How to Write a Product One-Pager People Will Actually Read

When asking yourself how you can write a product one-pager that people will actually read, it’s important to note its purpose. Somewhere between coming up with an idea and creating detailed project plans lies the product one-pager. Despite its brevity, it is far from a scribbled thought exercise. It is a well-researched document that sets the tone for a product or major feature early on in its lifecycle.

A compelling product one-pager can build support and momentum for the initiative. It can serve as a reference point long after the attention has shifted to coding and UX and QA. It can also kill a new initiative.

So, what makes a one-pager great? Let’s begin by discussing why you need one of these at all.

3 Reasons to Write a Product One-Pager

In an era when so many documents are replaced with collaborative digital systems for communicating, why did this particular analog artifact remain relevant and useful?

The discussion to establish a common understanding of basic facts and principles has become more challenging. A properly-constructed product one-pager can bridge gaps and build support by setting the scene for stakeholders.

1. Build support for an initiative.

A product one-pager makes a case for why the organization should get behind a new undertaking. It explains the basic intentions of the initiatives and outlines how its success can benefit the organization.

It provides context about the opportunity and competitive landscape to instill confidence in the decision-maker. By laying out the fundamentals, there’s adequate information and mutual understanding to move forward.

2. Define the scope.

Many stakeholders are hesitant to move forward on something new without knowing what all it entails. A one-pager spells out what’s included in the initiatives and—just as importantly—what’s not.

Articulating these critical details gives decision-makers more certainty on what they’re supporting. It provides a continual reference point throughout the project’s life, establishing guidelines about what’s in or out.

3. Define success.

A product one-pager establishes upfront the “why” of a given initiative and what the organization should expect as a result.

Individual metrics and targets aren’t defined at this phase. There should be enough specificity to help the implementation team gauge if they’re on the right track. Additionally, stakeholders use the one-pager to check in on the initiative.

5 Characteristics of a Winning Product One-Pager

What separates a stellar one-pager from another exercise in documentation? Here are five things to keep in mind while you’re authoring one of these pivotal briefs for your product.

1. Brevity

A one-pager, by definition, is already pretty short. Ones that stand out and motivate stakeholders are a masterclass in brevity. Even a single sheet of paper can feel like a slog to get through if it’s too dense and overstuffed with detail.

Executives have a lot on their plates. They need information delivered in bite-sized, value-packed chunks so they can assess, make a decision, and move on.

Be respectful of their time. Remember, your initiative is one of many things they’re thinking about.

2. Cover the bases

Although it must be short and sweet, your product one-pager also can’t have any glaring holes or major unanswered questions. It should always include these elements:

  • Goal

    Why are you proposing this? What do you hope to achieve? Note that this is different from product or corporate goals and specific to this initiative’s “why.”

  • Definition of success

    If we do this (and do it well), what are the requirements to consider this endeavor successful?

  • Backstory

    This should answer some supporting “why” questions, including why there’s a need/opportunity, why now is the right time to start this, and why your company/product is positioned to be successful.

  • Must-have items

    While this shouldn’t list every requirement, what’s mandatory in version 1.0 for this initiative to achieve the goal and success criteria previously laid out. This will also help stakeholders get a better sense of how big an undertaking this project might be.

  • Out-of-scope items

    While this mustn’t be a comprehensive list, this is where you can specify the requirements for this phase (or at all). Limit this to related requirements that stakeholders might assume would be part of the scope. Such as being able to import data or supporting a particular platform. It should highlight areas where scope creep could become an issue.

  • Competition

    How is this problem solved now? How are current competitors dealing with this issue? What must rival solutions be overcome to achieve adequate market share? Are there alternative technologies/approaches that others have considered or tried? What’s the current market share? Answering these questions shows that you’ve done your homework and defines the landscape.

  • Key timing elements

    While it’s premature for a project plan or schedule, there may be a key driver to get this new initiative done by a certain time. A few exampled include a strategic industry event, a contractual deadline for a customer, a seasonal window of opportunity, or even needing to replace a failing internal system. Stakeholders need to know if there’s any urgency or particular time frames to keep in mind.

3. Impact-centric

Product one-pagers are not product specs, so you don’t need to list many requirements. The point here is to drum up support for the initiative. The takeaway is why this is a great thing for the organization versus how it will work or what it might look like.

Keep the focus on strategic alignment and how a successful implementation can drive key metrics the company cares about. If there’s no overlap with areas of concentration for the organization, it’s unlikely to warrant the required resources.

It can also indicate what the organization is missing out on if they don’t pursue this project. Examples include falling behind competitors, losing key customers, or crippled with technical debt. No one wants to realize they missed out on a major opportunity when it’s too late to do anything about it.

4. A well-researched case

The product one-pager itself doesn’t have much room for exposition. Every claim, assumption, and prediction is grounded in facts and data. Even when this supporting evidence isn’t in the one-pager, the hypotheses and outcomes referenced will be realistic. They should stand up to any inevitable challenges down the line.

Just as important, the project proposed in them product one-pager needs sober, rational expected outcomes. Outcomes the product team can stand behind at both the initiative’s start and throughout its lifetime. Those goals may not be quite as lofty or expansive. But setting expectations will pay dividends for both the success of the project and your own credibility.

5. Storytelling

A single page does not have much space for a complex narrative. A compelling one-pager must tell an inspiring story. They all follow a similar arc, although the details and specifics can vary wildly.

In short, you set the stage with the current state of things. You then identify a market need based on customer research. Next, you briefly outline the proposed solution or tactic to address this need.

From there, you explain why this solution will fill the need and how it fits into the larger competitive landscape. Wrap up your tale with what a successful implementation and rollout will mean in terms of impact. The organization has prioritized advancing the product or corporate strategy and influencing any KPIs or other metrics.

Laying a Foundation for Future Success

These bite-sized business cases do set a tone for the initiative’s future.

In any given year, you may only have a few turns at the plate to push a large new project. When the opportunity arises, it’s worth investing the time and effort to distill everything down into a crystal clear proposition for stakeholders.