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  2. How to write a great product specification sheet (for beginners)

How to write a great product specification sheet (for beginners)

Georgina Guthrie

Georgina Guthrie

June 01, 2022

You’re about to launch a new product. Congratulations! A product release is an exciting time. If everything goes well, this could mean a bright future for you and your business.

But hold on just one second

A lot can go wrong. And if you aren’t careful, your product could end up being a flop. In fact, according to research, around 95% of new products fail.

So, how do you make sure your creation is successful? One way is by writing a clear and concise product specification sheet.

Product specifications are basically a blueprint for your product. They detail what the product should do, how it should look, and what materials you’ll need.

By having a detailed, well-written product specification, you can avoid potential problems and keep everyone on the same page.

Sounds easy enough, right? Well,…yes and no.

There’s a lot to consider when writing product specifications. So, in this article, we’ll give you a crash course on everything you need to know, including what product specs are, why they’re important, and what your document should include. Ready? Let’s dive in.

What is a product specification sheet?

Product specifications (sometimes called ‘product specs’ or just ‘specs’) are a document outlining all the important details about a product. This can include information about the product’s construction, what it’s used for, how it works, dimensions, and more.

Product specs can apply to physical products, digital products, or even services. If you were designing a new smartphone, the specs would describe the phone’s size, screen, storage capacity, and camera configurations.

If you were creating a new website, your product specs might include information about the site’s layout, functionality, and design. And if you were launching a new business service, your product specs would outline what the service offers, how it functions, and the type of support it would need.

In short, product specifications are a way to clearly communicate your product vision. That way, everyone involved in its creation will have accurate information.

A spec sheet should be customer-focused, concise, and thorough. It should also answer three key questions:

  1. What are we building, and why?
  2. What does this new product or feature achieve?
  3. How do we measure success?

Why are product specifications important?

Product specifications help ensure the product meets your vision — and the needs of your customers.

By having a well-written product specification sheet, you can avoid pitfalls and help the entire organization understand the product goals.

Let’s say you’re launching a new website. You might have a general idea of what you want the site to look like. However, without a product specification, it can be hard to communicate your vision to the developers building it.

Or, let’s say you’re launching a new business service. Again, you might have a general idea of what the service should do. Without a product specification, your vision might not be clear to the stakeholders who will fund it.

In all of the above cases, having a great product specification sheet can help to prevent misunderstandings and ensure the final product meets everyone’s expectations — yours included.

What should a project specification sheet include?

  • Product summary: describe what the product is, what it does, and why it’s needed. Put time and thought into this section because you’ll need it again for the project charter.
  • Features and requirements list: explain what the product can do, how it will work, and what materials you’ll need to make it.
  • Development and delivery timeline: include information about development, milestones, and delivery deadlines.
  • Development and delivery budget: detail how much money you’re willing to spend on developing and launching the product.
  • Risks and challenges list: provide a breakdown of potential risks or challenges that could occur during the product development or launch. This could be a standalone list or a summary of your more comprehensive risk register.
  • Business case: briefly outline the product’s benefits and projected earnings.
  • User stories: user stories describe the functionality of a product from the perspective of the user. Here’s a sample user story for a website: ‘As a busy shopper, I want to be able to find product information quickly.’
  • User personas: personas are fictional profiles representing your target audience. A sample user persona might be: ‘John, a 25-year-old male who is looking for information about baking.’
  • Functional specs: functional specs provide a more technical product description, including how it works and required materials and support.
  • Non-functional specs: non-functional specs offer a general product description, including details about what the product is, what it does, and why it’s needed.
  • Product spec design: it’s important to include some design elements in your product specifications, so the developers have a clear idea of the goals. Design specs could include wireframes, mockups, or a general description of the product’s look and feel. This is also helpful when explaining the project to stakeholders, as images es are easier to understand than technical data.

How to create a product specification document

Now that you know what to include in product specs, let’s take a look at how to write one.

1. Define the problem you’re solving

Before you start writing your specification, it’s important to take a step back and think about the problem you’re trying to address. Again, let’s consider the example of launching a new website.

The first step is to define the user needs you want to fulfill. Maybe, your current website is outdated, doesn’t reflect your current brand identity, or isn’t easy for visitors to navigate.

2. Do your research

Once you’ve defined the problem, doing research will help you to understand your target audience and what they’re looking for in a website.

In our example, you would research the target audience to understand their demographics, what kind of content they currently enjoy, and the designs they prefer. The product is for them, after all. The more you can learn about their needs, the better.

3. Write a clear, concise summary

After you’ve done your research, the next step is to write a clear, concise summary of your product goals. For instance, a basic spec summary for a website might go something like this:

We will create a modern website that’s easy to use and relevant to 20- to 30-year-olds. The goal is to provide the user with the information they’re looking for as quickly and intuitively as possible.

4. Include a timeline

Always include a timeline for the development and delivery of the product. Although the timeline could change, it’s important to set realistic expectations from the start and focus on managing progress throughout.

In our example, you might include information about when you need the wireframes and first mock-ups, the target completion date, and the amount of time you’re willing to spend on development and delivery.

5. Include a budget

Including a budget is also important, as you’ll need to manage costs. To get ongoing support from stakeholders, you’ll also have to communicate the benefits of developing the product.

In our example, you might include information about the maximum budget and projected ROI for the website.

6. Pick which product specifications to include

After you explain the core summary, timing, and budget for the product, it’s time to start writing user stories and functional specifications for your product. In other words, you have to think more deeply about the specific user goals you’re trying to satisfy and make it clear how the product will deliver on those expectations.

In our example, you might start with a user story like ‘As a user, I want to be able to easily find and buy black sneakers.’

7. Run user tests

Creating a prototype or MVP and testing it with actual users will help you launch a product that meets user needs. You also want the user experience to be easy and straightforward.

Cognitive walkthroughs are a popular way to test websites. These tests involve trying to complete common tasks or engaging with a product feature as if you were a real user. As you go through the site, you note down any areas where you have difficulty or encounter anything that’s unclear.

8. Get feedback and run iterative cycles

After running user tests, it’s time to gather feedback and apply this newly acquired information to improve your product. Based on the data you receive, you might make changes to the product design, functionality, or content.

In our example, this might involve making a shorter checkout, adding more payment options, changing the layout, or making the navigation more user-friendly.

9. Launch your product

Once you’re happy with the product, it’s time to launch it! The release is where your hard work comes together and your product is finally available to the public.

For a website, you’d launch the product by making it live on a web server and promoting it on social media and beyond.

10. Gather post-launch feedback

Even after you’ve launched your product, it’s important to continue gathering feedback. This will help you improve the product over time and keep it in line with user needs.

Common ways to do this include conducting surveys and monitoring user behavior on the website via heat mapping and A/B tests.

Product specs: best practice tips and tricks

  • When writing product specs, it’s important to use clear and concise language. The aim is to communicate the requirements of the product, not to impress with fancy words or jargon. Keep the needs of your audience in mind, and write for them.
  • Don’t forget that a product specification is a living document. You need to update it as the product evolves.
  • Make sure everyone working on the product has access to the specifications. It’s vital for everyone to work from the same instructions, so the product is developed according to the specifications. Surprises have no place in the world of product development!
  • Keep it customer-focused. A product specification shouldn’t be a laundry list of your dream features or future goals way down the road. Think about what you need to accomplish to satisfy users and launch the product within your target timeline.
  • Use tools that are up to the job. Project management software that’s specifically built for developers, like Backlog, makes it easy to track and manage product specifications. They include features like user story mapping, kanban boards, and real-time notifications that help everyone stay on the same page.

Backlog Gantt chart example
Backlog, our own project management tool, contains interactive Gantt charts, SVN and Git repositories, drag-and-drop files, history threads, and more.

Final thoughts

Creating a product specification sheet is a daunting task, but it’s important to get it right. By following our tips and using project management tools to stay on track, you’ll be able to create a document that defines your product in a way everyone can understand. Armed with this document, your team will have the best possible chance of product launch success. Good luck!

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