Writing by Peter Hilton

Write a three-part product definition

How to set the context for your product story - 08 January 2020 #product

Three nesting dolls

unsplash-logoBlake Weyland

Product management relies on effective communication, which starts with setting the context for your product, both internally and in product marketing. Without this context, you risk launching into product value and benefits before anyone knows what you mean.

Set the context for talking about your product, so that your story has a well-defined protagonist:

  1. Write a one-sentence description (see the previous article)
  2. Identify the product audience
  3. Highlight what the product gives that audience

Leave the remarkable and unique for later. You can build the rest of your product story on these base layers.

Identify the product audience

Choosing who to build a product for determines a lot about what kind of product you build. This means, in turn, that saying who you designed your product for helps explain what you built. This sometimes starts with an industry-focus: the previous article used the example of Customer relationship management (CRM) software for retail.

User-centred product design will de-emphasise building CRM for retail in favour of building software for people who work in the industry. You didn’t build your product for every employee, so you can communicate more context by saying that you designed the product for sales teams, compliance officers, or engineers, say, as in the following examples (emphasis mine).

Zendesk Sell is sales force automation software to enhance productivity, processes, and pipeline visibility for sales teams. (Zendesk)

TimeKeeper Compliance is an augmented clock sync compliance software tool for compliance officers and auditors (FSMTime)

Enterprise kanban for engineers. (LeanKit)

Most products segment their markets, and focus on one or two segments (groups of people). Include this segmentation in your product definition, to reflect that product focus, by naming the relevant teams, roles or personas.

Highlight what the product gives that audience

After starting with a one-sentence description, and identifying the audience, you can add the third thing: one or more key product capabilities, as in the following example.

Salesforce is a customer relationship management solution that brings companies and customers together. It’s one integrated CRM platform that gives all your departments — including marketing, sales, commerce, and service — a single, shared view of every customer. (Salesforce, emphasis mine)

Different teams, roles and personas have different needs. Examples of how the product meets those needs consolidate the context that you set by identifying the product’s audience.

Leave the remarkable and unique for later

Writing a good product definition tests your ability to write concisely, which makes writing 280-character social media posts great practice. This brevity means omitting everything remarkable and unique about your product, but only for now: they come next.

The product definition resembles the set-up for a joke. The value proposition is the punchline.