Product "bets" with one-pagers

There are more than 500,000 tech businesses in the US, over 2.2 million iOS apps in the global app store, and over 24,500 products on Product the productivity category alone.

With today’s tools, the barrier to building a software product is low. And with SaaS, the challenge isn’t building a product; it’s building a product that gets used, paid for, and helps customers make progress in their lives. Viability isn’t the issue—value is.

If you want to build a product that delivers value, you should know about one-pagers.

What is a one-pager?

A one-pager is a bridge between your customer research and a valuable opportunity. It defines your “product bet”: a desirable customer outcome and the reasons your team should invest their time and energy enabling that outcome.

Here’s how John Cutler, Product Evangelist at Amplitude, frames this risk/return bet:

"Would you bet $5,000 of your own money on the success of this effort? Why? Why not? On what terms? For what return? How would we know whether you had won/lost the bet? What might we learn early on that would encourage you to increase your bet to $10,000? Or decrease your bet to $1,000, or $0?"

Good one-pagers answer most of these questions.

They’re also a useful litmus test for how well you’ve done your research.

If you’ve researched well, and uncovered plenty of evidence around a specific problem and customer outcome, you’ll write your one-pager easily. On the flip side, if you haven’t researched and talked with your customers, you’ll find writing an evidence-based one-pager next to impossible.

So keep this in mind: if you’re fighting through the document, it’s a red flag you need to do more, or better, customer research.

From feature factories to data-backed bets

All product teams ship features. The best product teams ship benefits and results to their customers. A good one-pager sets parameters around what you’re exploring (benefits and results), without outlining exactly how to do it (features).

Good one-pagers also:

  • Organize your thoughts and customer research
  • Communicate your findings to your team
  • Develop your team’s empathy with the customer
  • Provide data for evidence-based decisions
  • Identify a strong, testable product hypothesis
  • Focus your team’s effort on a valuable outcome
  • Reduce the opportunity cost of pursuing the wrong thing
  • Align product decisions with customer value

Which is why product teams at successful, customer-driven companies like Drift, Intercom, and Amazon all use one-pagers to scope and define opportunities.

At early-stage companies, the founder may create a one-pager. At later stage companies, a product lead or product manager (PM) will own creation. In some org structures, a PM may need to seek buy-in. In more autonomous teams, only the team needs to buy into the product bet.

What does a one-pager look like?

As the name implies, one-pagers are concise. They often are one page, though this is more of a guideline than a rule.

They do not look like:

  • Product specs
  • Product requirements docs
  • A list of features
  • The CEO’s latest “great idea over lunch”

But what, exactly, a one-pager does look like varies. After all, each team, product, and opportunity is unique.

Use my standard template as a starting point, but keep in mind the principles in the next section are more important than the actual items on the page.

  • Opportunity Name: A memorable, tweet-length mission.
  • Customer Challenge: What a successful outcome looks like for the customer and what barriers currently stand in their way.
  • Background Context: Evidence, including research and customer quotes, that customers want to achieve this outcome.
  • Opportunity Hypothesis: “I believe that making change X will enable customers to achieve successful outcome Y, which will result in business value Z.”
  • Success Metrics: Quantifiable, time-based ways to measure impact.
  • Open Questions: Any unknowns and potential ripple effects on the business ecosystem.

Principles for writing a great one-pager

Good one-pagers are powerful. Lazy one-pagers are piece of paper. Here’s how you ensure you write a powerful one-pager.

Focus on outcomes, not outputs

Focus your one-pager on a customer outcome, not a team output. For example, “allow customers to build a relationship with their customers post-purchase” vs. “enable automated follow-up emails.” As a general rule, don’t mention any features. Remember, you’re not writing a spec.

Identify ONE compelling outcome

Choose only one outcome, and make sure it’s a compelling one. A compelling outcome is valuable to both the customer (it solves a painful problem in a desired way) and the business (it positively impacts a key metric).

Remember your audience

One pagers are primarily for your team. Make sure the information you include is accessible; anyone in the company, technical or not, should understand it.

Be concise

Aim for one page of easily consumed, inspiring information.

Show don’t tell

Customers give the best customer context. Wherever possible, use customer data: actual quotes, screenshots of customer conversations, or graphs of customer findings.

Make it actionable

Outline a specific product hypothesis your team can test and quantify. If they can’t test it, it’s not a hypothesis.

Encourage collaboration

Great one-pagers center your team around why. As in, “why are we doing this?” They also prompt hard questions, equip your team to challenge your assumptions, and encourage creative solutions.

Revise often

A good one-pager is a living document that sticks with your team throughout testing and execution. Set a timeline for measuring your success metrics and revisit those often. You also want to update the one-pager whenever you uncover new data for the customer challenge and background context.

And remember, shipping isn’t the end goal; learning is. If you want to make the best bet possible, learn fast and do your research. As Bernadette Jiwa said, “whoever gets closest to their customer wins.”

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