Every great product starts as a simple document. This document contains all the research to guide the development team and create an excellent product.
But why should teams bother creating a document like this when product managers can brainstorm and get to work?
Here’s the short answer: building a product is a lengthy process and there’s a high chance your team loses direction, goes off track and pushes the release date even further. With a product requirements document, you can create a shared understanding among all teams on what this product can do, where you’re headed and how you can achieve all milestones timely.
We’ve created this exhaustive guide to give you a complete rundown on product requirements documentation and how to create yours. Let’s first get the basics out of the way.
What is a product requirements doc?
A product requirements document (PRD) is a preliminary layout of your product, outlining the core features, end-users, value propositions and development goals for your product. A PRD serves as a living document to align all stakeholders—from developers and designers to marketers—and effectively communicate your product’s purpose and roadmap.
Creating a PRD as the first step of your product lifecycle has many benefits, such as:
- Providing a high-level view of your product’s capabilities.
- Giving the right direction for teams to move forward.
- Contextualizing the responsibilities of every team.
- Documenting timelines and defining ownership.
- Eliminating assumptions and scope creep.
Here’s an example of a product requirement document. It clarifies the scope of a Custom Dashboards feature by explaining how it works, what problem(s) it tackles, its core value, user assumptions, scope and MVP requirements.
What are the challenges of product requirement documentation?
Documenting your product requirements has multiple benefits. But creating this document isn’t as easy as it looks. It requires deep expertise and effort, holding teams back from successfully using a PRD.
What’s more, product teams want to launch faster and make iterative changes based on user feedback. To achieve a quicker time to market, they often overlook this step and race to the launch.
Let’s break down the five most significant challenges to creating a PRD:
Represent ‘rear view mirror’ thinking
Your requirements doc should give your product team a direction to move forward. As straightforward as that sounds, it’s not the easiest task. Guiding your team in the right direction requires meticulous research and understanding user needs. You have to be crystal clear on your product’s goals and positioning to create a foolproof blueprint for your team.
Here’s the tricky part: getting all of this right in the earliest stages of development is extremely difficult. So, product managers end up looking at the rearview mirror to finalize and chalk out the product requirements.
This means, you’ll inevitably iterate your requirements doc based on MVP testing and user feedback.
Need prior expertise to write a lean document
Writing a good product requirement document isn’t for everyone. Without enough experience in drafting PRDs, you’ll risk taking a trial-and-error approach to identifying your product’s core requirements. This can prove counterproductive and derail your efforts.
Besides, a PRD should be as concise as possible. Summing up so many aspects of a new product into a page or two requires hands-on expertise and a failproof system of researching and drafting such documents.
Turn obsolete without consistent review & update
Another massive challenge with PRDs is their constant maintenance. A PRD is a living document and provides a reference frame throughout the development lifecycle.
A product goes through multiple rounds of iteration and optimization in the development process. If you ignore your PRD during this process and don’t update it regularly, it’s bound to become obsolete and irrelevant.
Like with any other documentation, a PRD will fail to serve its purpose if you don’t update the requirements based on your progress.
Risk of becoming irrelevant without team participation
Designing a product requirements document is a team effort. It results from an open and encouraging discussion between all stakeholders, including your product and design teams.
But there’s a catch here. If your team isn’t on the same page about creating a PRD, their lack of participation can hurt your documentation process. It can reduce the accuracy of your research and restrict the scope of your requirements.
Prone to including unnecessary features & scope creep
Creating PRDs at the earliest stage of the development process means you might end up adding features your users don’t need. This can bloat your product roadmap with unvalidated and unnecessary functions. Without a thorough understanding of your customer needs, PRDs can lead to extra work and wasted effort beyond the ideal scope.
Key components of a product requirements doc
Every product requirements document is unique and differs in strategy. However, you can create a well-researched PRD and cover all grounds by following a standard structure. Let’s break down the essential elements in include in a product requirements doc:
Overview: Add a summary of the project. Briefly explain what you’re building, add details about your team members, establish a target release date and add a section to update the project status. This section offers a quick insight into your product dev process.
Objectives: Define your purpose for building this product and list the key goals you want to achieve. Contextualize the product’s functionality with your mission and vision. Use this section to discuss the challenges and pain points you want to solve for your target users.
Let your team know what they’re working toward and add more meaning to your project. Here’s an example from Product Hunt’s PRD:
User personas: The success of your product depends almost entirely on how well you identify and understand your target users. Condense your customer research into this section and profile your ideal customers. Be sure to dig deeper with your research and create differentiated user segments with distinct use cases.
Supplement each persona with user stories to explain the need and benefits of using your product. This is where you can interview your ideal users and translate their inputs into stories. These stories will help your team understand the use case for every feature.
Success metrics: Explain what success looks like and identify the KPIs to track progress. Defining these metrics early on is important to consistently measure your performance and make necessary adjustments to speed up your dev process.
Key stakeholders: Use this space to list everyone involved in the project clearly—both internally and externally. Clarify their roles and responsibilities to avoid confusion in the future. Listing the key stakeholders will also encourage more ownership.
Iterations roadmap: Identify the main requirements to create an MVP and lay out the core features to add in the next drafts. This roadmap will guide your dev team in doing the legwork to design the MVP and add more features to this solid foundation.
Wireframes and design: Create wireframes to give your engineers and developers a visual framework of what they’re working on. A minimal, functional design of your product—before you start the development process—can serve as a blueprint for your team to build out different features.
Assumptions and constraints: Chalk out your assumptions of what might or might not happen during the development process. This is an opportunity to predict and prepare for anything that can positively/negatively impact your product roadmap.
Map out potential risks and constraints as well. These can be anything like a delayed timeline, server shortage, budgetary concerns and similar.
How to build a product requirements doc from scratch in 6 steps
You’re excited to start building your first (or maybe, next) product. And you’ve realized the value of creating a PRD before the grind begins. But you’re not sure how to create one. We’ve got you covered with our 6-step process.
Remember that a PRD is always evolving. So, you have to identify opportunities for updates and maintenance when you’re drafting one.
With that quick tip, let’s get cracking with our guide on how to write a product requirements doc.
Prepare the groundwork with the project specifics
A product requirements doc should elaborate on your product’s purpose, features and roadmap. To do that, you need to collect foundational knowledge about your end-users, target market, budget, stakeholders, timelines and similar specifics.
So, detailing all the basics about your product is a great starting point for building proper context for your PRD. The more time you invest in researching and sourcing this information, the more failproof your PRD can be.
Choose the tool you’ll use for documentation
Once you’re done with the legwork to define the project specifics, find the right documentation tool for drafting and sharing your PRD.
Your choice of a documentation tool is crucial because it’ll determine the time and effort you spend on creating this requirements doc. Besides, a poor document tool can make your PRD inaccessible or difficult to understand.
Ideally, you want the documentation tool to have:
- User-friendly interface.
- Easily shareable content.
- Fast documentation features.
Scribe combines all these features — and many more — into a powerful and intuitive documentation tool. You can create step-by-step guides in seconds by simply recording your screen. Scribe will automatically capture the information and convert it into a stepwise document.
What’s more, you can compile multiple guides in a single place using Pages. Create a comprehensive PRD covering all bases with Scribe + Pages.
Here’s a glimpse of what it’d look like:
The best part about using Scribe? You don’t have to spend hours understanding how to navigate it. Give it a try, and you’ll feel like you’ve been using it for a long time.
Kirkland, an SEO Training Lead, shares what it’s like using Scribe for building resources.
“I love that I'm able to create training materials so quickly and easily. All I have to do is turn on the extension, and then I can just click through a few steps and create an amazing training resource for my time.”
Define release criteria aligned with your goals
Every good PRD lays down the release criteria for the product. You have to define five main parameters to assess when your product is ready for release:
- Supportability: Identify how new users can install or configure your product. Find out any system requirements for users to support the app and run it flawlessly.
- Functionality: Determine the essential functions you need in your product to release the first version. This can be a list of features or a specific use case without which you can’t launch the app.
- Performance: Lay down the performance benchmarks to determine when your product is ready for launch. These can be factors like user interface, speed and troubleshooting.
- Reliability: Set the criteria for evaluating your product’s reliability before release. Ensure that it doesn’t fail or glitch frequently and it can recover from a system failure effectively.
- Usability: Your product has to be easy to use before it can hit the market. Conduct user testing and define the parameters to analyze the results for your release.
Release criteria clarify what you need to achieve to reach the finish line for your product launch. Defining these criteria at the beginning can bring everyone on the same page during the development lifecycle.
List features & create a context for each feature
At this point, circle back to the first step, where you defined your product’s purpose. Break it down into smaller use cases and brainstorm features to fulfill each of these use cases.
The list of features is arguably one of the most important sections of your PRD. While it might not be foolproof and can frequently change over the course of development, it plays a pivotal role in telling your team where to start.
So, contextualize every feature and explain its functionality with benefits for the end-user. Focus on the problems each feature will solve and think of possible enhancements you can make in the future.
Mention requirements & assumptions
The next step is summarizing your main product requirements and assumptions. The requirements section will include a comprehensive assessment of your product—goals, features, design, timelines, resources, testing and more. Use this section to document everything you need to make your product a success.
Besides the main requirements, you can also record all assumptions for the development and release process. Assumptions are essentially forecasted incidents that might negatively or positively impact your product.
Think of the impact & success metrics
Take some time to revisit your goals and find success metrics relevant to each goal. Your PRD should include what each metric will assess and how to track it.
You can select two types of metrics:
- To evaluate product performance internally.
- To examine user satisfaction externally.
This will give you a deeper understanding of your product’s effectiveness and scope for improvement.
3 Best practices to create a failproof PRD
Bookmark these three proven tips to create a PRD that actually works:
Create your documentation with empathy
Empathy is an important value to reflect in your PRD, especially if you’re working in a strict environment using the agile framework. Create an empathetic roadmap that factors in your team’s capacity and reiterate this value across different aspects of your document. The goal is to give your team members the support they need to do their best work.
Build a shared understanding with your workflows
The development lifecycle isn’t limited to just your product and engineering teams. Your sales, marketing and support teams need equal visibility into your product’s foundations to truly understand your product, fulfill their responsibilities and deliver a seamless customer experience.
Create cross-functional workflows to improve coordination between all these teams and build a shared understanding of the product. This will also encourage every team to contribute in the process and support each other.
Go for a single-page document with lean requirements
Design a lean PRD and include only the most important information. Instead of filling up the document with pages of unnecessary details and technical jargon, keep it simple for all stakeholders to easily get the gist. Aim for a one-page document and use visual aids to make it less text-heavy and more skimmable.
Create a fool-proof foundation for your product with a PRD
If there’s one rule every product manager has to embrace, it’s that nothing is predictable when you’re building a product. Despite your best prep, you can still end up with chaos on your hands.
But creating a solid PRD can be the antidote to protect yourself from delays and disorder. Prepare yourself to face the challenges and risks we’ve listed in this article. Use our 6-step framework to make the documentation process frictionless.
And don’t forget to try Scribe to create your PRD effortlessly.