Critical Product Management Tools for Your Stack
Your workflow is only as efficient as your processes. Could you be missing out on tools that could save you time and energy?
A product manager is only as efficient as his or her tools. Building the best product out there requires a lot of time and energy, but you can significantly ease your burden by using product management tools that streamline the process for you.
By automating, streamlining, and organizing your tasks, you can work more efficiently and have time to sink into the jobs you genuinely enjoy. So, what tools are right for you?
Well, that's tricky. Not all tools are created for the same users. Tools that work well for large teams may be too complicated for small groups, while large teams may find small team-centric tools to lack the functionality they need.
We've put together some tools that we have found to aid in product management, but first, you need to evaluate a few things.
Want to get a jumpstart on what to look for in a tool? Download our guide here.
Identifying Processes That Need Work
You don't want tools for the sake of having tools. You want tools that will support you, increase your productivity, and, well, make your job easier.
The key is being intentional when selecting a new tool to bring into your workflow. Ask yourself questions:
- What does it bring to the table?
- How does it mesh with your product and teams?
- Are there any integrations that go with it?
- What are your needs and how does this tool fulfill them?
- How is the documentation? Do setup and support look feasible?
All of these questions are just the beginning of the process when it comes to deciding on a tool. The best tools for your stack will vary significantly based on team size, your product, and your management style.
However, we've outlined a process to help you into the mindset of serious tool searching. With a critical eye, you can take your current processes and build a more efficient, time-saving method.
The following sections will walk you through some thought exercises that will help you assess your current setup and where the tool could create greater efficiency.
Shake things up or stick with tradition?
Sometimes we do things because that's just how we've always done them. It may even feel like muscle memory at this point. However, just because that's how we've always done things does not mean that it's the best way to do things.
We suggest taking a long look at your current processes. Do any of them seem outdated or awkward in your workflow? Look at the processes around them. Are they the only ones that don't fit - or do they not fit because a process near them doesn't mesh well?
This type of audit can give you greater insight into the pain points of your current workflow.
Now, here are the two things you want to ask yourself after you've identified a potentially outdated, painful process:
- Is it slowing us down?
- Can it be replaced?
The fact of the matter is, there is one thing that matters most: getting things done. Never throw out an existing process without a more efficient replacement (or without good reason, like security issues). Yes, some procedures may be old and stuffy, but that doesn't necessarily mean they're broken.
Replace old processes if there is a faster replacement, but don't break the wheel just for the sake of breaking the wheel.
Now, if there is a more efficient tool out there that would be able to take the place of the old process, consider swapping the old out for the new.
Beat the busywork
We all have tasks we'd rather not do. However, if you find your eyes drifting closed when performing a task, it might be time to shake things up.
There are ways to automate tedious tasks, like writing dozens of emails or reports that only slightly differ. For example, you could use Underway to automate your reports or send out emails to stakeholders.
If you can skip the tedium of busywork, you can spend that time elsewhere, like planning features or pioneering new product visions. Don't let the small stuff take you away from the things you enjoy about your job.
What's worth my time?
Another facet to consider is time. If only we had more of it - we'd be able to solve all the world's problems and still make it home in time for dinner.
However, alas - time is finite. So we must do what we can to conserve it. That's why you only want to consider tools that will streamline your tasks. While increasing functionality may be necessary at times, don't go chasing after every shiny new feature that passes by.
You want something that will enhance your current processes and decrease your work time, not add to it.
So, when considering new tools, think about how the tool will save you time. If it has extra functionality, are they also streamlined? How much time could they add to your workflow?
Your time is precious. Be thrifty when dispersing it. To learn more about how to use time in a profession that's low on it, check out our article: How to Use the Einsenhower Prioritization Method to Focus on What's Important.
Does the tool match your environment?
It's essential that you also consider your environment before investing in a tool. Things like team size, audience disposition, and more affect how well a tool will fit into your workflow.
Critical Product Management Tools for Your Stack
Now, we've waxed long about assessing your workflow for places to put tools, it's time to discuss the types of tools that are critical to any stack.
Whether with stakeholders or team members, you need to set up clear modes of communication. You can't put out a fire if you don't know it's happening.
Check out the tools below for some potential communication tools:
Google's G Suite is a suite of productivity tools. Hangouts Chat (messenger) and Hangouts Meet (video conferencing) are cloud-based, like most Google's tools, and can be used from anywhere.
Slack has become a big name in the communication field. It boasts big-name customers, and it's free (well, mostly). You only have to pay if you want to keep all your message history. If you don't, older messages will be deleted to make room for new ones.
Mattermost is an open source, self-proclaimed "private cloud Slack alternative." It can be self-hosted for those of you concerned about security, so your data stays within your systems.
Vision Creation Tools
Tools to help you bring your visions to life are invaluable for a product manager. Design and wireframing don't need to be hard.
If you're gifted at Photoshop, great! But if you're looking for something that takes out some of the background work and still allows you to create amazing designs, check out these tools:
Balsamiq is a wireframing tool with design pieces ready to go. All you have to do is drag and drop the pieces - like buttons, text fields, and more - into the design and arrange them. Don't worry - they're customizable, too. It specializes in UI design and is very, very easy to get the hang of.
According to its website, InVision is used by big names like Netflix, Amazon, HBO, and Airbnb. Its builder offers easy customizations, the ability to animate screen actions, and allows for team comments directly on the design.
Moqups also has some big brands (Microsoft, Mozilla, Sony) using them for their design and wireframing needs. Based in the cloud, Moqups is excellent for geographically dispersed teams and those who work on multiple devices. To sweeten the cake, they also offer Confluence and Jira add-ons.
Project Management Tools
Manually remembering what everyone is working on is a thing of the past. Keep track of your projects, your team's work, and more with these project management tools.
Jira is the poster child for agile team project management. With tools to plan and track, Jira offers many different features and integrates with numerous other tools.
Trello is a reasonably basic project management tool. It relies on cards and is organized in columns. It's almost like a virtual corkboard. It integrates with Google Docs and offers add-ons called, "Power-Ups" for extra functionality. You can read more on Power-Ups here.
Zoho also uses a card and column layout, similar to Trello. However, you can also set up task dependencies, so you and your team will know what tasks they need to complete before moving on.
If you didn't find the tools you needed here, take this guide and use it when exploring other tools.
Increasing Your Efficiency Going Forward
By making your processes efficient, you can be ready when disaster inevitably hits. You will have the time to throw at the problem because your methods are all in order.
You'll be able to focus on the things you're passionate about. Make room in your day to day by automating, consolidating, or simplifying your workflow. Keep a critical mind, and you'll find a way to better your efficiency.