How to make an effective product requirements document
OUR Blog
Media manager
Anna Chebanova
Media manager
Oct 14 2016

How to make an effective product requirements document

One of the questions we get asked most frequently is “Why do I need a product requirements document if I just want a simple application or site?” The most straightforward answer is that this document is beneficial to both the customer and development team, ensuring that both parties agree on the vision for the project before actual development work begins. It saves time, money, and reduces the chance of misunderstandings.

We wanted to take a closer look at the reasons why a product requirements document is so important, as well as what this document should contain in order to be effective.

What is a product requirements document?

A product requirements document is the initial document that describes the basic functionality of a product under development. It also defines the order and any conditions of the tasks for the project.

Why do you need a product requirements document?

This document is an overview of the key important details needed for the development of a potential project. It covers the project’s purpose, objectives, principles of implementation, expected results, time needed for development, and any additional technical requirements needed in order to develop the product properly. Elaborating on product requirements in this document helps anticipate and avoid possible issues from arising.

This document allows both parties to agree up front on the ideas and requirements for a project, minimising the risk of big changes being forced through later on in the development process. Potential amendments to the project should have a corresponding procedure that is already included in the initial product requirements document.

Rules for compiling the technical specifications

Technical specifications should be agreed upon ahead of time to ensure that the product is developed in compliance with all of the requirements. When compiling and writing these technical specifications, all relevant details should be included in order to ensure the development process is as smooth as possible.

Some basic rules to follow when compiling these specifications include:

  • writing the technical aspects of the document in simple business language;

  • language should be specific and the use of inaccurate or generic phrases like “selecting the most convenient option” or “interaction between various objects” or “once everything is completed” should be avoided;

  • every function of the project should be as detailed as possible with purpose and goals mentioned;

  • deadlines should be discussed and agreed upon. Deadlines can also be specified for individual tasks, prioritizing their importance in the development process.

The precise accuracy of the technical specifications directly depends upon the type of project and the development team itself. Some teams and projects may require less specifics while others may require every last detail to be documented. Compiling these specifications should take around 40% of the time and effort required for the project in order to ensure that the documentation is of top quality. While this may seem substantial, high quality technical specifications tend to have a much higher (90%) project development success rate than those that lack details.

Who writes the technical specifications?

Clients must be involved in writing the specifications for their project as they have the idea and vision for what they want it to be. However, they often only have a basic overview of the project in mind, but do not have the technical expertise required to identify the technical implementation details.

While clients may have ideas for a basic design and desired functionality, it is up to the development team to ask the right questions during client meetings to determine the appropriate technical details. Collaboration between the two parties is the key to successfully identifying how the project should be developed. And everything that is not specified in the documentation is usually performed at the discretion of the development team.

Ideally, technical specifications are written by a project manager who prepares an accurate document that includes all high profile requirements. This person should be able to understand the essence of the client’s ideas, should describe them in detail, and should make the whole document understandable for all participants of the development process, (i.e. the development team and the client).

The pros and cons of creating a product requirements document

As with everything, there are pros and cons to taking the time to create a high quality product requirements document.

Pros include having:

  • a mutual comprehensive understanding between the client and the development team;

  • a precise idea of time needed for development;

  • an accurate idea of the budget required for the project’s development;

  • a full picture of the product, with the choice to include or exclude some of the functionality, i.e. develop an MVP version versus a full version;

  • the ability to detect any potential problems in the course of the development.

Cons include:

  • spending extra money to develop an effective document with all of the appropriate specifications;

  • spending extra time to identify and document the specifications required for the project.

While the extra costs in time and money may be off-putting, we highly recommend creating a product requirements document for your project. It is one of the few ways in which you can ensure that your product will be developed in the best way possible.

Alternative to a detailed product requirements document: Working in sprints

There is another option that allows clients to still have control over the development process without requiring them to create a detailed requirements document. This is known as working in iterations (also known as sprints).

Many development companies work in sprints, choosing to break projects up into smaller tasks that can be completed in a short amount of time (usually two weeks). Iterations are decided upon through negotiation and discussion with clients, determining which tasks are most important and the order in which they should be worked on. Working in this way also has pros and cons.

Pros of working in sprints include:

  • saving time. Developers can begin work on a project as soon as the first few sprints have been agreed upon;

  • saving the cost needed for writing the technical specifications;

  • seeing any deviations from the original plan at an earlier stage;

  • having a more flexible development process by making changes to upcoming sprints as needed.

Cons of working in sprints include:

  • not having a good idea of how much time is needed for the development of the project;

  • not having a good idea of how much money is needed for the development of the project;

  • not having a detailed overall picture of the project to keep it on track. This may lead to disputes between the parties that can cause additional time and money costs or even missed deadlines.

While sprints can offer clients more flexibility, they do not provide a clear vision and plan for the development of a product. This opens up the possibility for conflict between the two parties, making it more difficult to agree ahead of time on what the end goal of the collaboration will look like.

We hope you found this article useful! If you’re interested in developing a website or online presence for your product or you need some additional assistance or advice, please feel free to contact us!

Useful links

  1. Requirements. Why is it important?
  2. How we create projects from scratch
  3. What is MVP and why is it necessary?
  4. 8 Tips on how to employ the best team of developers for your project
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