Work Talk

A tooling guide for product managers

A highly subjective guide on what tools product managers chould definitely check!

Tools, tools, tools. For every task that can be done better, a dozen companies have written tools for it. You can spend days on ProductHunt going over all new things that aim to help you. Every single tool can do amazing stuff. Every single tool fails at a bunch of things.I embarked on the journey of writing this list when I was asked to give a talk for a ProductTank meetup. My main focus is tools that can help Product Managers, but you get it, this list is by no means exhaustive.

First, let's get some things clear. I have 3 believes that highly influence the type of tools I use and how I use them:

Kill Your Backlog ☠️

You saw this one coming, right? There must be thousands of Product Managers in the world, constantly grooming a giant backlog, digging through issues in Jira to be sure that one feature is correctly prioritized to be released in 3 years. Tools that are good in managing backlog won't end up in my guide. If you still need some more convincing on this topic, this will help you: https://justinjackson.ca/nobacklogs.

Outcome over Output 📊

Roadmaps often are a crucial thing to communicate the vision of your product to your company and clients. A bunch of tools focus on getting this right and for long, classic roadmaps built around Gantt-charts have been the go-to solution. Products need a well-shaped vision and that vision needs to address the goals and strategy of the business. Still, classic time-boxed and feature-driven roadmaps fail to communicate on this subject.

Validated Learning 🎓

As The Korgis (or for most of you, Beck) learned us, Everybody's Got To Learn Sometime. All the features you're building are just bets that hopefully will solve a customer's need. If you want to get closer to your goals, apply validated learning. Build, Measure, Learn ... If you want to learn more on that topic, I highly recommend Lean Startup by Eric Ries.

When you're testing or implementing new tools I can advise you these 4 rules of thumb:

  1. History is overrated — Don’t be afraid to throw away historical data if a tool doesn’t fit your process anymore. (off course, see 'Kill your backlog')
  2. Focus — There’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Make sure all tools have a clear focus area.
  3. Be a ghost — When testing tools, use a separate mail address. Don’t flood your inbox with onboarding emails. (as an added bonus, you have a separate inbox full of mail examples when you need inspiration)
  4. Abuse is ok — But not for long. Use the tool for the purpose intended. Some tools will pivot but chances that tools will pivot in the direction you're using it for are low.

Alright, ready for what tools made the list? Here we go! Tools are categorized according to where they best fit in the cycle of idea-build-launch-validate.

Idea💡

Productboard

Probably the thing most product managers showed the most interest in the last three years. Productboard quickly established itself as a front-runner for all who want to collect feedback, understand the needs of your users and translate that into an outcome-driven roadmap. As a plus, you can communicate about the focus of your roadmap, while actively gathering more input.

Good for handling loads of customer feedback through different channels

Beware of creating backlogs and output-driven roadmaps. A good feedback-loop with your users is also still pretty hard to accomplish.

Canny

If a proper feedback-loop with your users is what you're looking for, Canny offers just that. It shares some things with Productboard but is more focussed. In my opinion, Canny clearly aims to solve a few problems and they've chosen them wisely.

Good for a 360 customer feedback loop

Beware of public voting systems. You can choose to keep it private though, which I would highly recommend.

Other interesting tools in this area are Aha!, Prodpad, NiftyPM and Craft. All 4 of them are excelling in certain area's.

Build 🏗

Figma

This is mainly a product design tool, but as a Product Manager with a UX mindset, it's really valuable. Figma is still evolving fast but the prototyping possibilities are already good enough for most scenarios. With the Design System of your Product Designers, it becomes relatively easy to build high-fidelity prototypes that can help you to gather the first feedback when you're building new features. I would recommend it as well to do your copywriting in Figma, to keep you as close as possible to a single-source-of-truth. Don't forget to check all their plugins, at Bothrs we already wrote an Airtable-to-Figma plugin if you want to dynamically enrich your Figma designs from Airtable.

Good for prototyping and collaborating with your designers.

Beware of Figma eating all your memory.

Zepel

Zepel aims to replace issue trackers and project management tools being abused in product teams. Scrum and Kanban teams will love this, designers and product managers won't have a problem working together on user stories in Zepel. Everything fits together nicely.

Good for smaller cross-functional teams.

Beware of forgetting your users. There's no feedback loop to your users.

Tools that Product Managers shouldn't decide on aren't included in this list.

Launch 🚀

Split

Feature flags, the fear of all developers. On first look, this doesn't look like something that Product Managers would need, but don't be mistaken. Launching all new features behind a feature flag is something all teams should do. This practice, made popular by Facebook, gives Product Managers the power to release new features whenever they want. This helps you to plan launches better and coordinate them with your team.

Good for managing product launches with peace-of-mind

Beware of using it as a classic feature flag system. Always aim to open up the feature to all your users, if it fits their pricing plan.

Headway

There are a few tools that can help you communicate your latest changes, but a proper changelog is always a good idea. Headway started as a side-project at JSFiddle and still feels like a side-project. Beamer, Announcekit and Canny all offer a lot more but sometimes this is just what you need.

Good for those that just need a simple changelog

Beware of the lack of a complete feedback loop.

Validate 🗣

Fullstory

It's insane what you can do with Fullstory and how advanced it is. You can use it to find out what your users are doing exactly at every single step, validate if your features are serving its proposed outcome and hunt bugs together with your engineers. In FullStory you can replay sessions of your users to see what they have been doing while getting more data out of it. It also detects negative user behavior such as rage clicking, which probably indicates there's something wrong.

Good for product analytics to the next level.

Beware of privacy issues. Fullstory tracks more then any other products analytics platform and it can get kind of creepy.

Dovetail

This is really one of a kind. The approach of Dovetail is pretty easy, they give you a tool where you can document all your user interviews and general user feedback. On top of that, they give you a tagging system, which enables you to organize all feedback and see what topics are the most important ones to focus on. I wouldn't be surprised if we see some interesting features being added in the future to record and transcribe user interviews.

Good for managing loads of extensive customer feedback.

Beware of putting data in silos. But I see no real risk if it's customer feedback.

One more thing 🍎

Notion

Does it still need any introduction? Notion has quickly become "the new Slack", the tool anyone loves, despite its limits. It's probably born out of frustration with things like Google Docs and Confluence. It's ridiculously simple to use, still, it offers a lot of possibilities. Notion rose up as the main hub of knowledge in a lot of start-ups and it's an interesting space. I would recommend to use it for documenting all the knowledge that you want to find quickly, instead of links and thoughts buried in Slack conversations or diving 13 folders deep in your Google Drive. You can use it as a lightweight solution for HR, Sales, shared calendars and project management, but it has its limits.

Good for everything else.

Beware of the lack of proper integrations. They're teasing a new API for months now, but chances are it could be a gamechanger.

Do you think I missed something? Hit me up on Twitter @simonflore and let's discuss. I left a bunch of things out due to ... well, reasons.

At Bothrs

Not all tools mentioned are used at Bothrs. We're an Experience Design Studio that wants to stay lean and mean in tackling problems and challenges of our clients. Our stack mainly consists of Figma, Notion and Asana. Depending on the product we're working on, we choose extra tools to help us, such as Optimizely, Mixpanel or Dovetail.

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