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What Is a Product Requirements Document (PRD)?

Posted by
Elmira in Technical Writing on 1/4/20238 min read

man and woman discussing work on laptop

A software application can be a good solution for developing and mature business. It can attract new buyers, enlarge the target market, and bring more profit. However, these goals can be attained only if your app can be used easily, almost intuitively.

Surely, you have come across many mobile applications that can get you stuck right when you download and open them. You may have problems with registration, or you may be surprised to find out that your ‘Favorites’ page is empty after you have spent half an hour filling it with the products you like…

Most often, this results from poor communication between the customer and developer. Most probably, the owner did not have a product requirements document (PRD) or had a poor one. Meanwhile, this technical document is a ‘must have’ if you want to outsource your mobile app development to a contractor.

This blog will help you understand why you need a PRD at the stage of product development (or even earlier) and how to write it.

What Is a Product Requirements Document?

An app you get from a contractor can become a disappointment both for you and your customers. “This is not what I wanted!” may be your first reaction. But ask yourself if it is really the contractor who is to blame. Maybe, you didn’t express your idea clearly. This can happen when you discuss things in e-mails or phone conversations.

A PRD is a technical document where all your ideas about the future app will be fixed.

It usually contains an overview of the product, requirements for how it must be built, the functions it has to perform, etc.

In your routine work, it has become normal for you to design documents that help customers to use your product. So why not develop a document that will help your partners or your in-house IT department? A product requirements document makes life easier for software developers. It is a guidebook that will help them to see your point.

This is how it usually works. Imagine that you’ve got many neighbors who like pot plants. Some have cacti; others have lots of succulents. All of them would like to donate or exchange some of the pot plants, but they don’t know who has what. You decide to make an app for your neighbors to share and exchange plants.

In your PRD, you will have to describe your vision of the future app to the software developer. For example, on the home page, the user will see a ‘catalog’ of available plants. They can be donated or available only for exchange. You can make it a requirement for the developer to integrate a map API in your application so that the users can see where they can borrow the plants from.

If you don’t describe your vision clearly, you can get an app without a map API. It is also possible that the items in the catalog won’t be marked as ‘available for donation’ or ‘available for exchange.’ When the users face these problems, they will most probably delete the app and look for something that is handier and more user-friendly.

To avoid these problems, you will have to create a PRD and hand it over to the software developer.

Types of PRDs: Components and Templates

A PRD contains your description of how the application should work and how it should be designed. In the overview, you have to explain the general idea and outline the main functions. You can also compare your product with your competitors so that the developer understands the strong points of your app. If such an understanding is reached, the developer can focus on the strong points and bring them forward for the users.

In the PRD, you should also focus on the technical details. They are essential for developers. If we go back to the example with the pot plants app, this could be a map API that you want be integrated into the product or a chat API for the users to enable them to communicate right in the app. You may also want to integrate an API allowing users to make inbound and outbound phone calls to each other to discuss the details of the pot plants exchange.

Speaking the language of engineering or construction design, a PRD is like the terms of reference for the developer. It is the document the contractor must refer to to obtain the result desired by the customer. To continue the analogy with construction and design, a PRD can be compared to a pre-FEED document which is used prior to starting the design properly.

This document is the key element of the success of your project, as it shows the logic of the app operation, covers its technical features, and ultimately helps the developers to create the app of your dream. Putting it differently, it explains to the developers what to do, what the app functions will be, and how it will be useful for the customers.

A PRD can be designed in different ways. The way it is designed depends largely on the organization it is issued by and the documentation design standard accepted in the company. Another factor is that the PRD format depends on the product manager. They are the person in charge of the product, and it is this person who usually chooses the format or template or develops the one that corresponds to the app.

The most common elements of a PRD are listed below.

  • Overview: This is the cornerstone of the product you are building. It includes a general product description, an outline of its functions, etc. It often contains a list of team members describing their duties and roles in the project.
  • Objective: This is the strategic part of the project. It implies alignment with the organizational goals and initiatives.
  • Context: This can include the description of the target customers (customer personas), use cases, description of competing products (competitive landscape), and other important points that will help the developers to see the product with the eyes of the customer.
  • Assumptions: This is the predictive part of the project. It includes a description of factors that might impact the product positively or negatively. It can be compared to the threats described within a SWOT analysis in marketing. The remedies are usually described there as well.
  • Scope: This implies the scope of work that has to be carried out in the present version of the product. More features may be included in a future release.
  • Requirements: These are the tech details of what should be built. In addition to the customer’s requirements, this part can include the wishes of potential customers (user stories).
  • Performance: This section describes the metrics you would like to include to make your life easier.

This list is far from being exhaustive. It is rather one of the popular formats. If you are a product manager, you can use it or develop your own.

pile of documents

Pros and Cons of a Product Requirements Document

Requirement documents are created to bridge communication and understanding between the customer and the developers. The ultimate goal is to synchronize the customer’s and the contractor’s vision.

An app requirement doc can be useful in many ways. Its most prominent advantages are listed below:

  • It will give the developer an overview of the field the app refers to. This is important, as many fields are so specialized that the developer will be lost in all the nuances. In the example above with the pot plants app, you will have to explain that pot plants are special plants people grow on windowsills until there is enough space. When people runs out of space, they may want to donate or exchange the available pot plants with people who don’t have this kind. This is how the ‘supply’ and ‘demand’ occur in this market. People are usually shy to borrow pot plants, so they need a special platform to facilitate the exchange;
  • A PRD will give the developer a description of the app design (what you want the app to look like and how you want it to function, i.e., navigation, searchability, etc.);
  • It will certainly save the developer’s time. There will be no need to redo things and readjust the project. Everything will be formulated at the start;
  • It will help to assess the costs and terms of development.

The cons of a PRD are few. Some may say that it is a regulating document and, as a result, it will limit the team’s creativity. This is partly true, but if a bright idea should come to the mind of a developer, there is always a way to discuss it with the customer and introduce some changes. A PRD should be looked at rather as a communication tool, not a directive.

How to Create a Good PRD?

Creating a good PRD is impossible without collaboration that occurs on different levels. First, it is a collaboration between the customer and the developer (or the product manager and the in-house IT specialists).

On this level, collaboration can be enhanced by giving the developer access to the company’s internal wiki. Access to the company’s knowledge base can facilitate the process of getting immersed in a new reality of the field or business the product belongs to.

An internal wiki can be stored in a cloud on a documentation portal on the ClickHelp platform, for example. This will enable you to control the issues related to the roles of the wiki users. Some pages can be made public; others will remain unavailable.

Another level of collaboration is communication between the team members who work on the project. Some software development tools, like Agile, allow software creation while working in a team. This is one of the basic principles of the agile environment.

Agile gives software developers the flexibility they need in the current conditions when new apps are emerging at breakneck speed. The mobile app market is highly competitive. Unique products are rare, everything has an analog, and one has to be flexible to keep in line with the latest trends.

person taking notes from laptop

Conclusion

Without a PRD, your vision might remain obscure to the team of developers. As a result, there is a risk that you will finally (after all the money and time spent) get something you cannot use.

If you want your future app to come up to your expectations and those of the customers and to reflect the idea of your business exactly the way you see it, you won’t be able to do without a product requirement document. It will help you establish cooperation with the software developers and get your ideas across.

Good luck with your technical writing!
ClickHelp Team
Author, host and deliver documentation across platforms and devices

 

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