23 tips for writing great one-pagers

Last week, I introduced the Trade Me one-pagers, our ‘business case on a page’. The template and idea is pretty simple, but there is a lot of nuance to writing great one-pagers. Here are some tips:

In general

  • Help the reader understand how the work is prioritised. For example, if the one-pager is about introducing a new premium product, explain why it is that we aren’t instead focusing on the premiums we already have — improving the sell process, ensuring we have parity across all platforms, etc.
  • Write in plain English. Ensure that the one-pager flows well and tells a coherent story. It can be helpful to read it aloud, end-to-end.
  • Be consistent. For example, don’t say the product is for ‘all buyers and sellers’, in the solution statement and then ‘casual and semi-professional sellers’ in the Elevator Pitch.
  • Make sure that the one-pager title is descriptive. The whole point of one-pagers is to help communicate, and using titles like ‘Hustler’, ‘The Force Awakens’ or ‘Phoenix’, or even really generic statements like ‘Search fixes’, make it harder to tell at a glance what the one-pager is about. If you do decide to use a project name, includeit alongside a more descriptive title e.g. ‘Motorweb Industry Site Redesign (Project Phoenix)’.
  • Use screenshots. Product managers know their stuff inside and out, but often the readers and reviewers are less familiar with the specifics. Personally, I find I’m rustiest on our pro seller tools like Tradevine and Dealerbase. Screenshots can remind readers of the context and clarify what you are proposing.

Problem

  • Make sure you provide an adequate fact base. Make it super clear what we know rather than what we think, and you’ll have your reader nodding all the way through your problem description.
  • When quoting research, link to the source.
  • When using qualitative research, quote the number of participants. I have seen one-pagers that say ‘75% of respondents indicated they would create a profile’, when n= 16. When dealing with small numbers of participants, it’s often to better to avoid percentages or ratios altogether and instead say ‘12 of 16 respondents indicated they would create a profile’.
  • Ensure that the research is relevant. If it comes from overseas, then at least try and normalise it for the New Zealand context. For example, ‘two-thirds of vendors in Australia have told us that one of the most stressful parts of the selling journey is choosing an agent.’ That’s interesting and potentially useful, but how do we know it’s true for New Zealand?
  • Don’t mix in solutions alongside the problem. We have a whole separate section for describing the fixes to the problem!
I used to have a t-shirt with this on it

Solution

Who’s it for

  • Be specific. Statements like ‘regular visitors’ is too broad, something like ‘Job seekers who visit Trade Me and view at least one job’ might be more appropriate. Ideally, you’d quote the specific personas that the work is targeted at.
  • Ideally, state the actual number of users impacted by the work.

Costs

  • Don’t make readers do the maths — add up the total amount so people can see it at a glance.
  • Make sure you include external, third-party costs as well as squad time.

Inform

  • Name individuals, rather than entire teams. Often ‘Legal’ will be listed as a Consult, but they never get notified about the change because there is no concept of ‘mentioning’ an entire team in Confluence (our wiki software). If you mention individuals, they will receive a notification.

Success criteria

  • Show your working. How did you come up with the target number? What assumptions have you built in?
  • Ensure that the success criteria clearly link back to the Hypothesis.
  • Sense check the ROI. ‘OK, this is going to cost us $72K and our success criteria show that within 3 months of the launch we’ll have only 740 reports created….hmmm.’
  • Make sure your targets are realistic. This is the flipside to the bullet point above — make sure you aren’t overly optimistic and unrealistic. It defeats the purpose of the one-pager if you game the numbers.
  • For projects costing $1m+, do a more thorough investigation into the payback. I once wrote this in a one-pager: ‘The return is positive (Discounted cashflow at 20% returns a NPV of between from $135K and $1.26m), but isn’t stellar, and we have to wait 4 years for the return.’ You won’t get into this level of detail every time, but bigger projects ought to have a higher bar.
  • Be specific about when the success criteria will be hit. Will your numbers be hit on launch? A month in? Three months in?
  • Follow the guidelines for using the HEARRRT model. In particular, make sure that the metrics are sensitive to product changes (in other words, easy to prove). For example, we often see an increase in Net Promoter Score as a success metric but it’s rare that any one feature makes a measurable difference to overall NPS.

So, there you have it. A few random ideas to help improve your one-pagers. What tips do you have?