beginning to build. This minimizes the risk of running into problems or miscommunications that could affect timing and delivery.

Clearly documenting goals and outcomes during the requirements phase makes it easier to measure the success of your work and communicate that success to stakeholders.

Finally, requirements documentation can be used as the foundation for user documentation and even a marketing plan. With the context provided by your user stories and other information, your technical writers and product marketers will have a good idea of what you’re building, why it’s important, and how to communicate that to your users.

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Document Requirements in Confluence

Ready to start documenting your requirements phase? Give it a try before your next sprint — and don’t forget to add Gliffy to make your requirements documentation engaging and easy to understand.


For more about developing software documentation that your team will want to use throughout all phases of the development life cycle, check out our software documentation ebook!

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