A successful product manager can’t rely on their mind alone.
It’s essential you have the right tools to navigate the various complexities of the job and stay connected with your team.
As a PM, your duties encompass quite a few different elements such as coming up with ideas, selling them, ensuring they’re executed, and monitoring their success. You can’t manage that execution with a three-ring binder and hand-drawn frameworks. So use the variety of tools available today to make your work easier.
I use five high-level categories to group these tools:
- Ideation and research
- Selling an idea
- Execution of a plan
- Performance analysis
- Team communication
Everyone makes different decisions about which tools to use based on their particular situation. It often comes down to what your company already uses and how familiar different teams are with the tools.
I’ve found the following tools most useful during my tenure as a PM:
Ideation and Research
Generating ideas and figuring out what you’ll need to make them a reality can be quite difficult. Luckily, there are plenty of simple tools to help.
Take mind mapping, for instance. Anyone can use this framework because it doesn’t require any fancy software. Instead, you logically deconstruct an idea and visualize different parts of it, so all you really need is a whiteboard or piece of paper to organize the “map” of the idea.
As a product manager, you often need to brainstorm about the screens of a new app you’re building, and you can use a very simple wireframing tool to build out the basics of an app. These tools provide templates and allow you to configure app screens without the help of a designer.
For example, I recently wanted to build a quick iOS app screen, but I’m not an iOS engineer. I’m not even a designer.
So, instead of using a tool with a huge learning curve, I used Balsamiq, which allows you to quickly create wireframes. Within a few hours, I had a skeleton of the app — something quick and simple we could use as a reference while deciding how to build our app. Later on, the designer used these wireframes as a reference and built high fidelity mockups.
No matter what stage of ideation you’re in, you always need to take notes.
As a product manager, you’re talking with everyone — from customers to engineers to executives — and all of those conversations have to be cataloged. OneNote, EverNote, and Google Drive all work pretty well for this. Personally, I like to write down notes in my email drafts.
Choose whatever works for you, just be sure you’re getting all the information down.
Selling An Idea
You have to present a product idea effectively in order to sell anyone on it.
Generally speaking, you want to use PowerPoint or Google Slides to sell to an executive. But if you’re building an app, it may also be easier to show the flow of logic using flowcharts or diagrams, or show app screens using wireframes because an idea is often easier to digest in visual form.
Most people are familiar with the flowcharting and diagramming tools Visio, Lucidchart, and draw.io.
You can use these tools to explain the product and how different pieces interact. They’re also good for showing a logical flowchart of how you expect development to progress in the future.
I’m a fan of all these applications because you can present a system diagram and architecture, and show how data or logic flows through what you’re trying to do.
Execution Of A Plan
The primary responsibility of a product manager is building a roadmap and managing its execution. The tools you use here help you plan the roadmap for a length of time — say, a quarter — so you can effectively present it to executives and the larger team.
These are both higher level product management tools, but there’s also another set for more day-to-day execution for the engineering team. Jira is a very popular tool for breaking large goals down into smaller tasks for engineering team execution.
The most important part of implementing any of these options is ensuring the engineering and product management tools are in sync.
Performance And Analysis
The job isn’t done once the product has been launched.
In fact, you need another set of tools to follow its performance and help you understand where to improve.
When it comes to quantitative feedback, analytics software like Google Analytics helps you capture metrics on how your product is being used and show the trends in your data. For A/B testing, there are plenty of services out there like Optimizely that work well.
If you’re looking for qualitative feedback, Survey Monkey and other online survey tools may be your best bet. And if you have a system to manage customer inquiries and support, then get access to that and see what kind of feedback you’re getting from customers.
As a PM, you may also want to access the sales team data, which might be from a platform like Salesforce. The more feedback you can get from customers, the better.
If you can’t communicate effectively with your team, then your product is doomed from the start.
Our team tends to live in Slack and email most of the day for direct communications. For collaboration, Google Drive is a good tool because everyone can see and edit a document at the same time. Dropbox or Box are both good options for storage and collaboration, too.
Google Sheets or Excel is also useful here because you sometimes end up using spreadsheets to track progress anyway — and spreadsheets are great for managing external dependencies and contractors.
Once you’ve run through the entire process, from ideating to analysis, everything begins again. The tools you choose to keep this cycle running smoothly will largely be a personal choice that depends on what your team is using and whether or not you can integrate with them.