11 Tools to Use as a Technical Product Manager
As a Technical Product Manager, one of the hurdles I had to pass was setting up and working with various tools to help speed up my work and boost my productivity.
Multiple product management tools abound on the internet. They mostly proffer the same solution of "defining actionable solution requirements and reporting outcomes within a certain timeline." Each tool has its strength, and just as the product management discipline doesn't follow one-size-fits-all, different combinations of tools are required to achieve specific desired outcomes.
I hope I don't say the word 'outcomes' too much ;)
"A good workman is known by his tools". Below is a list of eleven of mine in no particular order, and I hope I'm good. This list consists of tools used in strategy definition, product design, reporting, presentation, communication, and analytics.
This list is opinionated. If you find the tools useful, that's great. Else, could you not hold it against me?
Productboard is one of my favorites. I use it to proritize product features against strategic intents/outcomes and development efforts. This is where strategic and operational product management happens. A cool part of Productboard is Portals. With portals, we prioritize product features with feedback from multiple data points, which users can send in via Slack, email, or any of the other data sources.
As a startup, we use multiple prioritization methods. Objectives exist in Productboard to handle prioritization with a sort of MoSCoW approach. Also, with Productboard, you can make a custom prioritization system using Drivers and Scores. Drivers are key metrics that we define and set the impact of the feature on the driver. A group of drivers with individual weights makes up a Score. I'd mostly sort features according to a score, powered by a group of drivers.
With Productboard, I get a holistic view of the roadmap (which I split into quarterly buckets). Having this view on the board showing Drivers, Objectives, and Scores quickly explains WHY and WHEN for any feature.
Good ol'Trello for product management had to make the cut. Trello is my favorite tool to manage our Kanban boards and task delegation for several reasons. This includes its clean interface and rich integrations.
With a small team shipping software, our sprint cycles are weekly, and releases are sometimes daily. A tool to manage this tactical product management process should help us do this seamlessly by defining requirements, acceptance tests, delivery dates, and assigning the task. Trello did just that.
With integration to GitHub, we're able to tie pull requests and issues to Trello cards. An excellent add-on for Trello is the Card numbers integration that adds the card number to a card. A card number makes for easy referencing in sprint plannings, standup, and sprint retrospectives.
If you exceed your power-up limit for Trello, you can explore this chrome extension to add card numbers to Trello cards.
Product managers can create roadmaps on Productboard. However, the experience with creating a Gantt chart on a calendar isn't as optimal (or maybe I don't find it aesthetically pleasing). I use Toggl plan to represent the roadmap stages on a calendar. Toggl Plan is visually attractive and effortless to drag and drop the timelines. A useful feature is also the ability to export a plan with various timelines and even share a link to a project so all stakeholders can see current progress and what's upcoming.
Traditionally, I would do something similar on Google sheets and spend a lot of time with stylings and updating progress.
Toggl has a free tier that doesn't include a lot of features in the paid plan. However, if you need a visual representation of your project/product roadmap on a calendar, then the free plan is enough.
Google Sheets, Google Docs, and Google Slides get the nod for creating spreadsheets, documents, and presentations, respectively. A significant win for these is the ability to collaborate on documents and export to any format.
As a technical product manager in e-commerce, Google sheets sometimes serves as an unlikely data source in development. Stakeholders in business teams are usually comfortable sharing data in sheets. This sheet is converted from a CSV export to JSON format and used in software development. It saves everyone time.
Creating processes and documenting them is a big part of building a successful engineering and product team. We use Notion to write all developed processes, create wikis and guides, and onboard new team members.
It feels better suited for a knowledge base, and we use it as such.
GitHub is a platform to manage software development. As a lean distributed team, everything in development happens here, and as a Technical Product Manager, understanding the different parts cannot be overemphasized. You probably don't need to know the inner technical workings and features; however, making commits, pulling, pushing, making pull requests, and issues are some fundamentals you need to know.
GitHub enables efficient collaboration and automation between team members both in development and deployment.
Design-focused Product managers would probably be skewed to using Figma and Sketch tools to make design mocks and rough sketches. As a technical product manager with little experience creating user interface designs, I found Excalidraw a handy tool to make sketches and rough prototypes of ideas quickly.
These go from screens to pages and charts. Also, a big win with Excalidraw is the gentle learning curve. Unlike most design tools with confusing toolbars and 16 menus (just kidding), Excalidraw keeps it pretty minimal.
Figma still deserves mention for collaborative prototyping if product design is among your strengths.
Draw.io is one tool I find super useful when communicating ideas to stakeholders. Draw.io allows you to create flowcharts and diagrams with multiple available elements. With draw.io, I'm able to make user and process flow diagrams in minutes.
With Draw.io, you can also make Entity Relationship Diagrams for databases.
Feedback collection on product usage is at the heart of product development. [Google Analytics] provides data on multiple telemetries when appropriately integrated for free. I use it on websites to analyze automatically-collected data and also analyze custom data triggered through events.
With Google Analytics, we can analyze user acquisition, retention, conversion, anonymous audience information, and user behavior. Other features include creating paths and user funnels using custom events.
While Google Analytics gets some criticism due to privacy concerns, It gets a nod for the feature set at no cost.
The online office. Slack enables team communications in channels, direct messages, and group messages. Slack is a useful tool for teams to work effectively, featuring an excellent interface and rich text editor to communicate efficiently.
A strength of Slack is in the ability to extend its capabilities with integrations. For us, we use the following base integrations:
- Google Suite
- Uptime Robot (to track server uptime)
Notice how most of the tools already listed have Slack integrations always to keep everyone in the loop? That's the beauty of Slack. There are hundreds of Slack integrations for your team or product use-case.
Yea, we don't use the call feature on Slack too :)
Zoom gets an honorable mention for being there for us when we needed to make calls with low internet bandwidth. We use Zoom for video communications as a distributed team.
In this post, I discussed 11 tools I use as a Technical Product Manager to develop and ship technology products. As this is an opinionated post, your choice may differ, or you may find that a tool eliminates the need for another. Whichever helps you do your most impactful work is the right tool.
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