As a product leader, I have been using PR/FAQ in some form with my teams since about 2016. While I’m heartened that there is now a robust body of work describing the artifact, there is much less information about when and how to use it effectively in practice. That is what I intend to convey in this article.
Basics: What is a PR/FAQ and What is Its Purpose?
A PR/FAQ is a strawman press release to describe a product or feature that you could imagine would be issued on launch day. In my mind, there are three primary reasons to use the PR/FAQ as a high-level “spec”:
- Force PM to keep ideas customer-facing and put value proposition, benefits, and value at the forefront, rather than focusing on technical implementation.
- Describe ideas in a concise way and level the playing field for idea consideration. Written narratives have higher information density than PowerPoint, particularly when coupled with careful word choice that can impart a lot of meaning. Using narratives also increases the level of inclusion on a product team. Not everyone is a great PowerPoint presenter, and many presenters can bury rough areas of an idea behind flashy slides, thus hiding true and honest consideration of an idea. The narrative format ensures that, in a review session, the focus is on the idea rather than the presenter, which also means that presenters are less likely to become defensive about their ideas. Less defensiveness about ideas also means more ideas bloom, which is a fundamental underpinning of an innovation culture.
- It becomes a reusable communication instrument to explain an initiative to the rest of the company. Instead of having to answer the same questions in a multitude of forums about an initiative, it’s now possible to send the same document to many constituents thereby reducing the load on PMs. Specifically, product marketing can use a high-quality PR/FAQ as a “fan out” to drive other activities they may need to do, such as updating campaigns, sales collateral, sales plays, etc.
What Does a PR/FAQ Look Like?
I ask my teams to adhere to a rigorous template for the PR/FAQ which is extremely similar to the format recommended in the book Working Backwards by Colin Bryar and Bill Carr. There are reasons for this rigor, so I would recommend not trying to skip elements, particularly in the PR section. Personally, I find that the temptation to skip something indicates that I haven’t fully thought through the idea. This is particularly true for the canned customer quotes. It’s a litmus test for how well you have solved a customer’s pain point if you can literally come up with a believable thing that they would say upon receiving the product or feature.
The template also has guidance on word length, purpose of each paragraph, and so on, so I won’t repeat that information here.
What is the Best Time to Use PR/FAQs in the Discovery and Development Process?
Broadly speaking, a PR/FAQ is an artifact best used as a checkpoint when an idea is “complete enough”, i.e., a PM has moderate-to-high level of confidence that they’ve done sufficient customer development/discovery to propose an idea. The notion of “complete enough” is left to the individual PM to judge. I have found PR/FAQs to be less successful at high levels of uncertainty or ambiguity (closer to the left side of the diagram above) – during discovery, rougher work such as mockups, prototypes, opportunity canvases or whiteboards/sticky notes/etc. are used with customers, PM peers, and the EPD (engineering/product/design) discovery triad.
PR/FAQs are reviewed at a regular product walkthrough meeting. Each review begins with a 10–12-minute silent table read of the document by all attendees. Again, this is to ensure that the focus is on the idea being presented rather than on an author trying to pitch” the document. During this read-through, reviewers may leave written comments on the document. The table read is followed by a 20–30-minute discussion period for participants to surface any major objections or high-criticality comments.
Product leadership then brings the discussion to a conclusion with one of the following outcomes as shown in the flowchart above:
- The PR/FAQ is unsatisfactory due to blocking concerns. Conduct more discovery, meet with other suggested stakeholders, or take other actions as suggested by leadership. Bring the next version of the PR/FAQ back to product walkthrough for another review if the PM wants to proceed further.
- The PR/FAQ is satisfactory with certain caveats. Some areas need work / some comments need to be addressed, but it is generally greenlit to proceed to development. PM uses their own good judgment to determine if a re-review is warranted after comments are addressed.
- The PR/FAQ is satisfactory with few or no qualifications and is greenlit to proceed to development.
Does the PR/FAQ serve as a complete spec for engineering?
No. Its intention is to communicate what will be built, why and the ramifications (positive and negative) to the business, but it says nothing about:
- What the solution will look like (the UI) or how it will behave (the UX). This need is satisfied by detailed visual and interaction designs from the designer.
- What the system architecture will be and what technical implementation choices will be made by engineering to satisfy the scope. These needs are satisfied by engineering design records (EDR) or architecture design records (ADR) created and ratified by the engineering team.
It is likely that during development, additional FAQs may arise, or even cause material changes in the PR portion of the PR/FAQ. It is up to the owning PM to exercise judgment to determine if the magnitude of the changes warrant a re-review at a product walkthrough meeting, or if they are minor enough to simply make the change to the document directly.
PR/FAQ is just one tool for driving alignment and the minimum artifact that I ask my PMs to use. It’s not the only one, so if a PM or the EPD triad finds other artifacts helpful in increasing internal alignment and understanding, go ahead and create them!
Where can I learn more about PR/FAQs?
- Chapter 11 in Empowered by Marty Cagan and Chris Jones provides a brief synopsis of the reasoning behind written narratives. They refer to the Amazon six-pager narrative though, and a PR/FAQ is not that.
- Chapter 5 in Working Backwards: Insights, Stories, and Secrets from Inside Amazon by Colin Bryar and Bill Carr describes the PR/FAQ in some detail.