The product manager toolbox has nothing product management-specific
Face it. As product managers, we have a pretty poor set of tools. I don’t know you but I can guess what’s in your toolbox (coincidentally, Scott Gilbert posted a list of what’s in his toolbox yesterday):
Microsoft Word or Google Docs
Excel or Google Docs
A bug tracker like Jira or Bugzilla
A wiki like Confluence
Balsamiq or Axure or Omnigraffle for mockups
A to-do list manager – Trello or Asana or Outlook
A mind mapping tool if you’re really advanced (I use Freemind)
I “get” to use a subset of that list as well. They are general purpose tools, all great in their own way, but nothing on that list has product management-specific functionality. (And woe be to you if you think Microsoft Project is a “product management tool.”)
Look around at your non-product manager colleagues. They are in much better shape. They all have tools that are built for them, that provide specific functionality for their jobs.
In fact, look at just for one example. Your product marketing colleagues – there’s about the same number of them as product managers – probably spend literally 100x as much on tools as product managers do.
Sadly, that’s the PM tool situation for now (aside from a small number of bright spots, some I’ve mentioned in a few previousposts). I hope the situation will improve.
Using heuristics instead of tools
But in the meantime, what do we? We take it up a level. We use tool-independent heuristics to help us be better product managers? Heuristics are:
Relatively easy to do
Flexible enough that they are applicable to most situations
Dad’s Old Toolbox, from e.b. image, CC 2.0 licensed.
Supporting these heuristics with tools – I can dream, right?
These heuristics are great, but wouldn’t it be awesome if we actually had tool support for them? What if there were a product management tool that helped me work with my heuristics? What would that look like?
Helping me find the right heuristic for the situation: There’s exploring the space (looking for a problem), creating and validating your solution (product planning, design, and execution), and creating and validating your value proposition (product marketing, positioning, selling). Different heuristics are useful at different points, some are useful throughout.
Helping me organize my work with respect to the heuristic. For example, if I’m doing a Minimum Viable Product, the tool should insist I have a hypothesis I’m testing, and that I’ve designed the MVP to actually test that hypothesis.
In some cases the heuristics involve doing research, such as “Get In The Van” and “Probe, Sense, Respond,” and the tool can help me collect the results and make sense of them.
In other cases the heuristics involve me being creative, such as articulating a value proposition (that encompasses elements of the Three Laws of Marketing Physics). So the tool could guide me through this creative process, especially enabling productive collaboration with my colleagues and partners.
Some heuristics help me structure information so it reveals useful patterns, such as the Mission-critical Core/Context model. The tool should provide the structure for me to fill in, and guidance on how to fill it in. It could even help me with analysis of the patterns and how I might take actions based on them.
A tool that did that stuff would be amazing. But I’m not done yet – there’s a lot more I need and expect. I can’t wait until my product manager toolbox has a whole bunch of tools that understand my job and help me do it better.