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Requirements documents tend to be utilised in different industries, and are usually filled with sophisticated diagrams, detailed data definitions and long-form descriptions. In practice, a badly written set of requirements can make the life of an engineer very complicated as it can lead to the failure of a project.
Today’s blog piece will focus primarily on product requirements documents and their underworkings. So, let’s delve in, shall we?
What Is a Product Requirements Document?
Generally speaking, a product requirements document (PRD) is basically an artefact that outlines a product engineer’s plan to build, defining the purpose, value, and functionality of the product or feature.
Fundamentally, a PRD describes the level of specificity of the scope of development work that applies to a particular project or features a development team is assigned to work on. So, for the most part, the intended audience for a PRD is almost exclusively the development team.
As such, a PRD streamlines and guides the product development process, communicating capabilities that must be included in a product release for software development and testing teams. Predominantly, this document type is usually utilised more in waterfall environments where product definition, design, and delivery occur sequentially, but can also be employed in an agile setting as well.
Why Do You Need a Product Requirement Document?
Software development processes significantly vary by company, product, country, or even technology. In essence, there aren’t two teams that work exactly the same way. So, because of that, different styles of product requirement documentation will have a bigger or smaller effect on them.
A PRD is vital to help align the objectives and goals of team members. For context, if a team is working remotely with members located halfway across the globe, with some outsourced developers that work for multiple customers/projects simultaneously, and barely recall what they did yesterday, or for whom. A PRD comes into play to help keep them focused with extensive and detailed information of what is expected of them.
How Does a Product Requirements Document Help?
All things considered; a requirement document is crucially important in the following ways:
- Facilitates quality assurance (QA) and careful evaluation of the features that are built against the initial (and updated) requirements.
- It helps software designers and developers to understand exactly what is expected to be achieved, and the relative priority of each component. Ideally, these should be written in the form of a story about what the feature is expected to do, rather than technical specifications describing the technical implementation to build or modify.
- Helps business, marketing teams, and management to understand the scope of the work, and have a consistent location to track the project status so they can communicate it externally where applicable.
What Is the Purpose of a Product Requirements Document?
The purpose of a product requirement document is essentially to identify, clarify, and communicate product specifications for development and testing purposes. As such, this document is curated to improve communication between the business team (typically represented by a Product Manager) and the development team (usually represented by an Engineering Lead).
So, a PRD must answer the following questions:
- What is the purpose of the feature?
- When should the feature be released?
- Who are the direct stakeholders?
- How must the product be tested?
Considerations When Writing a Product Requirements Document
To build a usable product specification document, there are several key points to take into consideration:
- Research: It’s important to critically study one’s customers and their behaviours including competitor behaviour, and technologies employed. Essentially, the deeper the research, the more knowledgeable one becomes, and the more likely they’ll refine their product specification and avert holes or gaps.
- Defining the product’s resolution: One needs to comprehensively define the need the product seeks to solve, and the existing gap in the market. In the same token, they can ask if the product is entering a crowded market with the intention of optimising or aggregating it. Or which demand the product is addressing. Overall, the product should have a key resolution, with a purpose that is clear to everyone, from those constructing it to their customers.
- Identifying the target market: This step is vital to identify who your customers really are. In essence, customer classifications, user descriptions and personas are crucial to enhance conversations of how the product will get built and designed. This step also helps you to determine how customers will interact with your product.
- Prioritisation: This step is borne out of the desire of getting the best product to market. There is a necessity to prioritise features for user testing. It can help you determine which feature is more critical for launch, and which ones are simply great to have. So, the product specification document should significantly help list features for testing and those in the backlog for future interactions.
- Beta version & testing: This step is where the product undergoes extensive usability testing, typically with a restricted group of users, to gather actionable information on how customers interact with a product. As such, it helps the development team to visualise which features are most used, and those not demanded. In this step, the team can explore new alleys and approaches, define a pivot, or even measure the success of the initial resolution.
Overall, product requirement documents typically vary across companies as resolutions, research approaches, and target markets can significantly differ. For example, in mature technology companies, product specification documents mainly entail mockups and prototypes. On the other hand, startups go deeper with PRDs that go into usability testing by market segment and extensive feature rollout plans.
The Product Requirements Document Template Outline:
At a very high level, a PRD should constitute:
- The ‘why’ (business drivers and justifications)
- The ‘what’ (identity and goal of the product)
- The ‘who’ (target market whom you’re adding value to)
- The ‘how’ (how to measure success, to go to market and maybe set pricing)
- Detailed use cases/stories
- Project schedules (who does what, and when)
- Basic functional requirements (infrastructure, security, quality assurance)
- Non-Functional Requirements
The Basic Product Requirements Document Template Framework.
As part of a PRD, user personas are essentially fictional/hypothetical individuals who match one’s desired, or actual, audience. Therefore, detailing and carefully thinking about the behaviours and backgrounds of these users will improve one’s ability to create a satisfactory product that meets their needs.
Despite user personas being somewhat complicated, so here are some rules that will help:
- Cover the primary types of users.
- Focus on what you actually know.
- Start with defining occupation, gender, age, location, education.
- Name your End Users.
- Give each profile an objective.
Generally, user stories are short descriptions of a functionality or feature, as told from the perspective of a newly created end-user profile. They are usually structured in the following fashion: As a [type of user], I want [goal] so that [reason].
In practice, user stories are a starting point, not a destination. As such, it’s usually best to think of them as pointers to one’s eventual requirements. These stories are critical since the discussions they start will eventually help shape the product architecture and design.
So, to carefully curate actionable user stories, ensure to:
- Limit yourself to high-level (and must-have) stories – also referred to as ‘Epics,’ which can be broken down later into smaller manageable stories.
- Keep the stories short and specific.
- Describe who needs what and why.
- Keep them user-centric.
Screens can be employed in a PRD to build progression towards a clearer picture of the final product as a whole. Essentially, the better the detail, the clearer the development path for the project will become. So, here are a few tips as you employ screens
- Utilise a name your development team can easily refer to during design and development.
- Overview of the screen’s purpose. (for example, will it allow users to access the app, create an account, or recover their passwords)
- Lists the main items on the screen, usually in the order of importance. For example, for the login, it could be an email or username input, password input, forgot password link, and a create account link.
- Employ wireframes or mockups to represent the screen to illustrate the overall layout and placement of key elements. Wireframes are basically simple page layouts that outline the size and placement of essential elements and features on a page. They serve as more or less a basic blueprint image (with no colour, font styles, logos, or design elements) that conveys the location of a product’s elements.
Tips When Writing a Product Requirements Document
- Give it some personality and add some spice to your specs! Half the fun of writing a product specification document is getting creative with data and copy to illustrate a point. So, it’s easier if you personify the user you’re looking to help.
- Bullets and numbered lists are usually better to actually get your specs read. They help readers to quickly skim through the document and easier to digest.
- Emphasis can be good, so if something needs to stand out, add some bold or italic styling, or even colour. Regardless, whatever you do, ensure you’re emphasising the right bits, but don’t use all capitals. They can come off as aggressive!
- You can use a few very technical terms, maybe a few snippets of code, to illustrate your point.
- Keep it brief by writing as much as you need, and never more!
- Always link up the document to relevant pages where needed.
In summary, a product requirements document is very useful as it helps keep all the stakeholders aligned and creates a shared understanding of the product. Overall, successfully delivering a mobile product or a feature necessitates collaboration between multiple teams, from engineering, design, sales, support, to marketing.
As such, a comprehensive PRD sets a defined course for the software release, keeping all contributors synchronised to ensure that they deliver what their customers want, and on time!