Writing One-Pagers in Product Management

March 27, 2023

What is a Product One-Pager?

A one-pager lies somewhere between the spark of an idea and coming up with a detailed plan for the product. It’s a document created after research and sets the tone for a product or key feature early in the process.

One-pagers are short, space-constrained, descriptions of a proposed product plan. It is something that you can put up on a wall for everyone to see. And It takes less than 5 minutes to read. Overall, one-pagers serve to encourage crisp and clear communication, product thinking and collaboration. As with most other tools, you will know if a one-pager is working if it leads to conversations.

Why create One-Pagers?

One-pagers can help create shared understanding around value, outcomes, impact, opportunity, viability and risk. Since they are short, it is easy to consume, collaborate on and share feedback. One-pagers are no-fluff, no-spin and to the point. However, it’s important to note that one-pagers are not to be used to communicate detailed specifications, requirements, and plans.

Most startups don’t deal in the land of “sure things”. The goal is not to manufacture certainty or pitch your favorite solution. A good one-pager takes an informed perspective on risk and return. With one-pages you can:

  • Improve decision quality
  • Improve outcomes
  • Minimize risk
  • Reduce rework and thrashing
  • Reduce batch sizes
  • Facilitate cross-functional collaboration
  • Discourage opacity
  • Encourage novel solutions to problems

Best practices in creating Product One-Pagers

When creating a product one-pager that people will actually read, you should first define its purpose. Despite being concise, it is not exactly some scribbled thoughts. A compelling product one-pager can improve support and momentum for the product. It helps serve as a reference point long after the focus has shifted to development.

So, here is what makes a good one-pager:

  • Collaborative – Multiple rounds of cross-functional workshopping, and lacked clarity at some point.
  • Independently valuable – tackle one (and only one) opportunity.
  • Results oriented – Start with the desired outcome, not the output.
  • Understandable – Anyone in the company can understand it.
  • Generative – Have enough information to inspire creative problem solving.
  • Actionable – Not so open-ended that problem solvers are confused.
  • Humble – Surfaces assumptions, unknowns, questions, risks, etc.
  • Succinct – Minimal fluff, and concise.
  • Testable – Can test whether you’re on track (or not).
  • Inspiring – Gets people excited.

But there’s more to it.

1. Be concise

A one-pager, by its definition, is pretty short already. It’s always the short, to the point ones that motivate the stakeholders to take action. Nobody wants to read long, boring texts with too many details stuffed in them. The people reading these have many other things to deal with, so the information should be delivered in a simple, value-driven format. Make sure you make their time worthwhile reading it.

2. Cover the bases

Although the one-pager must be short, it cannot have any gaps or unanswered questions. Make sure it includes these:

a) The why

Why are you writing this one-pager? What are the expected results? Include this in the very beginning.

b) Success criteria

If you do this well, what are the milestones to hit for it to be called a success?

c) Backstory

You should narrate why of how you think it’s the right time for a product like this.

d) Out-of-scope items

Out of scope items can be used to specify requirements for this phase if you need it. You can limit it to related requirements which stakeholders might assume to be part of the scope. Some examples are the functionality to import data or support for a platform. It’s a good practice to highlight the areas where scope creep could be a possibility.

e) Competition

How are the competitors solving this problem? What are the solutions we must come up to generate traction? Are there other approaches that were tried before? Answer these questions plot the competitive landscape.

3. Value-driven

Product one-pages are not the same as product specs, so you don’t need to be specific about the requirements. The idea is to generate more support for the product. Focus on how the product is strategically in line with the company’s bigger goals. If the requirements don’t overlap with the focus areas of the company, it’s tougher to get the necessary resources. The product one-pager can also hint at what the organization will be missing out on if they don’t pursue this.

For example, lagging behind competitors, churn, and technical debt. This way, a one-pager helps you capture the opportunity before it’s late.

4. Based on facts and data

One-pagers don’t have much room for fluff. Every line should be based on facts and data. Even if the one-pager does not have the supporting evidence, it helps align your information in the right direction. Equally important is for the one-pager to have rational, achievable outcomes. The product team should be able to stand by these outcomes throughout the product lifecycle. These goals may not be expansive but the expectation setting will help make the product successful.

5. Tell the story

A one-pager does not have place for everything. So, a good one-pager should tell a compelling story. The storyline follows a similar arc but the finer details vary a lot. This is followed by market research and customer research. Next, explain the proposed solution for the identified problem. You can also outline how the idea will fit into the present competitive landscape. End your story with what happens with the implementation of this idea in terms of impact on users and the company.

Product One-pager Templates

  1. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1541V32QgSwyCFWxtiMIThn-6n-2s7fVWztEWVa970uo/edit
  2. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1X0S6VuRkvyM7B6yGHhbytYC1Tj9byRqB1ULBC-ySsJ0/edit#heading=h.gjdgxs (6 Pager, but definitely deserves a place)
  3. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1G3Qrsnp_QyV7twNvKwGc_oir8jBAJ6pd0yyJkUTMTnk/edit#heading=h.9mazvlhmsilr
  4. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1B3GEUwgEIIQVgRp85l4DKLZOTzgGZmBIAjR06p4wuwY/edit#
  5. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1xc9TZX-7NMfOykzFKR0o0jzTUygoAFzWadxDVR7sNvs/edit
  6. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1LS_wnRwQLF65ZqqhtFf2m7UUdhtYKNKEgHa7ad3z-Yk/edit#

One-pager Examples

  1. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1lGUTukK0b5Jp-nikMl7yBUaDxKVpgj77tUn4UF-vsaU/edit

Recommended Reading

  1. http://blog.idonethis.com/managers-write/
  2. https://medium.com/@johnpcutler/great-one-pagers-592ebbaf80ec


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