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Product Narrative - A key document for new product's success

Updated: Aug 22, 2021

When developing smaller products or features, usually the Product Opportunity Assessment document is created during product discovery. But when developing a new product or a major feature where the effort and financial stakes are very high, this is often not sufficient to make the decision of whether to build the product or not. This is where a product narrative would be of tremendous help.

The product narrative is by no means a specification document explaining the features of the product. It rather explains why the product needs to be built in the first place and how it is adding value to the customer and to the business. It can act as an important element of the Product Discovery process.

Writing a good product narrative needs deep thinking. A well-written product narrative gives a clear vision for the product and provides inspiration and gets the team excited to build the product. Typically the product manager creates and presents this document to the key stakeholders.

Once this document is created, a copy of it is sent to all key stakeholders, and are invited to a meeting to discuss, have questions and get feedback. All attendees to the meeting are expected to read the document before the presenter presents the topic. This helps in making the meeting productive by making the attendees more ready for the topic details and raise the right questions.

Amazon, which is one of the most innovative companies in the world creates product narratives for all new product initiatives. They call this technique - "Working Backwards".

This is how it is done - Before deciding on developing any new product, a product narrative in the form of an imaginary press release is created. In this document, they imagine that the product has already been developed. The document is like a press release addressing to the general public what the product is, who the target customers are, what problem it is solving and how it is going to add value to them.

This process often helps to clarify key questions which wouldn’t have been thought of prior. Many long-time Amazon product managers also agree that writing things down in this fashion clears their own thoughts and questions about the product. To find out more about Amazon's Working backwards process and an example template of an imaginary press release, you can refer to this article from an ex-Amazonian Ian McAllister.

Another extension to this is developed at Nordstorm. Instead of an imaginary press release, they make the narrative in the form of an imaginary Customer letter written by a very happy and impressed key user/customer persona. This letter is more of an appreciation letter written by the customer to the CEO of the product’s company, explaining how the product has added value to them and what kind of benefits they are getting by using their product.

The document also includes an imagined message from the CEO to the product team congratulating them and explaining how the product has helped the business.

Making decisions is not easy, especially when the stakes are high involving millions of dollars. Product Narrative can be a game-changing tool to make the right decisions.

Have you used product narratives at your company? Please share your thoughts in the comments section.

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