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Over the years, I’ve enjoyed reading survey results specific to various aspects of Product Management.  From how much time we spend in meetings, to what skills are most important and rewarded, to a day in the life of a Product Manager (and there have been many others) … it is always interesting to hear what my peers think and how they go about their jobs.

toolsofthetrade

This morning I was reading another survey findings document focusing on What Tools Are Product Managers Using?  If you’ve ever done any home improvement projects, you know first hand it’s all about having the right tools!  There are some really good perspectives in the findings, even a few surprising ones … for example, 70% of Product Managers are using new applications within the last year.

Admittedly, I’ve not kept up with all of the latest & greatest out there … but it did make me stop and think about what tools have been central in me being productive in my role?  Not from the perspective of a specific product per-se… but more around what “tools” have been essential to my success in the Product Management role.

These are not in priority order … just a brain dump of thoughts on the subject.

Centralized Repository – this one has been important in several roles throughout my career.  Inevitably, someone will come looking for answers about your product … it might be the price sheet, case studies, competitive views, latest sales deck … the list goes on.

I’ve known Product Managers who enjoy being the go-to every time someone has a question.  I just don’t find it sustainable in the long run.  I’ve always been a proponent of teaching someone to fish rather than just giving them the fish.  In other words, give them the tool(s) to answer their own questions. Answer the question once and make it publicly available for the masses.

There was never one specific product … Lotus Notes databases, SharePoint, Wiki pages … all of them have worked.  Some better than others.

Roadmap – This is one of the tools Product Managers cannot live without.  Whether it is communicating what’s next to the development team, to executives, to existing customers, or to potential prospects … every Product Manager must have one.

Throughout my career, Excel has been the dominant tool.  I’m not saying it is the most effective, it has just been the most prevalent.  Although a few years ago, I was exposed to Aha! and used it’s trial period to test out a few things.  I really liked how it tied upcoming features to major initiatives and ultimately back to the organization’s strategy.

The Tools survey I mentioned above commented  1/4 of respondents wouldn’t have the budget to buy the tool.  This perhaps is the biggest challenge I see in large organizations … getting the buy in at the executive levels to a) purchase the tool and b) mandate its use across all products for consistency.

Feature Listing – In my mind, this one goes hand-in-hand with Roadmap.  When you are trying to answer the question does your product do ‘X’ … there needs to be a place where people can search through existing capabilities (with a short description) as the first source/tool.  If it isn’t currently supported, the Roadmap would be the next source/tool to explore.

Access database, SharePoint list, Excel spreadsheet … this has come in many forms. Again, pros/cons to each.  But having a firm understanding of what your product does or does not do is an essential part of the role, as well as what customers are using which features.

Market Data – I was surprised to see a lack of perspective associated with this topic.   While perhaps difficult to be specific with the form factor it takes, the tools necessary to answer the question why are these the right strategic initiatives to pursue are absolutely critical.

Whether it is the latest analyst reports, or a methodology for developing a solid competitive intelligence process, or documenting assumptions around market sizing, or representing the latest consumer data perspectives … without these “tools” I would not feel comfortable standing in front of our executives to defend my strategy.

And having the right tools to make the process repeatable is essential.  Let me say it again …. MAKE THE PROCESS REPEATABLE!  I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been involved with these types of efforts where you have to re-create the same data the next time the same question is asked. Ug!

I heard a quote yesterday that summarizes the perspective best …. the present becomes the past and will show up in the future.  Dwell on the profound nature of that one for a bit!!

KPIs – another one that might be hard to be specific about form factor-wise, but having the right key performance indicators for your product is essential.  Where the Market Data defends where you are going, the KPIs articulate where you have been and where you are currently.  It gives you the perspective of where you might be going, and why change is necessary!  You move what you measure.

You want to take every precaution to minimize the number of times you are asked a question by executives about how your product is performing where you cannot provide a perspective or answer. Trust me on this one … I have had need of this perspective on more than one occasion in my career!

I’m sure there are others, but these are the top of mind ones for me right now.

 

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