How to Write a Product Specification

Remay Villaester (May)
04.01.21
5 minute read

Product specifications is a buzzword these days, both in the world of startups and also mid to large size companies. If you’ve ever worked with product management, development or design teams, chances are you’ve already heard of this term.

Before starting any project it’s always a good idea to draft product specifications and reiterate on it, keep updating until it feels solid and closer to being finalised.

But what are product specifications and why do we need them?

What are product specs?

Product specifications is a document defining exactly what the product will be. It states what problems the product is solving, its features, how it will be used, what are the necessary steps and actions to take towards product completion alongside with timelines.

One of the main purposes of product specifications is to outline all the crucial information about the project so that any member of the team, involved in product development, will know precisely what to create and which document to reference regarding questions they might have.

Why do we need product specs?

Now that we know what are product specs, the next question we might have is why do we even need them? When we know what we want to build - can’t we just start building it without losing any time on bureaucracy and countless meetings?

The short answer is yes you can, but you shouldn’t.

As in a lot of other areas, the project starts with thorough planning, discussing ideas with different stakeholders, putting them down and translating them to requirements. And missing the crucial preparation could result in a lot of unexpected complications.You wouldn’t want to start building a house without a blueprint, clearly defined steps and actions, and a planned budget

Writing concise product specifications makes you organise your thoughts and put them down on a paper, making sure that you:

  • test your assumptions
  • think critically about the product
  • potentially spot problems and improvements long before even beginning building the actual product.
  • Have a clear overview of the end product

Moreover, having a clear product outline and timelines written down will help to:

  • coordinate team members
  • make sure everyone is on the same page
  • spread the knowledge
  • avoid costly misunderstanding
  • encourage everyone to spot problems/possible improvements early on, potentially avoiding an epic fail when the product launches.

Content of product specs

Content of product specifications can vary, depending on the person writing it and the project needs. But usually product specifications document includes following elements:¹

Product Summary

A description of the product idea. This section should introduce product concepts as well as tell the reader why the product is being created. Give an overview of the final product alongside with its features and expected timeline.

This section should answer the question: What problem will this product solve and why do users need it?

Business case

This section contains a written document describing the business case for building the product. It should outline advantages and benefits that the product will bring to the company, as well as provide information on the budget and resources needed to complete the project.

The question is: What value the product brings to the business and what it’s gonna take to deliver?

User Stories

This section should contain user stories: brief summaries describing what the user should be able to do with the product. It describes product features and the user's journey using the product.

This section answers the question: What is the user able to do with the product?

User Personas

This section describes who the product is being built for. A User Persona describes a specific character that has a problem that can be solved by using the product.

Having clearly defined user personas will let you understand end users wants and needs better, that would help you prioritise relevant features.

Answers question: Who will be using the product?

Product Design

A design that should show how the solution will look like.

It doesn’t have to be perfect at first, especially if no UX experts were involved, but it should give an idea of what could be the acceptable user flow in the product.

You could start with a sketch or technical drawing, that could be updated as the product development progresses.

This section should be referenced by UX experts to edit the sketch into an acceptable user experience

Answers the questions: What should the solution look like?

Functional spec

This section should describe the capabilities of the product and how the users will interact with it.

It is intended to be used as a reference for the product development team as they begin working on it.

The question is: What are the technical details and how will the user interact with the product?

When writing a product specifications

The main purpose of writing technical specifications is having a clear document outlining different aspects of the product as a whole. So as you could’ve guessed already - communication is the key.

First of all, you need to have a clear picture of included domains and problems that exist there. You’d need to be communicating your ideas to different stakeholders, have your assumptions tested by other people, encourage them to share their opinion and listen to their feedback.

Do not be pressured to write perfect product specifications right away. Put your thoughts down, draft your ideas, do not be afraid to remove something that you don’t need. Keep reiterating and coming back to the document, changing what you’ve put down, adding, improving. Keep doing so until it feels more solid.

When you feel that you have something tangible, it’s a good idea to share it with people, who would be using this document and ask for their feedback, listen to the feedback and adjust the document accordingly, if needed.

Cause in the end, product specification should also let other people understand the project and your ideas more clearly

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Final Words

Product specifications document is a representation of a product in the written form. Since most products are ever changing and are evolving as they grow - product specs will be a work in progress that needs to be updated accordingly as the time goes by.

Make sure to share the product specs with stakeholders and product development team, and keep them updated of any changes that will be introduced to the product.

Keeping everyone on the same page is a crucial part of product development and product specifications documents can play a huge role in making sure everyone stays in sync.

Sources:
  1. Hubspot blog post

This publication is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to cover every aspect of the topics with which it deals. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content in this publication. The information in this publication does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from TransferWise Limited or its affiliates. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.

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