The Importance of Product Management Documentation for Product Development

Product management is a complex process that begins with ideation and ends in the commercialization of a new product. Product managers will have different responsibilities depending on their company and industry. 

Some organizations may even choose to partner with a product management consulting firm or build their own product team in-house. However, one idea remains true: efficient and organized product management is key to a successful product. And the key to organized product management is product management documentation.

This article discusses the definition and importance of product management documentation and the various tools companies use to accomplish it.

What is product management documentation?

In essence, product management documentation means taking charge of the documentary evidence needed in every step of the product management process. Since product management requires significant research and constant testing, keeping track of findings is essential. Core documents in the product management documentation process include the product development strategy, customer journey maps, product specifications, and business cases. 

Documentation requirements are different from one stage of the product development life cycle to another. They also differ in terms of the stakeholders involved and the origin and recipient of the information. The following are the general categories of documentation based on source and recipient. 

Documentation from executives to frame product management

Product management documentation traditionally begins with the individuals that plan and conceptualize a product and the resources needed to develop it. Product development strategy and product portfolio maps are most important in this stage.

Product Development Strategy

A product development strategy is a subset of corporate strategy that ensures product offerings are customer-centric, profitable, and competitive. Product development strategy does not only involve new products. It can also be used to optimize existing products for current customers. It may also cover making new products or adding new features to target adjacent customers. Finally, product development strategy is also used in inventions that cater to markets that do not yet exist. 

An effective product development strategy starts with proper market research and product planning. Constant and thorough product testing is also necessary. If a good product development strategy is in place, clients are satisfied, and competitors are challenged.

Product Portfolio Maps

Product development projects involve incremental improvements to existing products or entirely new products. Specifically, products may be organized based on the following categories:

  1. Core products – Core products cater to existing customers. 
  2. Adjacent products – Adjacent products are meant to penetrate a new market. Adjacent innovations may involve either market risk or product risk. They may or may not involve a substantial modification to existing offerings. . 
  3. Transformational products – A transformational product involves innovations in both products and markets. In other words, they are new products that target new customers. They pose the highest risk but also offer the highest return.

A product portfolio map is used to strategically allocate funds for marketing, research, and development. It determines an appropriate mix of risk and reward informed by a firm’s overall corporate strategy. The product portfolio map pictures investments according to market and product risk. It is meant to help a company adjust its portfolio based on its strategy and risk tolerance. The product portfolio investment map allows your business to evaluate the risk and return for different product categories so that you may allocate your resources accordingly. 

Documentation originating from the users

Information from and about customers is also part of product management documentation. It comes in the form of customer journey maps, personas, and customer requirements.

Customer Journey Maps

The customer journey map visualizes a customer’s experience with a product. To accurately reflect the customer journey, these maps gather and analyze data about past, present, and prospective customers. A customer journey map gives insights into the needs and concerns of clients and prospects. Ultimately, it improves customer experience, leading to higher conversion rates, and better customer retention.

Note that customer journey maps are often not linear, and a company is expected to have more than one journey map. Typically, a customer journey map revolves around customer milestones such as Awareness, Consideration, Decision, Service, and Loyalty. Variations of the customer journey are common, but the general path is more or less the same. For example, the customer learns about or needs a product, thinks about it, purchases it, and then uses it. A customer journey map usually lists these stages horizontally. The vertical axis usually includes user actions, emotions, experiences, and solutions.

Personas

Personas, or user personas, are archetypes that represent the characteristics and goals of your current or ideal customers. Personas are built through user research and analysis of demographic and psychographic data. User personas are semi-fictional, and they are used to identify the various ways that people find, buy, and use your products. Potential barriers to your semi-fictional user persona’s goals should also be identified. 

Coupled with accurate customer journey maps, user personas can boost an organization’s product development effectiveness by making clients’ wants and needs the center of the company’s offerings.

Customer Requirements

Customer requirements are features or specifications of products or services that customers deem necessary. These features are so important that they would motivate clients or prospects to make a purchase. However, these requirements change as new trends and technologies appear.

Companies determine customer requirements by researching their target market. Research methods may include directly asking customers for feedback through surveys.

Documentation from the Product Manager to the team

The product manager needs to communicate information not only to customers and prospects but also to the teams in charge of making or improving products. Relevant documents in this stage include epics, user stories, product requirements and specifications, and business cases.

Epics and User Stories

User stories and epics are terms used in agile development. Epics are major tasks broken down into more specific ones, called user stories. Epics and user stories are dependent on the needs of customers. Epics share a broad business objective called a theme. User stories require one to four weeks of work (called an agile sprint). On the other hand, epics are done in several sprints. 

Themes, epics, and user stories are crucial to accomplishing a company’s goals. This method of breaking down broad goals into small, actionable steps improves decision-making, performance monitoring, timeline planning, and general focus.

Product Requirements Documents

A product manager writes  a product requirements document (PRD) to identify the value and purpose of a product or feature. The PRD determines what the product is, whom it is for, and how users benefit from it. Writing a PRD starts with an overall vision, which is then tied to specific goals and features that serve to accomplish that vision. 

While epics are associated with agile development, PRDs are linked to the waterfall development methodology, a sequential method of planning, building, and delivering new products. Nonetheless, a PRD can be helpful in both waterfall and agile environments as it informs the development and testing teams about the capabilities included in a product.

Product Specifications

Product specifications, also called product specs, describe what a product will be, its appearance, and its functions. The product specifications document may also include information about the target audience and how to measure the product’s success. The product specs document lets the product development team know what product they need to build. A product spec may also be used when developing new features or functionalities. Product specs must be simple enough to be understood by all employees who will read them, not just the development team.

Business Cases

A business case provides reasons for starting and continuing a project or program. While business cases are usually made in the earliest stages of project management and development, they are often reviewed and revised over the course of the project. A business case identifies product benefits, costs, and risks of alternative options and explains why a certain solution was ultimately chosen. As product development progresses, the business case becomes a record of options considered and taken, along with the rationale and evidence to support those decisions. The business case is presented to the project sponsor and other interested parties for approval.

Go To Market (GTM) & Launch Plans

Before launching a product, you need sound go-to-market and launch plans. A go-to-market (GTM) strategy is used to define your target customers, coordinate your marketing plan, and formulate your sales strategy. Your GTM plan should identify and respond to a market problem. The GTM plan aligns business units and positions your product for a successful launch.

A launch plan (or product launch plan), on the other hand, is a blueprint for introducing a new product or service to customers, partners, and employees. Without a solid product launch plan, you risk missing your profitability goals. A launch plan is often treated as a subset of the general marketing plan, and it is used to execute your GTM strategy. Thus, your launch plans should determine specific activities, persons in charge, and due dates. 

Types of product management documentation

The types of product management documents that managers spend time on can also be divided according to stages of the product development process. For example, documents that are relevant to the product strategy stage include the following:

  1. Competitive analysis – This document provides a deeper insight into competitors’ products, services, and processes. It is used to identify rival companies’ strengths and weaknesses so that your business can improve its products and processes.
  2. Business case – A business case is used to solicit funding for a product. It outlines the benefits, costs, and risks of starting and continuing a project. 
  3. Market needs or Market Requirements Document (MRD) – The market requirements document presents customer needs. It determines what the market need or problem is, who experiences it, and when it arises. This helps companies create products that answer those needs.
  4. Product strategy documentation – The product strategy documents include product planning and market research. These documents are used to ensure that products become profitable to the company and helpful to customers.
  5. Product requirements and product spec – The product requirements document (PRD) identifies the purpose, benefits, and capabilities. Meanwhile, the product specifications document includes specific details about a product’s functions and appearance. The product spec and product requirements document help guide the development team.
  6. Roadmap – A product roadmap specifies the direction or evolution of a specific product over time. It is used to document and present the long-term changes in product strategy and features. Roadmaps are composed of milestones and a set timeframe.

Meanwhile, documents that are necessary to the product execution stage include:

  1. Beta program plan – A beta program is a series of tests that determine whether or not a product can deliver its promised value proposition. A beta program plan identifies the program’s goals, participants, budget, schedule, and success criteria. The results of the beta program will be used to decide on modifications and repairs before releasing the final product. 
  2. User journey or user stories – User journeys or user stories are based on plausible use scenarios. These scenarios help companies optimize their products with end-users characteristics and concerns in mind.
  3. Go-to-market (GTM) strategy – A go-to-market or GTM strategy clarifies a product’s target market and its corresponding sales and marketing strategy. 
  4. Marketing and launch plans – Launch plans execute the GTM strategy by successfully introducing a product to company employees, clients, and partners. 
  5. Product End of Life (EOL) plan – An EOL plan is used when retiring a product from the market. “Retiring” a product may involve pulling the product from the market entirely or replacing it with a new version. This plan is essential for assessing and addressing the costs, risks, and other implications of pulling out a product.

Tools and resources for product management documentation

Tools for product management documentation collect, organize, analyze, and present information at the various stages of product management. 

  • Tools for collecting information – These tools collect information about clients’ and prospects’ opinions, preferences, behaviors, and qualities. These include customer surveys, user tracking and analysis tools, session replays, heatmaps, and feature flagging software. Customer surveys are straightforward tools that solicit client feedback, ratings, and suggestions. User tracking and analysis tools can be used to monitor the clicking, scrolling, and viewing behaviors of website visitors. Session replay tools recreate a user’s journey on your website while heatmaps graphically represent users’ on-site behavior. Heatmaps visualize the “hot” (popular) and “cold” (unpopular) areas and elements of a website. Feature flagging software is used to “turn on” or “turn off” specific features in situations like A/B testing and introducing a new product feature. 
  • Tools for organizing information – These include document templates, road mapping, project management, flowcharting, and data storage tools. Document templates help product managers save time by establishing the key elements and structure of relevant documents. Roadmapping and project management tools are essential to outlining general and specific aims, tasks, roles, and schedules in product development. Flowcharting tools, on the other hand, are especially useful for creating customer journey maps. Data storage tools store all relevant documents and files in one place.
  • Tools for analyzing information – These tools are used to dig deeper into the data that was previously collected and organized using other software. Some data collection tools have built-in analytics, but analytics tools may also include other technologies for collaboration and brainstorming. 
  • Tools for presenting information – These tools are meant to make raw data or analytics easy to read and present to other individuals, including those who belong to the product management team and those who do not. These include tools for data visualization or diagramming and presentation. 

A wide range of product management documentation tools are available and may not have been covered above. Tools used for product management documentation vary based on the types of products and the companies doing the documentation.

Key Takeaway 

Product management documentation is a way to record, organize, and optimize the process of building and delivering a new product. In addition, these documents are a way to keep track of the origins, progress, and future directions of certain products. Without organized product management documentation, confusion and inconsistency will arise within the product development team. This is also likely to affect other stakeholders and parties, including end-users and sponsors. 

Fortunately, there are many resources and tools you can use to make product management documentation easier, faster, and more efficient. You can also connect with the TCGen team if you need further assistance with product management documentation.