Why A Lean PRD Is The Secret To Building More Customer-Centric Products


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One of the most common sayings on product teams is that “whoever knows the customer best wins.”

At first glance, this statement seems simple enough. The better you know your customer, the more you can create products, features, and experiences that align with their unique needs. However, just because it’s simple to understand doesn’t mean it’s easy to implement.

Here’s an awkward truth: 42% of companies fail because they build products and features no one actually needs. I wouldn’t call that ‘knowing your customer.’

So how do you ensure that what you’re making will actually benefit the people you want as customers? One tool you can use is called a lean PRD (Product Requirements Document).

What is a PRD and why does it matter?

A PRD is a document used by product teams to describe the purpose, features, functionality, and behavior of a product or feature they’re going to build. However, unlike a more tactical planning document (like a statement of work or project plan) a PRD is focused on what is being made and how your users will benefit from and use it.

This makes it a powerful document for user-centric design. Rather than get caught up in the technical details of what you’re building and how you’ll implement it, a PRD forces you to think of your future product through the eyes of your users and why they’ll actually want to use it.

As Marty Cagan of the Silicon Valley Product Group writes:

“An all-too-common mistake is to assume that if you like your product then your customers will too.”

In other words, no more product tunnel vision.

How to create a 1-page PRD in 3 easy steps

If like most companies, you’re more biased towards action than documentation, then the good news is that a PRD shouldn’t take too long to actually put together. In most cases, you should be able to bring together all the necessary information on a single (double-sided) page.

Before we dive into the specific elements of your PRD we need to quickly discuss where this document should live. A PRD is a living document that will change and adapt as your feature or product comes to life. By keeping it in a central location like a team wiki or knowledge base you allow easy access and help everyone on your team stay aligned on your ultimate mission: keeping your customers happy.

Now, what should you include in your 1-pager PRD?

1. Purpose

Get specific about who this product is for. This is the ‘know your customer’ part.

Your purpose should be as clear and simple as possible. To help guide you, make sure you’re answering these questions:

  1. Who is your product for? You can use personas (if you have them) or just name your ideal users with a brief description.
  2. What’s your elevator pitch? What makes your product different from the competition? Describe your goal and unique selling proposition in one to two sentences.
  3. Why will your users want to use it? What do you know about your users, the market, and your goals that make this the right product to build?

2. Features

Next, get into the specifics of what you’re building. Remember to think of this through the eyes of your user. Again, here are some questions to guide you:

  1. What problems are you solving for your users? What are your users desired outcomes? How does your feature or product solve them in a valuable or unique way?
  2. What are the core elements of your product? How will your users interact with the product? Are there specific terms they need to know? What assumptions are you making about their knowledge level?
  3. What will it look and feel like? Get visual. Include some mockups or wireframes that give an idea of how a user will actually use this.

This step should build on the first one rather than be a separate exercise. Do the elements and look and feel of your product line up with your goals and elevator pitch? Are you actually solving real problems your users have?

3. Timeline

Finally, a PRD should give an idea of the reality of making what you’re suggesting. However, rather than stick to a hard deadline, use this section to discuss constraints (in budget, timing, and resources) and how they’ll impact the final product.

Here are a few questions to guide you:

  1. What’s your ideal launch date? Why does this date matter for the user? Is it flexible? Why not?
  2. What will get in the way of hitting your launch date? Are you dealing with budget constraints? Waiting on other teams or products to launch? Or short on resources?

Not only will a short PRD help align your team around a single purpose but it’s also a fantastic tool for getting stakeholder feedback and approval. By painting a picture of how your users will engage with the product, you give stakeholders a chance to provide honest feedback and test your assumptions before spending time, energy, and money building it.

A PRD is a simple strategy to put you ahead of the competition

Documentation like this can feel like a waste of time when you’re running a product or growth team. However, a PRD is your secret weapon in the fight for your user’s attention. While the competition is out there getting in the weeds, you’re seeing the forest for the trees and can build something real people want to use.

Jory MacKay
Jory MacKay is the cybersecurity editor of the Aura blog. He’s written for and been quoted in Fast Company, The New York Times, Quartz, Inc. Magazine and more.


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