How to Write a Product Specification Document: Examples

Instructor: Temitayo Odugbesan

Temitayo has 11+ years Industrial Experience in Information Technology and has a master's degree in Computer Science.

In this lesson, we'll look at the purpose of a product specification document (PSD) and learn how to effectively write one. We'll also discuss how a PSD affects the process of product conceptualization and development.

The Product Specification Document Defined

A Product Specification Document (PSD) helps to capture all of the expected specifications and requirements needed in a product being conceptualized to enable both the design team and potential product users to understand more about the product before it is actually built and readied for distribution or end-use.

The PSD is often confused with a Product Requirement Document (PRD) in that their contents are similar with the only difference being the more technical inclination of the PRD.

For example, where a PRD would list the requirements for a user login page and the standard security requirements, a PSD version of the same user login page would describe in-depth the same standard security requirements.

Steps Leading to the PSD

William works as a product manager for a payment service provider. He is saddled with the task of creating a product specification document for a product in its early conception stage. To help him create this PSD well, he used the following steps as a guide.

Background Knowledge

With the product in mind, William researched potential and existing users and competitors of the product, the capabilities of the in-house technology team to develop and maintain this product using a product build approach (checking if the product's development needed to be outsourced), and read positive and negative reviews of an existing or similar product currently on the market. He also examined the potential composition of the product team.

Defining Product Purpose

Next, William needed to define what the product is meant to do or the problem it would solve and how it will help customers or users achieve their desired goal in using the product. This step is very important as it is only through a clear understanding of the product's purpose that management and other team members will support the idea. He needs management approval for this product to be created and development to continue.

Defining User Profile, Goals and Tasks

Once the product's purpose is clarified, William moved on to defining how the product will utilize user profiles, and help users achieve their goals and complete desired tasks by using the product.

Every user of a product has particular needs or goals which they look to getting met through the use of the product and how they want it solved. For our payment service provider example, there are some users who feel having to create an account profile on eCommerce platforms is not necessary. They want to log on as a guest and conclude their transactions semi-anonymously. Others would want to have an account profile but require less burden involved in the process. All of these users' needs have to be accommodated in a product if it is to succeed.

On the other hand, the product itself may have a goal to be achieved by requesting users to have an account profile (e.g., take care of issues resulting from transactions). The product manager needs to examine both needs and see if this can be achieved without compromising the end product's quality.

William needs to ensure that goal-related tasks are well-designed around the expected user's profile. For example, he needs to ask, ''What task can a logged on or a guest user perform on the product and how will it affect the overall product's aim and objective?''

Defining Product Principles

William needs a well-defined product principle to help drive his passion for the success of the product and its quick adoption for use by target users.

The product principles are sets of strategies, values and goals which represents the overall direction a product is heading in line with the expected user's profile. It is a value and vision which must also be bought and driven by the product team.

An example of this is when a user that wants to make a transaction on an eCommerce site without creating a user account/profile, would still expect that same transaction to be safely carried out. This same user expects his/her transaction to be simple, straight forward and secured.

Going with these expectations, a suitable product principle would be ''Safe'' and ''Simple to Use'' among other catchy phrases aimed at assuring the users of its readiness to support their expectations.

Prototyping and Test of Product Concept

At this stage, William, based on the initial product information that he's been able to come up with and working together with other members of the product team, tried to create a prototype of what the end product would look like and subject it to various tests such as the following:

Feasibility Testing

Enables investigation into whether or not the product can be built using existing technologies and manpower.

Usability Testing

Enables investigation into how users will handle the product and irons out any potential bottlenecks or missing requirements or specifications for the product.

Product Concept Testing

Helps in validating that the product specifications gathered in the PSD stage are valid goals of the product before embarking on its actual implementation.

Identifying and Questioning Assumptions

Based on the results gathered during prototyping and product concept testing, William identified and drew up a list of assumptions which needed to be questioned in order to help him and his team more closely understand the product as well as compare initial specifications to the actual situation.

Write It Down

Next, William wrote down all he had gathered so far about the product along these lines:

  • Product Purpose
  • Features
  • Release Criteria
  • Schedule

He now has a ''living'' document which can be updated with more details when the need arises.

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