Transforming nebulous product ideas into clear and actionable solutions isn't a straightforward, step-by-step process — especially as teams gravitate toward adaptable and Agile workflows.
Fortunately, there are many frameworks managers can use to visualize their product development process and keep teams informed about their progress. The product requirements document (PRD) is a fixture in contemporary project management you can leverage to align a team's vision and prepare for the product’s development.
PRDs often serve as the central point of focus and collaboration between team members and stakeholders, empowering companies to quickly resolve questions, manage scope, and move forward toward their target release date.
Although PRDs are supposed to help teams coordinate their goals and streamline the development process, managers must ensure proper use of these documents for optimal productivity. Learn the traits, tips, and templates behind effective PRDs that contribute to project success.
What's a PRD, and why use a PRD template?
A PRD is a shared and centralized document that details what needs to happen to bring a new product, feature, or service into reality. Instead of describing how team members accomplish each task to complete a project, a PRD is a guide and a reference point for what you must get done to achieve the predefined project goals.
Although teams use different tools and organizational frameworks to build their PRDs, these documents always include foundational definitions — including a product's overall purpose, scope, and intended audience — to provide an overarching view of the development process and end goals to everyone involved. PRDs often have attachments such as wireframes, mockups, and user stories as points of reference to ensure the team’s daily sprints align with the overall project objectives.
PRDs are living documents, so everyone with access should add comments, new information, or questions throughout the planning and development stages to refine processes and record significant updates.
Because PRDs typically contain similar elements, you can — and should — leverage templates to speed up the creation process. A standard business-wide template also ensures documents are consistent and aligned with company expectations.
What should a PRD include?
PRDs don't get into the nitty-gritty of daily workflows. Instead, they give team members a high-level glimpse into crucial areas such as a project's expected journey, scope, and limitations.
Typically, project managers include five core concepts in their PRD to provide an overview of their projects and keep team members on track:
Context — most PRDs start by addressing the core issue your team wants to solve with the new product or feature. In this concise opening section, directly address what you're creating and why you're investing time and energy into the initiative. Consider how this product enhances an end user's experience and adds value to your company's offerings.
Goals and requirements — create a brief list of the most important goals your team needs to hit to bring the product to market by the target release date. Arrange these goals in order of significance, and make brief notes about each task's expected timeframe, resource allocation, and difficulty. Be sure to write in any measurable milestones and metrics you plan to use to analyze the success of your project over time.
Assumptions — use relevant consumer data, personas, and user stories to generate an image of the target end user. Record any assumptions about their expectations and likely responses to a new product or service. Use this section to put yourself in the client's shoes to ensure the team always has the end user's experience front of mind.
Dependencies — consider any external requirements, such as third-party specialists or data feeds, that are necessary for a successful product launch. Once you've identified dependencies for your project's success, assign team members to check and monitor these essential links and ensure smooth operations.
PRDs: The pros and cons
PRDs are supposed to help teams achieve their maximum efficiency, but there are instances when poorly crafted PRDs can create more problems than they solve. Pay careful attention to the limitations of PRDs to avoid common pitfalls when writing these documents.
This type of document is often a welcome tool in project management. Here are some upsides to using a PRD:
Offers a transparent frame of reference — a PRD is a clear and central point of focus for team members and stakeholders, which helps everyone coordinate their goals and understand their responsibilities. It's also easy for employees to stay updated on the latest project specification changes by quickly reviewing modifications to a PRD.
Welcomes collaboration — as living documents, PRDs adapt to changing circumstances and serve as a hub for questions and comments from team members and stakeholders. The collaborative nature of PRDs keeps the lines of communication open and helps ensure everyone's clear on their project objectives.
Sets critical parameters — project managers use PRDs to define the limitations of their project so workers know what tasks to devote their time and resources toward. Details about a project's constraints provide clear boundaries for team members and stakeholders, which helps employees squeeze the most productivity out of their workdays.
Identifies the end-user experience — PRDs often include valuable information about the project's target audience to ensure teams always structure their products with the customer’s needs in mind.
In some scenarios, a PRD can’t cover all your bases and meet the project’s needs. Check out these drawbacks to PRDs:
Less adaptable for Agile workflows — PRDs aren't a traditional part of the Agile workflow model and are more commonly associated with the sequential Waterfall method. Although many Agile teams use PRDs, some may find the PRD framework too rigid and challenging to incorporate into flexible work environments.
Can invite scope creep — because PRDs weren't designed for Agile, it's sometimes difficult to strike a balance between fixed goals and flexibility. For instance, teams prone to people-pleasing or gold-plating may find it hard to refuse stakeholder comments in the PRD’s specs, putting projects at risk of scope creep.
Slows development and adds cost burden — creating and maintaining a comprehensive PRD takes considerable time and resources, which may not be feasible for fast-moving startups or extremely complicated multi-stage projects. Is the initial investment to create a thorough PRD worth the cost? Or does the extra time it takes to build a PRD hamper development goals?
3 useful tips for creating an effective PRD
Every team has different goals and preferred workflows, so there's no one-size-fits-all strategy for designing the most effective PRD. There are, however, a few general PRD-related tips product managers can keep in mind to maximize this document's benefits:
1. Use the right tools
When choosing the tool or template to organize your PRD, pay careful attention to functionality and usability. Although text documents and spreadsheets are popular options because they’re widely used and familiar formats, they often aren't the most convenient PRD tools for friction-free asynchronous workflows.
Take time to evaluate your PRD template’s ease of use to ensure team members have convenient and constant access to this document and the opportunity to use straightforward collaboration features.
2. Keep it simple
Sharing, reading, and updating a PRD shouldn't require the expertise of an engineering team. The most successful PRDs contain only essential details in a neatly organized and easily scannable file.
Remember, PRDs give a high-level overview of a project, so resist the urge to overstuff these documents with boatloads of bloat. Only add the most relevant data on a project's lifecycle and consider using software tools to keep supplementary attachments hidden so they don't distract from the document's primary purpose.
3. Promote collaboration
Although PRDs define the purpose and parameters of a project, they also serve as valuable communication pathways for teams and stakeholders.
To get the most out of this document, ensure it's easy to interact with the files in your PRD and encourage quick collaboration with tagged items, comments, and upvotes. Collaborating within shared PRDs often saves valuable time and energy that’s otherwise spent in back-and-forth emails or Slack threads. Plus, it keeps all of these valuable communications in a visible and accessible location.
Launch successful products with Notion
There's no need to spend precious time and energy crafting PRD outlines from scratch. With Notion's pre-built PRD templates, you have the resources to effectively share the project's context, constraints, and requirements with teams and stakeholders.
Explore the collaborative PRD templates on Notion and start building successful products today.