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Tools for product operations


Every major stakeholder group in modern product businesses have their favourite tool of choice. Sales have a CRM, support has Zendesk, designers have Figma, developers have Jira, and product managers have...? What do product managers have?

When you ask fellow PMs what tool they're using as the main one to do their job - the answer is usually "whatever tool our developers are using". It was like this since recorded history began and the reasons for this are quite obvious.

Product managers and developers are always working hand in hand, or they should, to creatively solve their customers' problems and come up with innovative products that advance their business. As engineering tends to be the bigger group - PMs got used to adopting whatever tools their devs are using.

Another reason why PMs never got their own tool is that very few people understood what PMs actually do. Are you solving customer problems? There is Zendesk for that. Are you writing requirements for devs? Here is Jira. Do you need to do user interviews? Ever heard of Microsoft Word? While we were busy explaining to everyone what is that we do - we missed the moment to secure the budget for our own tooling.

Yes, that's another reason for not having our own tool, budget and the problem of ROI. It is much easier to make a case of buying Jira, Zendesk or even a CRM. Numerous success cases are available as potential gains from using these tools are quantifiable and comparable between different organisations. While it's not the case for product management tools. Firstly, the sample is too small. Secondly, having the tool doesn't mean using the tool in the right way. Thirdly, with the same tool, one PM might create a winning product, while another one - a pile of hot mess.

And the final reason why PMs don't have our own tool - we didn't fight hard enough to get one. By nature of what we do, (and consecutively of who we are) PMs tend to focus on actions that could bring the most impact. We're adapting and optimising. Yes, we can do market research in PowerPoint, yes, we can create requirements in Jira, yes, we can prioritise in Excel... and so on. Normally, PMs are so busy doing their jobs, they don't have the mental (and often physical) energy to fight for their own tool.

That's exactly where product operations come into the picture. We need people who will look at the process from up far, see the whole picture and help to improve things holistically. Part of the product operations is tooling. The goal is to improve the operations of the product department and make sure the team has everything needed to be as efficient as they could be.

So what are the tools for PMs?

First of all, here we'll be talking about specialised tools for product managers. As discussed above, PMs are very creative and adaptive, they can repurpose almost any tool to do the job for them. However, here we're interested to review tools that were created specifically for product managers.

Before we name PM tools, let's highlight tools that are NOT specifically created for product management:

Again, product management, even good product management, could happen on these tools, as it could happen anywhere. However, those tools have been created with different users in mind and therefore are not specifically cater for product managers.

Product management software, specifically

In the following articles, I'll review in detail the following tools product managers could use to increase the effectiveness of their work.

The last bit to note: a tool itself will not make your outcomes better. A tool is a multiplier. But you need good preconditions: product vision, strategy, continuous product discovery practices, sound development process, product marketing and growth efforts and post-release support. A good PM tool can help with organising this, but it will not do the work for you. And finally, the tools need to be used for the best outcomes. Most of the tools above are quite powerful and customisable. You need to spend time and effort (or get the right people in) to understand the capabilities of the tool and how to utilise it in the best way to create products your customers would love.

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