The importance of PRDs

Product Requirement Documents can be a valuable lifeline during a project, improving collaboration and productivity.

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One of the biggest nightmares a designer might face, unfortunately more often than not, is being handed a project without any requirements. We’ve all been there — when a client needs something done but can’t put exactly what they need on a piece of paper. And we get there, eventually, but a lot of time and resources are spent this way.

In the past, I’ve come across meetings with stakeholders where there were no clear requirements for a project, making me explore a lot of solutions that were far from what was needed or envisioned, which proved very time-consuming and unproductive. We all love unnecessary meetings that were born from poor communication, don’t we?

One addition to my design process that I cannot go without is the introduction of PRDs (Product Requirement Documents). At Tailwarden, we use them to stipulate, discuss, and plan a new feature before it enters the design stage, as well as to document any changes that come up during development.

Let’s go over a few notions and how to structure your own PRD, before jumping into how we use them from a practical perspective.

What is a PRD?

A Product Requirement Document (PRD) is like a detailed instruction manual for building something amazing—be it an entire product or a specific feature within it.

For Products:

  1. Blueprint for Success: It lays out the big picture, explaining what the entire product is supposed to achieve and how it should work.
  2. Who, What, How: Describes who the product is for, what it does, and how it does it.

For Features:

  1. Focused Roadmap: When dealing with a specific feature, the PRD becomes a focused roadmap, detailing what that feature is meant to accomplish.
  2. Ingredients and Instructions: Provides the "ingredients" (functionalities, design elements) and "instructions" (how it should behave) for that feature.

Why is a PRD Important?

Clear Instructions:

  • It ties together cross-functional teams through a document with clear instructions for all of them — designers, developers, and decision-makers.

Avoids Confusion:

  • By having a PRD, everyone is on the same page, preventing any confusion about what needs to be built as the process is documented.

Saves Time and Effort:

  • It's like having a recipe before cooking; it saves time and effort by ensuring you have everything you need from the start.

Adaptable to Scale:

  • Whether you're creating an entire product or just a cool new feature, the PRD adapts to the scale of what you're building.

In simpler terms, a PRD is a project's compass, guiding the way from idea to reality, whether that's a full-blown product or a nifty feature that makes the product shine. It keeps everyone synchronized, making sure the end result is exactly what’s been envisioned.

What makes a PRD?

1. User Stories and Personas
PRDs can often include user stories and personas that support the creation of the products or the implementation of the feature. By learning more about the target audience and defining a persona or user story, the team can better understand the end users and the solution can become more refined.By taking this approach, the design decisions are based on user needs instead of assumptions and take into consideration more than the business needs.

2. Functional and Non-functional Requirements
Functional requirements describe "what" the system does, detailing its features, functionalities, and user interactions, while non-functional requirements describe "how well" it does it, addressing aspects like performance, reliability, and user experience.By defining these requirements in an earlier stage of the process through a PRD, the design and development processes progress more smoothly, with the teams aligned on exactly what needs to be done and how.

3. Scope and Constraints
More than defining why a feature or a product needs to be built or how that should be done, a PRD can also help define the scope of the project and preview any constraints that should be considered.Sometimes there’s a good solution that can be implemented later on but should not be forgotten — it can be documented in the PRD. The same happens for rabbit holes that would better be avoided — all the team can be aware of them throughout the process of the project.This also helps manage expectations and keep everyone focused on the main tasks.

The PRD template we usually use

The impact on the design process

These requirement documents are extremely helpful to designers, for a multitude of reasons. They support the iterative design process as they provide a strong foundation and promote meaningful feedback loops from the start of the project.

Every time a review is requested, the team should have the necessary context thanks to the PRD. The revisions themselves should be more focused and efficient, as there are clear requirements to be met.

Common issues that cease to exist

Although introducing these documents may seem a bit intimidating, especially since they can be so flexible and should adapt to the needs of the team, I think it would be best to leave a reminder of what struggles these PRDs could help solve.

Without it, there is a higher chance that the team members are not aligned when it comes to the goals and requirements of the project. Of course, the roadmap and goals can be discussed, but without a document to refer to, this can lead to miscommunication and a longer development process.

A common issue that the PRD also helps solve is the lack of control of the feature scope. Everyone wants to do their best work and create the best solution, but without some constraints and planning this can easily turn into a more complex solution than it needs to be, which leads to a greater cost and a delay in delivering value to users.

Besides this, the Project Management Institute (PMI) has indicated that inadequate project planning, including poorly defined requirements, can lead to cost overruns and increased rework.

How we do it at Tailwarden

With all this info, I think it’s time for a quick case study that will give you some insight into how we work to meet our customer’s needs.

Even with a relatively small team like ours, PRDs are an essential part of a new feature’s process and are essential to save each Warden’s time.

Bringing alerts & daily digests to Tailwarden

How it started

Upon receiving feedback from a user in one of our user interviews and leveraging our insights from the Komiser alerts, we realized that our custom views at Tailwarden could have detailed alerts to help manage them, with more granular options as to how to receive them and what insights they would cover.

Creating the PRD
A glimpse into our Alerts PRD

A team member initiated a PRD, outlining the problem, user stories, time estimate, and key functionalities for the alerting feature (presented through text and low-fidelity wireframes). Rabbit holes were also covered, along with the feature scope and future work ideas. Adding competitors and feature references truly helped in communicating the vision, as the research was documented and shared.

Moving to Design

Equipped with a well-defined PRD, the design team created high-fidelity wireframes and layouts with a clear understanding of user needs. The PRD provided the necessary context, ensuring design decisions were aligned with the documented requirements and user needs.

Laser focused reviews

One of the strengths of the PRD became clear during collaborative reviews. As each team member referred to the PRD and the user needs, discussions were more focused, and revisions were streamlined. The iterative design process thrived, thanks to the solid foundation laid out in the document.

Development phase

Besides the planning that we do specifically for the tech team when implementing a new feature, the PRD kept playing a vital role as a reference point to return to when there were any doubts or challenges faced. The scope remained controlled, preventing unnecessary complexities.

Delivering the feature

Upon the feature release, user feedback was remarkably positive. The alerts started being created and insights were being delivered when relevant — the documented user stories proved instrumental in validating our design decisions. The success of the feature can be directly attributed to the clarity and alignment provided by the PRD.

This case study highlights how PRDs enrich our design and development process. The document served as a guiding light, improving collaboration between teams, controlling scope, and ultimately delivering a feature that met user expectations.

Incorporating PRDs into our workflow has become a key step of our success, ensuring that each new feature is a well-crafted solution to a user-validated problem.

A few tips to get started

1. Tailor it to your needs 🔧
A PRD should adapt to the product or feature that is destined to, as well as the team and the overall process of bringing a solution to the user that is used. There is no need to overcomplicate the requirements for a small feature or rework for example, as the team would already have enough context to do their work productively.

2. Maintain a user-centric perspective 👤
To truly ensure the solution is aligned with the goals and solves the underlying issue, keep the focus on the user. By following user journeys and creating personas, the user remains truly present in the process and their needs are validated with requirements.

3. Include your research 🔍
Documenting research and references in the PRD can be extremely useful to bring about context, as well as inspire the team to contribute and give better feedback.

4. Make it collaborative 🤝🏻
Involving the team while writing the PRD can be extremely worthwhile, as the collaboration will sort out many questions before the project begins and the solution can be fleshed out more thoroughly.

5. Illustrate your vision ✍🏻
Be it some wireframes you sketched, some layouts you saw in your research or a diagram you’ve put together, including visual elements can truly help communicate what you’ve envisioned for the project.

6. Take the PRD for the ride 🎢
Don’t hesitate to iterate on the document as the project moves along. As mentioned before, the document should act as support for the process and not as a mere starting point. By taking it on the journey, the benefits will only become more present.

7. Keep the PRD accessible 📎
Whatever tool(s) are used for the overall process of the project, keeping the PRD attached or easily accessible can make a big difference in terms of transparency and documentation. If the document feels detached from each step and the team’s work, it won’t be as beneficial to ease communication and keep track of progress.

Let’s sum it up!

No matter the scale of a project, having requirements is a gigantic step towards success.

Not only does it save up time in discussions that can be had in the initial step of the process, it acts as a reference point for all teams and promotes better communication and transparency. Decisions made along the way can be documented and future ideas can be implemented later on.

Having a PRD ensures that the scope of the feature can remain controlled and everyone knows what they should be working on, with the problem and user needs clearly in mind throughout the journey.

Explore this notion on your next project or share with us how you do it — PRDs can be so different that there is only much to learn from multiple perspectives.

Here's to designing the future, one well-documented requirement at a time!

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