🎨The PM Toolbox
Picking the tools that work for you
What is the best tool for X?
Is a question that made me... 🤦
I used to say: “The tools don’t matter, it’s how you use them.”
But that answer is not helpful and not entirely true.
Yes, tools are context-dependent….
Yes, tools don’t automatically lead to a great product...
But it is helpful to have a good grip on why and when you might use a given tool.
It would also be nice to weed out the tools that are obviously bad.
To understand the why and when to use a given tool, we should ask ourselves the following questions:
What do you want to accomplish?
What is the stage of your company?
With which tools do you (or your team) have experience?
What is your budget?
This article focuses on the first question. For the other questions I can only offer this brief advice:
Keep it simple - The earlier stage your company is, the less complex your tooling should be. Use tools that do not scale. 9 out of 10 times, Google sheet or a piece of paper will do the job.
Use what you know - This allows you to skip the learning curve and focus on the actual work.
Keep it cheap - Don’t buy shiny things when you don’t really need them.
The rest of this article focuses on question 1: What do you want to accomplish?
We break down the work of product management into its core components, and list our favourite options for each task.
What do you want to accomplish?
PM’s wear lots of hats, and therefore need a big toolbox. We break the PM work down along the different stages of product development:
Problem discovery - What problems do our users have?
Prioritization - What problems should we solve?
Specification - How should we solve the problem?
Execution - How should we build the solution?
Launch - How do our users learn about the new solution?
Evaluation - How do we know if our solution is successful?
On top of this, there are some workflow tools to facilitate collaboration and project management
To figure out what problems our users have, we can look at what they say and what they do.
What users say
What users do
Now we know what problems our users are facing, we should prioritize those with the most impact.
I like the simplicity and flexibility of Google Sheets, but some people prefer to organize their roadmaps in tools such as Productboard / Roadmap / Harvestr / Airfocus. These tools allow you to connect the roadmap to user insights.
Which one should you pick? It’s a trade-off: Notion is powerful for embedding diverse content, Confluence connects well with Jira, and Google Docs has the best text editing and collaboration functionality. Last but not least, Google Docs is free 🤑
Then it’s time to build the product. Most product teams use task tracking software for this. Everyone I know uses either Jira, Linear or Trello.
Jira is complete and established, but hated by most of its users as it can become slow and complex. Whereas Linear seems to work smoother, it’s hard to get (larger) organizations to adopt the tool. Trello is very lightweight and probably works best for small teams.
Feature launches are other major events that are often accompanied by email or in-app messages. After a certain stage, you don’t want to send these messages manually to your customers. The platforms you can use to build journeys to automate this communication are: Intercom / Hubspot / Selligent / Mailchimp
We also want to track how we are doing. What was the impact of that fancy new feature?
Some tools to figure that out:
Then we have a bunch of tools that serve as the glue between all these activities. Think collaboration, information sharing etc.
More cool tools
Most tools are used because you need them, but some are used because you want to use them. These tools fall in the latter category:
As you can see, there is some overlap in these tools. Most tools try to expand horizontally and collaboration is becoming a first-class citizen everywhere. It’s up to you and your team to create your toolbox. When doing so, please keep my earlier advice in mind:
Keep it simple
Many unicorns are run on Google sheets, your startup doesn’t need the perfect tooling.
Use what you know
Don’t procrastinate by spending lots of time choosing tools. Have a bias towards what you know to avoid long learning curves.
Keep experiments cheap
When you do decide you need a new tool, take an experimentation mindset. All tools mentioned in this article have a free tier: Use it! Doing some lightweight experimentation is fun, and avoids large ‘sunk costs’ later.
I hope this article helps to serve as a starting point for picking the best tools.
Let me know if you have any questions
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