What is a product requirements document?
Cross-functional alignment does wonders. You need everyone on the product team to understand the problems your customer experiences in order to effectively provide solutions. The challenge is helping the team grasp how the product or a particular set of features solves real pain — to think beyond functionality and get to the core of what customers really need.
A product requirements document (PRD) can serve as a rallying point for the team. A strong PRD defines the purpose of the product or particular functionality — including details on what you are building and the value it provides. It answers the following questions:
What is the core objective?
Who are you building it for?
What is the value of the product or feature (to your company and user)?
How will your users interact with it?
What will it look like?
How will you ensure success upon launch?
Creating a PRD requires you to answer tough questions and distill essential information on how the product should be built. After reviewing it, everyone should have shared knowledge of how the product works and why it matters.
Why do you need a product requirements document?
Many product managers consider PRDs to be outdated. Maybe you have already put together a plan for a new feature set with the engineering lead. You are in agreement on the requirements and they are ready to get to work. Do you really need a PRD? At this point, it may seem unnecessary to spec out the new features.
The reality is that many team members are involved in building, launching, and promoting the product. A PRD can be a useful resource to help all teams understand product goals, details of the user experience, and the scope of particular features. Like a product vision, a strong PRD can provide a clear direction for the future of the product.
Engineers can use the PRD to implement features according to defined requirements. Designers can use it to create what you asked for. Sales and marketing teams can use it to write materials that describe the key benefits of the product or feature set. And senior management can use it to communicate to stakeholders exactly what you are building.
PRDs can even be useful in an agile environment. When everyone shares the same information, you can move ahead faster. If anything, a good PRD can help you build and iterate more effectively.
What should your product requirements document define?
Nobody appreciates an excessive PRD. It is time-consuming to create and cumbersome to read. Be succinct — you do not need to spec out every minute detail. Focus on the higher-level requirements, including:
Objectives: The customer problem you are solving and how it connects to the product vision, goals, and initiatives.
Releases: The target release date for the functionality, as well as key milestones and dependencies.
Features: Links to the features or user stories that need to be built.
User flow and design: Visual wireframes and mockups to further illustrate the features.
Analytics: Product data that informs the features and relevant metrics for success.
Future work: Additional information that helps the team understand how the product may evolve over time.
You can use a PRD template to capture information about your product requirements in one place. The example below is a feature description in Aha! Roadmaps that includes some of the details from a lightweight PRD template.
Market requirements document vs. product requirements document
Product managers are also responsible for writing the market requirements document (MRD) — a document that describes the market opportunity for the product. Because MRDs and PRDs both involve defining how the product solves a customer problem, people often confuse the two.
While they are complementary, MRDs and PRDs are designed to serve very different purposes:
Market requirements document: Describes the market opportunity for the product. It communicates data like market size, customer wants and needs, and the competitive landscape. It helps the product team gain a sense of where your product fits in the market, what problems it is solving, and who it is for.
Product requirements document: Describes what you are building and how it should work. It helps broader cross-functional teams align around exactly how to design and build the product or feature.
The MRD should be created before the PRD. That way, you can use your understanding of the market to inform your product and feature requirements.
Creating your product requirements document
A strong PRD does not guarantee that you will have a strong, engaging product. But a weak PRD almost guarantees that you will have a weak product. Although there is no standard format for an effective PRD, templates that outline the necessary information are a good place to start. Here are some additional tips:
Identify the "what," not the "how:" Get clear on the problem being solved and give engineers room to discover how to solve it.
Find the right level of detail: Provide specifications that are detailed enough that the product team can get to work, but not so detailed that no one takes the time to actually absorb the PRD.
Stay focused: Be disciplined about what you are committing to and why. The PRD is not meant to include all the features the product will ever include. You can add to and enhance the PRD in time.
While PRDs are your responsibility as the product manager, the process of writing one should be a team effort. Work with functional leaders to ensure that the PRD includes the information each team needs to successfully design and build the product. Once the document is completed, you will likely need to get approval from company leaders before you can get to work.
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