Learn how to write a product requirements document in Microsoft Word and with Helix ALM.
September 6, 2018

How to Write a Product Requirements Document (PRD)

Requirements Management
Application Lifecycle Management

Successful releases start with a product requirements document (PRD).

What Is a Product Requirements Document (PRD)?

A product requirements document (PRD) outlines what you’re going to build.

A PRD is a product manager’s best friend. It sets the course for the release. And it ensures that you deliver what customers want — on time.

Every stakeholder involved with the release — developers, testers, project managers — should know what’s on the PRD.

PRDs typically include the following elements:

  • Purpose — Who it’s for and why you’re building it.
  • Features — What you’re going to build.
  • Release Criteria — Goals for the release (e.g., functionality).
  • Timeline — A rough window for the release.

What About an Agile Requirements Document?

Documentation is typically the opposite of Agile. But Agile development teams benefit from using PRDs, too.

In Agile development, you create user stories instead of traditional requirements. So, an Agile requirements document gathers user stories essential for a release.

It still covers the same elements — purpose, features, release criteria, timeline. But an Agile requirements document typically does this in a task board or interactive document, rather than in a static document.

After all, a PRD doesn’t need to be a novel. You can cover the essentials of a product release in a one-pager — and ensure that your development team stays the Agile course.

How to Write a Product Requirements Document (PRD)

Writing an effective PRD is important.

While you may be tasked with writing the actual document, it should be a collaborative effort. You’ll work with multiple stakeholders across development. This ensures that everyone is on the same page about the goals of the product release. And it ensures that what you’re developing fulfills a customer need — and can be completed on time.

Remember: the overall goal of a PRD is to define what you’re going to build — not how you’re going to build it.

Here are five steps to writing an effective PRD for a successful product release.

1. Define the Purpose of the Product

Everyone in development needs to be aligned on the purpose of the product. The purpose needs to drive the features.

The purpose should outline:

  • What problems this product solves.
  • Who will use the product.
  • Why it’s important.

Every stakeholder should agree on the purpose — and be aware of it as development progresses.  

2. Break the Purpose Down Into Features

Your next step is to determine the feature requirements for the release. Every feature should support the overall purpose of your product.

A best practice for setting feature requirements is to first define themes and initiatives.

A theme aligns the organization for years.

Some examples of a theme might be:

  • API
  • Performance
  • Mobile

Themes can cross multiple years and release cycles.

Initiatives are used to align development efforts to achieve a theme. And initiatives ensure you know that things are going in the right direction. An initiative might span multiple themes, for instance incorporating features for API, performance, and mobile.

From there, an initiative breaks down into feature requirements.

[Related Webinar: From Planning a Theme to Setting Requirements]

 

3. Set the Goals For the Release Criteria

Setting the right goals for the release criteria will help you achieve the purpose of the product release.

Your goals should be:

  • Easy to understand.
  • Actionable.
  • Achievable.
  • Measurable.

And release criteria should cover five areas.

Functionality

You’ll need to define the minimum functionality you need in order to release the product. An example is defining requirements that are critical to the release.

Usability

You’ll need to ensure the product is easy to use. An example is determining the scope of user testing — and what you’ll do with those results.

Reliability

You’ll need to determine that your product is reliable. An example is making sure it can recover from system failure.

Performance

You’ll need to set a baseline for performance. An example is determining how fast your product needs to load.

Supportability

You’ll need to determine that the release can be supported. An example is ensuring it can be installed and configured by users.

4. Determine the Timeline

Every product release needs a goal release date — even if it’s a rough estimate.

This should give you flexibility to adapt to a change in priorities. But it should restrict scope creep by limiting how many features stakeholders can add.

Managing the release process — and hitting that target release date — can be tricky.

[Related Webinar: How to Fix Your Release Process]

 

5. Make Sure Stakeholders Review It

When you create a PRD, it’s vital that key stakeholders review the document.

This can be tricky when you’re managing a requirements document in Microsoft Word.

It’s a best practice to have a central solution where you can manage requirements reviews online. Then, you can ensure that everyone is looking at the most recent version of the document. And you can go back and track how things have changed.

It’s also important that everyone involved in development of the product knows what’s on the PRD. It should be shared with everyone from developers to testers to managers.

[Related White Paper: 9 Tips for Writing Useful Requirements]

 

PRD Template: A Product Requirements Document Example

Many teams use Microsoft Word to create and manage PRDs.

Here’s a product requirements document example in Microsoft Word:

A product requirements document example in Microsoft Word.

Keeping a PRD up-to-date is difficult in a tool like Microsoft Word. It’s hard to ensure accuracy when requirements are tracked in one spot — away from the rest of development. Making sure everyone has access to the latest version is a challenge. It’s harder to collaborate. And it’s practically impossible to be Agile.

That’s why many development teams use requirements management software to create a PRD. It gets them away from silos of information. Requirements are always up-to-date. And it can be used by every development team, whether they follow Waterfall or Agile development processes.

Here’s an example of that same PRD in Helix ALM:

A product requirements document example in Helix ALM shows how easy it can be to manage requirements.

An Agile requirements document can also be created in a task board. This gives you at-a-glance visibility over the status of requirements.

For example, in this Kanban board, you’ll see how user stories (requirements) are being reviewed and implemented.

An agile requirements document in Helix ALM uses a task board (or, Kanban board).

If you’re developing in sprints (like most Agile teams), you can use Helix ALM to monitor progress of each sprint. You’ll see which user stories have been implemented and validated.

In this PRD template for Agile, you can run your sprints and maintain a PRD in the same spot.

 

A PRD Is Just the Beginning…

Writing a PRD is just one step towards efficient development and a better release process. Successful releases also depend on thorough testing and speedy bug resolution.

So, it’s a best practice to have a tool — such as Helix ALM — where you can track user stories (or requirements), tests, and issues all in the same spot. Then, you can even use your PRD to ensure test coverage by creating test cases from user stories. And you can track results through to bug resolution.

In Helix ALM, this is done through a traceability matrix (which is generated automatically by the tool):

When you maintain a product requirements document in Helix ALM, it's easy to create a traceability matrix.

 

Interested in a better way to write a PRD and manage releases? Try Helix ALM — and see how the right PRD will improve your development lifecycle.

Write a PRD in Helix ALM