A Product Manager’s ultimate toolkit

A Product manager juggles across several tasks at work. Good product management principles dictate that the product manager has the ability to enthuse a team, allocate resources judiciously, evaluate task priorities, meet deadlines, and ultimately achieve business goals. Time becomes a precious commodity; Time management a valuable skill. To be efficient product managers have to be extremely productive. This is when a product manager’s ultimate toolkit comes handy. It eases your day-to-day operations and improves your productivity significantly

Before I jump right into the software tool names, I’d provide some context on how a “typical” day of a PM looks. Let’s call it the customer journey map of a PM. Mind you, this emphasizes happy path scenarios; So excuse for not mentioning production issues, customer escalations, etc 🙂

Alright then, let’s begin – The first half (morning session): Catch up the latest news, Make a TODO list(with priority). Second, Check your mail inbox – respond to emails, share documents, and set-up necessary meetings. Prioritize tasks. Have sync up with your engineering manager, developers, UX design, sales&marketing team, etc. The second half(afternoon session): Do a bit reading (anything under the sky); Participate in some customer interaction; Perform some qualitative or quantitative research; Schedule ad-hoc meetings on – wireframing for design, prototyping for POC, etc; Dig through some data for insights and discovery, etc. Make a demo or a presentation to stakeholders. Clear off your TODO list and call it a day, with fingers, crossed!

Now that we know what are the tasks a PM perform, let’s focus on understanding the tools which ease a PM’s job. The list is not exhaustive but mentions widely used ones.

Note taking:

Organize your tasks and notes with one of these note-taking apps. Each allows you to divide information into different sections; Provides easy navigation and search and embedding of media content. Sharing and collaboration are also made easy. I’ve found MS OneNote and Apple Notes to be very useful in an office context. For personal use Evernote is great.

My Pick: All of my personal and office work is done on Macbook. I am a heavy user of MS OneNote and Apple notes and find these two apps sufficient for my needs. However, I’ve also seen my peers prefer Evernote for a variety of personal reasons. I highly recommend these apps for a product manager’s ultimate toolkit

Microsoft
OneNote
Apple
Notes
EvernoteTodoistWunderlist

Event scheduling:

Schedule your meetings using below apps. Each app is great and works perfectly within its context. An added advantage comes especially when you are on the move, and you need reminders and notifications across your different devices.

My picks: For office purposes, I like MS outlook because it enables me to find rooms and check team member’s availability. For personal use, I toggle between Apple calendar and Google Calendar.

Microsoft
Outlook
Apple
Calendar
Google
Calendar
Calendly

Meetings:

As a product manager, most of your time would be spend in meetings and bringing alignment within teams. Effective Communication becomes an important ingredient to ensure seamless collaboration. You can schedule meetings and meet your team members online using below apps.

My Picks: I have used all of these apps and have found that my highest utility is realized with MS Teams, simply because this app allows me to do more than just audio or a video call. I can search contacts, seamlessly share files, create notes on the fly, and a lot more.

Microsoft
Teams
ZoomCisco
Webex
GoToMeeting

Email:

Sending effective e-mails is one of the important written skills of a PM. Even though the importance might not be evident right away, it’s important to hone your skills in crafting clear, succinct, and polite emails. Many enterprises use Microsoft office, but some prefer to use Google suite as well.

My Picks: I’ve found that both MS Outlook and Gmail are great email tools.

Microsoft
Outlook
Apple
Mail
Gmail

File sharing:

You are bound to share tonnes of documents, slide decks, wireframes, etc with your team members and with other employees. A good habit would be to reduce clutter and have a well-defined directory structure to store and retrieve your documents. You can arrange files as per your contact names or teams you interact frequently

My picks: For office purposes, I heavily use MS OneDrive and like it. For personal use, I’ve relied on Google drive for years and it just works great. Personally, I’ve found file sharing and maintaining directory structure in Sharepoint archaic, slow, and difficult to manage

Microsoft
OneDrive
Microsoft
Sharepoint
DropBox
Business
Google
Drive
Box

Documentation:

MS Word and Google docs are the most common tools every PM uses. In some firms PRDs / MRDs/ BRDs are written in docs (hint: 6 pagers), while in some firms all documentation is done in confluence only, be it a one pager requirements doc or a 6-pager doc. If you’re more towards the business side, MS word/Google Doc and Confluence wiki are sufficient. However, if you are slightly on the technical side and need to work on documentation for code then you can explore MarkdownPad, Coda and Swagger too

My Picks: I like MS word over Google Docs, simply because it provides a smooth native experience. I prefer creating 1-2 pagers on confluence/wiki, even for API specifications. But, I struggle to capture trends, plots, etc, which sometimes become necessary to highlight the business context for building a product. If you want to be a great PM, you have to work on your writing skills as well. For that reason, the below softwares are a must for a product manager’s ultimate toolkit.

Microsoft
Word
Google
Docs
ConfluenceMarkdownPadCoda

Research:

Research tools, usually, are pricier and require budget approvals from management and finance department. Make sure you have sufficient requests within the team, support from the boss, and business justification to get licenses for your team

Secondary Research:

As Product managers, esp. if you are new, you are expected to perform a lot of Secondary research. If your organization has a “dedicated” strategy team, great! Your research part will become easy. However, this is not the case in many MNCs and startups. PMs are expected to carry out Secondary research by themselves and make a business case to support their hypothesis. Below tools are great and provide a wealth of information

My Picks: I prefer and use Statista a lot. It has great coverage of different sectors and provides insightful and beautifully crafted catalogs. However, I felt information coverage was extensive for US and European markets and not great for LATAM and APAC regions. Gartner also has great offerings good is a bit pricier. I highly recommend these services for any product manager’s ultimate toolkit

StatistaGartnerForresterNielsen

Primary research:

PMs work very closely with UX in deciphering key customer pain points. Unfortunately, in the past many firms underrated UX, but thankfully it’s not the case now. As PMs, we often create a quick questionnaire or a survey and float it around for responses. Google forms are great for such needs. But, when you are targeting to get plenty of responses from a certain demographic and a user segment, then tools such as Survey Monkey and Typeform are great. If you spend enough, you’ll almost get an instant (1-2 days) validation for your exploratory or descriptive research

My Picks: I use Google forms and Survey monkey (free version) to meet my business needs. If I am doing primary research with other teams, on a large scale and spanning over months, I prefer survey monkey or Pollfish (mostly for quantitative research). Again, I recommend these services for any product manager’s ultimate toolkit

Google
Forms
Survey
Monkey
TypeformPollfishUserTesting

Prioritization:

It goes without saying that Prioritization is one of the most important skills set of a PM. Without prioritization, things go haywire and team-alignment becomes difficult. There are different frameworks to prioritize and each of the below tools can help you in stack ranking your tasks

My Picks: I prefer to use excel for a “quick and dirty” way of prioritizing my tasks. It provides me flexibility to throw in some additional custom data, as per my needs. Trello is also a great tool with its own advantages. However, I’ve experienced that not many firms are aware of such tools or keen on purchasing licenses.

Microsoft
Excel
TrelloHyggerCraft.io
Hygger

Mock Design:

As Product Managers, we become instruments of transformation. Bringing an idea or a vision to reality is our job. And..it begins with few scrapy mocks 🙂 A Mock is a quick hack to showcase how your product would like or be used by your customers. It’s important to focus on two things: a.) How doing “x” will potentially solve a customer problem and b.) What are the potential ways a user can interact with proposed solution

My Picks: Pencil and Paper always are a good start. Since you don’t and “can’t” capture low-level details, you focus more on the solution idea and its concept. Once I see that an idea has a potential I create quick mocks on a PowerPoint, Skitch or Balsamiq, and share it with my UX team and validate. Creating mocks are skills that you can carry across industries and problems. I highly recommend these apps for any product manager’s ultimate toolkit

Paper and
Pencil
Microsoft
Powerpoint
SkitchBalsamiqMoqups

Wireframing:

Once an idea is validated, it’s time for some wireframing. Wire-framing are great tools to get some high fidelity design. In MNCs there are dedicated teams to create wireframes, but in few startups a PM can also take up on wireframing tasks and put his creativity to use. It’s a great skill for any PM

My picks: I’ve used Sketch and Miro and they are awesome tools. You can practically use the infinite canvas to capture your ideas and user experiences. For technical discussions – system designs and flow diagrams, I mostly use Visio.

SketchFigmaMiroVisioLucidchart

Pro-typing:

In many organizations, a Product Manager has to run a lot of POCs. This is mostly true where the emphasis is on creating new products or add new product features. This creates a lot of scope for experimentation. A PM has to work very closely with UX folks to get quality prototypes. UX team helps PM to translate research and user insights into tangible outputs – Prototypes. Below are some great tools for pro-typing and work seamlessly with wireframing tools as well

My Picks: I “love” Invision tool and feel it’s quite powerful for building in-app experiences and getting quick feedback. UXPin and AdobeXd are also other great tools.

Proto.ioInvisionAdobe XDAxureUXPin

Communication:

Most of the below tools are standard and would be provided/enforced by your organizations so not much to discuss here.

My Picks: I like slack a lot because it made communication more fun and natural. But for official purposes, I prefer to use MS Teams since I’ve experienced lesser issues with it.

SlackTeamsKlipfolioYammerGoogle hangouts

Project Management:

Product execution has a lot of operational aspects to it. A Lot of your day-to-day tasks will require you to manage your project effectively. This is when Product managers work closely with program managers to manage the project. Below tools provide easy to create and manage tasks for your project; create milestones for short term goals; Effective trackers for checking work progress and sending notifications

My picks: I like and use Jira a lot. Although it’s UX is a bit dry but it meets most of my functional needs. I haven’t explored Asana much but know that it is a good tool and provides good experience. You may also explore some relatively new tools – Basecamp and Zoho Projects. I have used Clarizen and dislike it. Personally I’ve found it confusing, hard to maintain and built with bad taste

AsanaBasecampJiraZoho
Projects
Clarizen

Sprint Management:

A lot many organizations follow the agile model. As PMs, we need to work with our engineering managers, and conduct grooming, participate in task planning and track task execution for each sprint. A sprint may span 2-3 weeks, so it becomes essential that PMs don’t lose visibility of work progress and goal completion. Below are some great tools you can explore for your work.

My Picks: I’ve been using Jira for years and am pretty satisfied with its feature set. In fact, there are many features that I am yet to explore. Other noteworthy tools with a good UX are Sprint.ly, Pivotal tracker and Zoho Sprints.

JiraSprint.lyPivotal
Tracker
Zoho
Sprints
GanttProject

Issue management:

Nightmares of Product managers include failed product launch, badly tested features, bugs in production, customer complaints in social forums, etc. All these and many are issues either in the product or processes followed by the team. Best principles dictate that Issue management is taken seriously and all SLA (service level agreements) are strictly adhered. Below are some tools help in issue management and reduce customer churn due to bad experience, service or support

My Picks: I’ve used Jira and Salesforce. Both are great at capturing customer issues and field tickets. These tools are very helpful to PMs who are in customer support or service and track customers very closely

JiraBugzillaSalesforceFreshservice

Roadmap:

All roads leads to Rome Roadmap. Every product manager is tasked to carve out his vision for the team and then come up with a roadmap illustrating how to achieve that vision across timelines. A good roadmap has a good detailing around business context and scheduling of prioritized tasks.

My Picks: I have explored Aha and Monday and found them to be good. They are easy to use and the learning curve is low. These tools provide you with enough features to address your business needs, create a comprehensible roadmap, and share it with your team members and product stakeholders. Roadmapping tools are considered one of the must-haves for a product manager’s ultimate toolkit.

AhARoadmunkmondayProduct
Plan
Prod Pad

Analytics:

“Why do we think this feature required?”, “Do we have data to believe in this hypothesis” , “How exactly our customers are using out app”, “How do we optimize our funnel metrics?” etc. these are some of the most common problems that a PM has to tackle at work. Sound data insights really help a PM build credibility within the team and highlight a strong business need. Make data and analytics your friends. Listening and speaking to customers helps you in understanding them but analytics helps you in putting a finger and say “this is mostly where they are struggling in using our product”. Below are some great analytics tool worth exploring

My Picks: Both Google Analytics and Mixpanel are great tools and widely used in industry esp. for SEO optimization. My little exploration 🙂 suggests that Amplitude and Pendo also hold great potential. I strongly recommend learning these tools. Analytical tools are considered one of the must-haves for a product manager’s ultimate toolkit.

MixpanelAmplitudePendoGoogle
Analytics
Looker

Calculations:

If you are a PM who is more into Finance products(identifying top-line/bottom-line drivers), into e-commerce(making sales/revenue forecasts) or into some other number-crunching domain, then excel and spreadsheets are your best friend. I suggest, you go ahead and even learn excel programming and how to create macros to ease your daily tasks

My Picks: For official purposes I rely on Excel and for personal purposes I use Google spreadsheets

ExcelGoogle
spreadsheet

Presentations:

Like it or not, product manager have to be good, if not great, at presentations. You need to effectively communicate your message to the audience in a succinct way. How do we achieve that? Simple, practice making – presentations, pitch decks, brain storming ideas, etc. using below tools. The more you practice and deliver to different kinds of audiences, the better you become.

My Picks: I like using Powerpoint over Keynote. Sometimes as PMs we need to illustrate the customer lifecycle and depict various touch points for problem/solution discovery. I’ve found Miro board to be a great tool for such instances. It even allows realtime collaboration between your team members, which I find great.

KeynoteMicrosoft
Powerpoint
Miro

Editors:

If you are a PM, are more into the technical side of things, and want to get your hands dirty with code then below are some code editors to ease your life. They provide great UX and support for different languages

My Picks: I’ve used Sublime a lot and also prefer to use Notepad++

Notepad++BracketsSublime Text

Coding:

If you are a technical PM or more into AI/ML, Data science, Forecasting analytics etc. then its highly likely that you’d have come across Github/Visual studio/Anaconda etc. These are not programming languages but just tools that help you in performing code reviews, documentation review, data crunching, statistical modeling, etc. easily

My Picks: I have used all three of them and they are not alternates to each other but complementary and facilitate for technical asks.

GithubMicrosoft
Visual studio
Anaconda

A/B Testing:

“Is this solution better or that one?” “What would happen If I launch this product and flops?” These are some questions that create a lot of ambiguity for PMs. If you ask five different people, each might give his or her opinion and yet you wouldn’t have that conviction. So, how do you address this concern? A/B Testing comes to your rescue!

This approach helps you in creating different variants of your solution. Mostly the end functional benefit and outcome is the same but the experience of a customer is tweaked a bit. It is a scientific way of ensuring that you have zeroed to the “relatively” successful variant of your solution. Below are tools that every PM should try to get their hands on.

My Picks: I heavily use Google analytics and have relied on Optimizely in past. Both are great tools and will meet most of your needs. AB Tasty and Adobe Target are some other tools that you can explore. This is one of the must-haves for a product manager’s ultimate toolkit.

OptimizelyGoogle
Analytics
AB TastyAdobe
Target

Customer interaction:

As PMs we often talk about customer centricity and many a times we spend less time listening or speaking to our customers. It can be dangerous to build product features without sensing your customer’s pulse. This is when customer interaction tools come handy. They allow you to peek into your customers’ experience with your product and interact with them. These tools don’t provide a face-to-face interaction with a customer but it your experience will be something similar

My Picks: I’ve explored Zendesk and Hubspot Service Hub and found them good. There are some raving reviews about Intercom, so you might want to checkout that as well.

IntercomZendeskHubSpot
Service Hub
Mention

User onboarding:

Customer activation is one common pain point that many PM come across. The challenge is that customers are not aware of product features or how to use the product. So, how do we educate our customers in our absence? This is when onboarding tools become very important. User onboarding is very critical and is often underrated. Below are some great onboarding tools that let your users discover product features and make them feel empowered.

My Picks: I have done some exploration with WhatFix and Appcues and found them both super useful. A customer would love to be handheld and be guided through the app or website in a step-by-step fashion

AppcuesWalkmeWhatFixHeap

Marketing:

A great deal of user engagement and retention depends on how consistently we are in touch with our customers. To name a few – sending updates, promotions/offers, nudging the customer to complete an action, etc. are key steps to improve customer experience and educate them about the product as well. Below are some great tools that can assist you in marketing your product and reaching out to your customers

My Picks: I’ve extensively Mailchimp and find it great. I also like Hubspot, for its range of product offerings, solid documentation and free knowledge base. If your need is to communicate with your customers over various marketing channels, you may explore Aweber and Twilio.

HubspotMailchimpAweberTwilio

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