What is a PRD? A Beginner’s Guide to the Product Requirements Document

Profile image of Joana Pereira, CareerFoundry blog author

PRDs, or Product Requirement Documents, are some of the key elements of product management. Understanding the full PRD meaning can help you get the most out of them.

Depending on the type of company you might be working at, they may even be a fairly standard document type. Or your company may be transitioned to something else: either way, chances are that at some point in your PM career, someone will ask you what you want to build and why. And ultimately, that’s the key question a PRD is trying to answer.

If you’d like to skip ahead to a certain section, just use the clickable menu:

  1. What is a PRD meaning
  2. Why are PRDs useful?
  3. How to create a PRD: A step-by-step guide
  4. PRD vs MRD

Are you ready to get into it? Then let’s begin!

1. What is a PRD meaning 

In its strictest form, the PRD is a legacy of the heydays of Waterfall Software Development.

In those pre-Agile days, it would not be an uncommon expectation to spend years doing research on a given product, pour out all the findings onto a mammoth 40- to 100-page document, and only then start any kind of development.

What does PRD stand for? 

To put it very simply, PRD stands for Product Requirement Document.

What’s more, once such powerful documents had been unleashed, they were considered to be done. It wouldn’t be considered acceptable to alter them, even if one or more of the underlying factors which may have contributed to it might have changed in the meantime. 

To top it all off, back in the day, this type of document, which would have been combed together by business managers or even marketing managers, would effectively deem any kind of communication between engineering and the rest of the business unnecessary, and perhaps even undesirable. 

Engineers would make what they were being asked to, often according to minute instructions, but would have little or no insight as to why.

Unsurprisingly, once the Agile movement took off, this model of work became outdated. But the PRD itself has survived, even if its original shape might have been substantially trimmed down. 

2. Why are PRDs useful? 

In its essence, the meaning of a PRD has not changed even as Agile may have become the predominant way of building products: it was and remains a piece of documentation where the needs of a business, or of a specific product, are written down. 

From a product manager’s perspective, the PRD may no longer be the culmination of years of work, but it is not something which needs to be discarded altogether either. 

PRDs do still have a part to play when it comes to non-Agile organizations, as well as any organization where there is a considerable distance and disconnect between technical and non-technical stakeholders, or highly hierarchical organizations. 

PRD advantages

  • Serves as a good alignment document in strategy or prioritization processes
  • Demands that the PM articulate very clearly what might be built and why
  • For development teams, taking part in putting together a PRD might help bring visibility to the amount of effort required to build something

PRD disadvantages

  • Stakeholders might mistake a PRD for a commitment document or a burn down chart
  • The existence of a PRD might lock both the PM and the development team into a particular solution
  • Continuous discovery might be discouraged in settings where PRDs are used (after all, your discovery was enough to put together a requirements document!)

In more Agile organizations, you may find modern versions of PRDs in software tools such as JIRA, which provides a much more flexible way of both compiling a PRD and also update it. 

3. How to create a PRD: A step-by-step guide

While different companies use different templates to write their PRDs, there are some common elements which should be included no matter what. 

Step One: Create some context for your PRD

This might be done by clearly mentioning the product that the feature will be a part of, as well as the company’s vision and mission. Ensure that any readers will be able to see a common thread between all these elements. 

Step Two: Provide a structured description of what you intend to build

Ideally this section will have enough technical detail to make it tangible, but not so much that it becomes unreadable for the Sales and Marketing teams to understand. PRDs are most effective when kept short, so try to limit this to a maximum of three paragraphs. 

Step Three: Clearly mention all resources that would be required

This is in case the feature were to be built. By “resources”, this should include both people (e.g., how many developers would be required and which skills they should possess, as well as any software tools requiring additional budget)

Step Four: Add an indicative timeline

(emphasis on the “indicative”) This is not meant to be a commitment set in stone.

Step Five: Prepare to present your PRD

Steps 1-5 were just the starting point. Your PRD is likely to undergo multiple revisions and updates, based on stakeholder input. 

4. PRD vs MRD

What is the difference between a Product Requirements Document and a Marketing Requirements Document?

Well, they complement each other. The MRD is focused on assessing the market size of the opportunity, whereas the PRD describes how that opportunity will be addressed through a given product.

Typically, the product manager would work on the PRD, while the PMM (Product Marketing Manager) would work on a MRD. In smaller organizations, the same person might actually be charged with producing both. 

5. Wrap-up

PRDs have been around for a while and have over time shown up in different forms.

They’ve mostly evolved from very long, very detailed instruction manuals into living documents that create a lot more transparency between the various company functions.

Ultimately, product managers are bound to find themselves working on some sort of PRD or other, so learning about it is and will continue to be a part of a PM’s job. 

If you’re looking to become a product manager, then learning this skill is important. That’s why as part of the CareerFoundry Intro to Product Management Course, students will tackle the PRD and the key elements which go into it as part of their first steps into the field.

Ready to continue your journey into product management? Here are some more articles to tackle next: 

What You Should Do Now

  1. Get a hands-on introduction to product management with a free, self-paced short course made up of 5 short tutorials.

  2. Take part in one of our FREE live online product manager events with industry experts, or check out CareerFoundry graduate Farley’s product management portfolio project.

  3. Become a qualified product manager in 3-6 months—backed by the CareerFoundry job guarantee.

  4. New year, new career! This January, we’re offering 100 partial scholarships worth up to $1,535 off our career change programs 🚀 Book your application call today!

What is CareerFoundry?

CareerFoundry is an online school for people looking to switch to a rewarding career in tech. Select a program, get paired with an expert mentor and tutor, and become a job-ready designer, developer, or analyst from scratch, or your money back.

Learn more about our programs