Product development can be a complicated, messy process. Early on, product managers often create guidelines to manage goals, highlight necessary steps, and determine other critical information.
To set the project up for success, many product managers opt to use product specs: a process that outlines their target audience, product benefits, and potential features.
What Are Product Specs?
A product spec is a blueprint that explains what the product will be, what it will look like, and what function it will perform.
Product managers create product specs early on in the process. They provide a framework that leads to more strategic initiatives, such as building out a product roadmap or creating critical paths. Product specs mark one of the first steps a product manager will complete before development.
Product specs can be a guiding document for everyone across an organization. It includes product requirements, such as different features, target personas, and other important information like user testing results.
Various teams will read and reference the product specs, so it needs to be accessible and actionable.
What To Include in a Product Spec
Product managers usually use a sheet to house product specifications. Every organization will feature different parts on their product specs sheet, but most will include the following components:
Product summary: Describe the product idea. Introduce the product’s concept and why you’re creating this product. Summarize what the final product should look like, what features it will include, and the expected time it will take to develop it.
Business case: Outline the benefit or advantage that the product will provide for the company. Highlight the budget and resources needed to complete the project.
Market research: Mention the target market’s strengths and weaknesses. List out business trends, growth opportunities, and any other relevant information. This section could mention a key competitor’s advantage alongside any customer pain points you identify.
User stories: Write out user stories — brief descriptions by the user on their product experience. Describe the features users want to see. You can write these using a simple template: “As a feature, I want [goal] so that [benefit].”
For example, a not-so-tech-savvy consumer might say, “as a feature, I want an easy-to-use interface so that I spend less time reading instructions.”
Buyer personas: Identify your target audience. Describe a specific character who fits the target demographic. By characterizing your audience, you can keep the product design customer-centric. For example, if you sell candles, your buyer persona might be a 20- to 30-year-old who wants nontoxic, unique candles.
Product design: Sketch out a technical drawing showing the physical design for your product. As you progress, tweak your design to reflect any changes you wish to make.
A visual representation of the final product will help guide the product through its development process. You could hire a freelance designer via Upwork or Fiverr if you lack the drawing chops.
Metrics: Identify measurable goals to include in your product spec document. For example, you could aim for 70% of customers to use a specific feature at least once a month.
Functional spec: Write out the intended appearance, features, and capabilities of the product. Your functional spec should also include how the product will interact with users. This could include the product’s colors, shape, materials, and other aspects.
You can utilize tools like a color palette generator to make this process easier.
Product Spec Sheet
A product spec sheet brings together all of the components above into one document. Make your document with your team in mind. How do they communicate with one another? How can you make the sheet most accessible and useful for them?
If they use Trello or Asana, for instance, you might be able to create an interactive product spec sheet using those tools. Alternatively, a simple Google or Excel document could suffice as a shareable product spec sheet.
If you end up using a unique template, your product spec sheet could look like the following:
How To Write a Product Spec
- Start with Problem Definition
- Look at Customer Insights
- Discuss with The Entire Organization
- Prioritize and Pick Features
- Send Initial Product Specs Sheet To Development
- Conduct User Testing
- Optimize Your Product Specs
1. Start with Problem Definition
Define what your product solves: How does it impact your target audience’s lives? Your product summary should center on the problem definition. Look at your buyer personas, and ask questions like:
- What do they care most about?
- What problems do they have?
- How can a product solve this problem?
2. Look at Customer Insights
When writing out user personas and stories, use customer insights — analysis from customer data — to build out these parts. Determine their demographics, what they need and want, and their pain points. You could collect customer insights via surveys or focus groups, for example.
3. Discuss with The Entire Organization
Collaborate with different teams. Ask them their thoughts on how you characterize your target audience and problem definition. Get their insights on product metrics. Before finalizing the product spec, ensure stakeholders across the organization approve it.
4. Prioritize and Pick Features
On your product specs sheet, highlight the product’s core functionality and features: Which features enable this product to solve your target audience’s main problem? You might focus on creating a highly responsive app, for example, if you know your buyer personas care about software performance.
Consider what you might include in a minimum viable product (MVP), or a cost-effective early version of your product used to gather customer feedback.
5. Send Initial Product Specs Sheet To Development
After you have the first draft of your product spec, send it to your development team. If they have any final concerns or problems, modify the sheet to accommodate them. The development team should first make a prototype of the product, which you will then show users as a test.
6. Conduct User Testing
With the plan and prototype in hand, conduct user testing. Show them the product; test your assumptions. Does the product, in its initial stage, solve your defined problem? Did the customers run into any issues?
7. Optimize Your Product Specs
Based on ongoing development and user testing, update your product specs. For example, if developers run into problems when building out a feature, this might mean they cannot feasibly create it. Or if users run into a recurring problem when interacting with the prototype, consider how this impacts your product specs.
Product Specifications Examples
Your product specs sheet might look different from another company’s. Instead of copying it line-by-line, use the following two examples as guidelines.
Say an organization plans on launching a budgeting app for senior executives. Using Google Sheets, they write out the following product specs sheet:
Next, let’s say another organization plans on developing an AI writing tool and creates the following product specs sheet:
Both product specifications sheets contain an overall summary of the product (e.g., business case, user personas, and metrics), plus the product’s benefits and features.
Your product specs sheet will look different depending on your organization. For example, you might want to highlight more functional aspects of a product — say a color or materials used. Or you might want to highlight user testing in a separate section, including analysis and results.