Learn how a PRD differs from other types of business documents, and get tips for writing an effective one.

Building a product requires a great plan. 

Skilled product managers know that, long before they present their product to the world, they need to guide their team through hours of careful research, thoughtful collaboration, and well-orchestrated execution. How do they manage all these pieces while also keeping other stakeholders in the loop?

It starts with a detailed product requirements document (PRD).

A well-written PRD sets the course for product development cycles and product launch, helping to keep a team aligned to hit deadlines with no sweat. A PRD is arguably one of the most critical documents in the product development process, working alongside a product roadmap.

In this guide, you’ll learn exactly what a product requirements document is and how to write a compelling one. 

What is a product requirements document?

A product requirements document (also known as a PRD) defines the product you are looking to build. Driven by a product manager, it's the ultimate source of truth for your product's purpose, features, and functionality.

The PRD also connects every team member involved in product development, giving them a shared understanding of their role. Will a contribution come from the engineering team? Design? Sales and marketing? The PRD spells this out. It also includes an overall product development timeline and milestones.

Here are some main characteristics of a PRD: 

  • It sets the foundation for your product roadmap

  • Team members can use it to create their own supporting documents, including functional specifications, wireframes, design documents, mockups, etc 

  • It clarifies any open questions about the product's purpose, use cases, how it benefits the company, and how it will impact users or buyers

  • It shows all stakeholders the desired outcome and makes clear how you’ll measure the product’s success 

PRD vs MRD vs BRD

A PRD answers the question: "How are we building this product?" 

The MRD answers: "What is the market opportunity for this product?"

Where a PRD acts as an essential guide and compass for how to build and launch your product, a Market Requirements Document (also known as a MRD) is more outwardly focused on the market opportunity and market conditions that make your product desirable for a user or buyer. 

An MRD typically gives details on market size, customer personas, and competitors in the space. In addition, a good MRD should clearly outline why your product exists so you can succinctly explain what customers want and need from it.

Both documents are valuable in product launches, but both still differ from a business requirements document (also known as a BRD), which describes a business problem and notes how your company is currently solving it. A good BRD gives a sense for the scope of a business problem, along with any processes involved and obstacles a team might face as they build a solution.

How to write an effective PRD?

No two products are the same, but good product requirements documents share some core characteristics. 

  • The best PRD's are concise. Though they contain a lot of information, they’re not longer than they need to be.

  • Writing a PRD is collaborative. All stakeholders should be acknowledged and involved in the writing process.

  • A PRD is a living document and can be updated weekly or daily, as your team’s thinking evolves.

1. Define the product's purpose

The first step in writing a PRD is to outline the purpose of your product or feature.

This task is often an exercise in prioritization. 

Start by answering three main questions:

  • What problem or problems does this product solve?

  • Who will use the product?

  • Why is it important?

Outlining a solid vision for your product means you and your team will be well equipped to handle objections and alternative opinions about what the product should or shouldn’t do or be.

2. Gather feedback to write and refine the PRD

After you're certain about the product’s purpose, you'll need to gather more information. 

Make sure you base your assumptions and future product decisions on input from the following sources: 

  • Notes from internal meetings, sales calls, feature requests, support tickets

  • Trends and information from market research and user feedback 

  • Input from your product team to ensure each component of your PRD has the correct information 

3. Get stakeholder approval 

By this point, your PRD has likely gone through several revisions. Once you feel it reflects the best available information from your team, circulate the PRD among stakeholders to get their input and approval.  

4. Reach out for engineering input

Even if you have a solid product vision and approval from higher-ups, your PRD will get nowhere without a vetting from the engineering team. Sending them the PRD and listening to their questions and concerns is essential to the process of building a solid PRD. 

5. Let other relevant players review it 

A PRD is most relevant to product and engineering teams, but others, like the UI and UX teams, may have helpful input as well. At the very least, these teams should be aware of any role they may play in researching and testing the new product. 

What to include in a PRD?

The process of writing a PRD will look different depending on the size of your team, the type of product you're building, and other factors. But all great PRDs typically include the following components:

Objective/Goal

The objective section in a PRD will state your product’s purpose, detailing who your product is for and why you're building it. 

Features 

Features are the parts of the product that must be completed for it to be released. These should all support the product’s overall purpose.

UX flow and design notes

UX flow and design notes provide a visual for engineers to better understand what they're building and where certain features will appear. This typically includes detailed mockups.

System and environment requirements

These requirements detail what your user will need from a technical perspective for your product to function correctly. If it’s a software product, examples might include web browsers, processing power, or device memory.

Assumptions, constraints, and dependencies

Assumptions in your PRD are the aspects of your product that you plan to validate or invalidate. 

This might be an assumption about how a user will interact with the product, or a user’s beliefs about what this category of products can or can’t do. 

Constraints are the potential hurdles your product team may face, such as budget limits, or even lack of talent, technical skill, or bandwidth on the team itself.

Dependencies include anything the product team or product itself needs in order to meet an objective. A dependency can include:

  • Third-party software or parts needed for your product to function

  • API Documentation

  • Relevant technology or patents

Getting started with your PRD

Now that you’ve learned about all the parts of a great PRD, it's time to get started writing one. 

Whether you're brushing up on writing a PRD, or writing one for the first time, Airtable is an ideal tool to help you do it. It has a variety of product templates and workflow options to match your organization’s needs, as well as:

  • Approachable point-and-click design 

  • Shareable document links for easy allow collaboration with internal and external teams 

  • A database that act as your product team's single source of truth through the entire product planning process

  • A variety of views, to let each member of your product team see what matters most to them

Writing a product requirements document is just one step in the product development process.  It calls for a high level of organization across a product team as well as your entire organization. 

Stay organized with Airtable, which has the power and flexibility to create any and all product documents you may need. 

Sign up for Airtable


About the author

Airtable's Product Teamis committed to building world-class products, and empowering world-class product builders on our platform.

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