What tools do product managers use?
If you're a product manager, you know it's not about the software. But you also know that discovering the right tool can easily 10x your and your team's productivity (and vice versa).
Today, I want to share the PM tools I've used both as an entrepreneur and as a product manager.
Note: I don't focus on product development software here. As a PM, it helps to know AWS, Jenkins, GitLab, and others, but they aren't the ones you'll be working with the most.
People often focus on project management software when they think PM tools. That's part of it, but there's more to product management than Jira or Asana.
When I think product management, I primarily think of these 4 core software categories:
- Project management and roadmapping
- Whiteboarding and brainstorming
- Customer research, analytics, data visualization
- Communication and video conferencing
Additionally, there are other categories of tools that I rely on as a PM and that make my life easier:
- Development and CI/CD
- Collaboration and automation
- Customer support
You don't have to be an expert in everything but I've personally found myself using most of them at least to some extent.
Let's start with the most popular category, which is (of course) project management.
Project management tools
As a PM, this is where you'll probably be spending most of your time (other than Slack) doing things like:
- Writing PRDs, user stories, or specs.
- Grooming your backlog.
- Tracking your team's performance.
- Documenting processes (via SOPs or otherwise).
- Collaborating, collaborating, collaborating.
And well, I don't care what people think about Atlassian, but I'm personally a big fan of Jira and Confluence.
There, I said it.
I spent the early years of my career cycling through Trello, Basecamp, Asana, Wrike, and so many others. Lately, I gave ClickUp and Monday a spin to see if they're any different.
And you know what? I still think Jira and Confluence are the best overall, although I like Productboard specifically as a roadmapping tool.
If you're part of a small agile team, Trello might work for you. Personally, I prefer scrum over kanban even for smaller projects. And Jira perfectly combines both.
Here's what I like about Jira and Confluence in particular:
- They work great for small and large teams alike.
- The current versions are quite user-friendly.
- They're easy to use if configured correctly.
- They offer all of the core features you'll need as a PM.
- And there's a free tier.
Atlassian might not be as fancy or flashy as Monday, but product management isn't about fancy stuff. It's about building the right things efficiently.
And Jira paired with Confluence makes you efficient.
Whiteboard and brainstorming tools
My favorite: Miro.
This is my favorite category of tools. This is where I'll often spend most of my time when I'm not in Atlassian, either by myself or collaborating with my team.
And when it comes to online whiteboarding software, Miro is the only one I'll ever use.
I discovered Miro years ago in my early entrepreneurship days, and I've been using it for literally everything ever since:
- Brainstorming anything that needs to be brainstormed.
- Sketching and wireframing products and features.
- Discussing revisions with developers, designers, marketers.
- Drafting flowcharts, preparing presentations, and so much more.
And Miro isn't just for professional use only. I'm not yet using Atlassian to manage my personal life, but I enjoy using Miro for my personal projects.
Here's why I like Miro:
- It's very lightweight and intuitive. Try it and you're hooked.
- It's incredibly flexible and powerful. So many possible use cases.
- It's great for collaboration and personal use.
- And it has a free tier, too.
Customer research, analytics, data visualization
It's all about the customer if you want to build a great product, which makes this category of tools crucial.
When I think of customer research, I think of at least a few categories of tools:
- Web and mobile analytics let you observe your users' behavior.
- Marketing and social media analytics give you a glimpse of what's out there on socials.
- User interview, usability testing, and survey tools let you interact with your users directly.
- Business analytics and data visualization software makes you more efficient at working with data.
Obviously, you won't always need all of these tools as a product manager.
And if you're in a larger company with separate marketing and data science and analytics teams, you might not even have access to some of these tools directly.
But it's better to have (know) it and not need it than to need it and not have it, right?
As a PM, I'll use different analytics tools for different purposes:
- Google Analytics is my go-to analytics solution overall.
- Hotjar is my choice for heatmaps and occasional surveys.
- Firebase is a decent option for in-app analytics and A/B testing.
- I like Google Data Studio or Tableau for my data visualization needs.
When it comes to user surveys and usability, I generally prefer one of the following options:
- Google Forms or SurveyMonkey for most of my surveying needs.
- Qualtrics if I need a full-blown experience management platform.
- UserTesting or UserZoom for usability testing.
And are hundreds of other analytics and customer research solutions. From Mixpanel and Heap to CDPs like Segment and Amplitude to Power BI and beyond. Pick whatever works best for you!
Just remember: they all come hand in hand. Talking to your users is important, but so is observing them from the sidelines. So is dogfooding.
No single analytics tool will give you all the answers.
Communication, collaboration, video conferencing
Learn to love your communication tools because you'll be living inside them 24/7.
Just kidding, we'll have regulation against this.
But also not really kidding, you'll have to get used to them.
Two main software categories here:
- Business communication platforms, e.g. Slack and Teams.
- Video conferencing software, e.g. Zoom and Google Meet (Hangouts).
My product manager's picks here are Slack and Google Meet.
People like to hate on Slack, but I actually like it. Growing up with IRC is probably one of the reasons why. And I don't mind being always available that much, either. As an entrepreneur turned product manager, "offline" was never a big part of my life anyway.
In fact, I've found Slack to be a great way to get shit done quickly. When you can DM anyone on the other side of the world and get your answer right away, you move forward a lot quicker.
What I'm saying is, as long as I'm not expected to be available immediately and getting my time wasted on useless stuff, Slack is good. And I feel the same about Zoom/Hangouts. If you're not wasting your life in useless meetings, it's a great way to get your team together and get something cool done.
Tools are not the problem, the culture is.
Other helpful tools and closing thoughts
And then there's everything else!
As a product manager, you have your fingers in all the proverbial pies. This makes product management exciting. And so it helps to at least know the tools that are out there because one day you might need to jump right in.
Here are a few other software categories I consider useful for product managers to know about, along with some of my preferences:
- Design and prototyping: Figma, Sketch, Adobe XD.
- Development and CI/CD: VS Code, Git, Jenkins, AWS, Sentry (and like 100 others).
- CRM: Close CRM, Pipedrive, Salesforce.
- Collaboration and automation: Google Suite, Airtable, Zapier, IFTTT, Automate.io.
- Customer support: Zendesk, Intercom, Drift.
I don't always need these tools as a product manager, but I enjoy using them because:
- Knowing Figma lets me collaborate with the designers in their environment.
- Knowing VS Code, Git, and AWS lets me work directly with the developers if needed.
- Knowing Airtable and Zapier lets me build powerful automations for pretty much any purpose.
- ...and so on.
Tools won't make you the best PM, but they will make you a better one.
And that's the list of my favorite product management tools.
Let me know if I've forgotten something!