The Right Tool for the Right Task

This may sound as luxury, especially when in a start-up company, but using the right tool can save you a lot of time in organizing your work or your peers’. And when those tools are actually built to solve a specific user problem, they may even lead to serendipity. They will help you ask yourself more questions and overall improve your work.

Beyond the basics

Yes, Excel, Word and PowerPoint can do a lot. And you probably will always figure out a proper way of writing down your thoughts and communicating them. But they are not offering a business logic which is specific enough to product management.
When I say “the right tool for the right task », that can mean you’ll end-up with a dozen of them. Now the one thing you want to avoid is duplicate information. So you’d better choose them wisely and make sure they can integrate together, share and update each other’s data. Otherwise that won’t help at all.

You might also want to consider having “the right tool for the right task at the right moment”. It still takes time to start using a new tool, configure it, and make sure it becomes part of the company’s best practices. The trick will be to judge when to introduce a new one. You probably will have to wait a bit before the need starts to grow, and then come with the solution. Otherwise your colleagues may simply reject it, and it will be even harder to tell them about it in the future.
That being said, and without any will of advertising, you’ll find below a list of the tools that proved to be useful to me. And some of their downsides.

Context

It may be worthwhile to let you know of my business context for the past years, though:
  • Building SaaS applications for businesses
  • Start-up companies or SMBs
  • On-line & off-line sales channels
  • Agile methodologies
  • I’m involved in Product Strategy, Marketing, Lead Generation and Sales, Business Model and Pricing, Roadmapping, Product Design, Project Management, Customer Satisfaction & Support

Tools I’m using, or that I have been using

Balsamiq

It’s a fair trade-off between simplicity and mockup accuracy.

I’ve tried Axure in the past. Great tool as well, but in the end it goes so far in the details that you end up wasting your time. That is, within the context I described. I’m sure that within a large corporation with people dedicated to building prototypes, that tool would be better.

Back to Balsamiq Mockups. Basically it’s a tool that will help you sketch wireframes, in a cleaner way that you would on paper. More than that, you can use a lot of templates and ready-made components that make drawing a drag-n-drop exercise. You can then export your mockups in image files, or PDF. The cool part of the PDF is that it can include links which you’ll be able to place in the UI mockups, so that you can browse trhought the PDF pages just like if you were browsing through a prototype.

Easy to use. Good design results. Good UX.

Confluence

Not the most used tool from Atlassian, not the best, but has the advantage of being integrated with Jira. What do you use it for? Communicating with your on all topics where Jira can’t. Amongst which: Specifications, Meeting minutes, Internal announcements, Plans, To-do lists, Team agenda (inc. team holidays and special events) sync’ed with the roadmap.

It’s based on a wiki UX. I’m not a fan of it, especially as it’s not very natural to arrange a hierarchy of pages. But It’s then very easy to use the search engine and find any document related to the keywords you’ve entered.

You can also play around with access rights, as it’s not always necessary to bug everyone with all the information you can store there.

The integration with Jira will make it possible to link meeting minutes or specifications to sprints and stories. That way, it’ll be possible to easily navigate between the two, and check the development status of a Feature right from the spec.

Provides a lot of communication features. Integrates with Jira. Not a very nice UX.

Jira

The best tool to me if you’re working in Agile/Scrum. I’ll tried a few others, including Pivotal Tracker and GitHub Kanban plugins. But they’re a mess.

Jira Is the only tool I found that makes it possible to arrange properly your stories, epics, versions, and track progress of Scrum sprints or Kanban delivery. The reporting is real-time as well as through extensive reports that may help you find out where you’re good, and where you should improve.

Moreover, there’s a lot of flexibility in the configuration. Which makes it possible to “own” the process and the tool. Watch out though. If you’re new to Agile and/or that tool, don’t start with modifying everything. There are some rather good default settings which should be good enough for a start. And modifying them may lead into a buggy process.

The right tool for Agile/Scrum. Flexible. Good UX. A little slow when using On-Demand.

GitHub

Probably the tool that is the less meant for Product Managers. Don’t get me wrong: it’s a great tool. Just not the one I need, or can take advantage of as much as I would like.

It’s great for developers, as it enables repositories management, git-workflows, code reviews and commenting, issues management, integration with CIs, and much more.

But as soon as you start trying to work in Scrum, you won’t go far. As I mentioned earlier, there are some tools that can be used “above” GitHub, such as ZenHub. But they’re still pretty young, and their functional coverage is just as light. Looking at what Jira is able to provide, there’s a long way there…

Now the cool thing is that there’s an integration with Jira. It could be better, but it still lets you see the PR and commits from the Jira issues, and get the Jira workflow triggered on specific GitHub events.

Good tool for developers. Needs to be integrated in a Project Management tool.

Hubspot

When I started using this tool, it was fully for free. It’s currently evolving and they’re creating upsell on some features.

I tried a few ones before this, and I must say it was the most straight forward, with the most appealing UI.

You can easily create and organize contacts and companies, link them together. Hubspot additionally feeds a contact or company sheet with data it finds on Internet, such as news feeds, LinkedIn profiles, Twitter,…

The “Deals” are a very useful feature to manage your pipe, a bit like in a Kanban board. Very helpful when you want to make sure that a prospect isn’t “dead”.

It is rather flexible on configuration, especially on custom fields, and views.

Easy to use. Flexible. Appealing UI.

Zendesk

One of the most used helpdesk tools, it seems. Very thorough functional coverage, it is sometimes a bit complex or counter-intuitive to organize and browse through views. It is also quite expensive.

But in the end, it really does the job. You can fine tune workflows, track ticket handling customer satisfaction, manage ticket assignment, create triggers and automations, alerts, manage SLAs, and make sure to have a fully branded communication.

A reference. Sometimes complex to use. A bit expensive.

Slack

For a while HipChat was hip. Now Slack is. Not sure there’s a reason, but that’s how it is.

It’s quite a cool instant messaging tool for businesses. There’s plenty of native integrations and an SDK which will let you build your own. So you’ll be able to use it as an alerting tool very easily.

Besides, channels and groups enable to focus discussions on topics and specific user groups.

It is also pretty simple to use.

Simple. Can be used for alerting.

Aha!

Nice name, uh? That tool is the cherry on the cake for product managers. Which may mean it’s the last one you’ll want to look at. And you won’t necessarily be right about it.

Basically, this tool makes it possible for you, product manager, to correlate business strategy, objectives, roadmap and workflows in an easy and visual way.

On top of that, you can easily export your data to documents templates made for communicating to stakeholders such as customers and investors. Best is that you can easily, in a few clicks, decide of which level of information you are willing to disclose.

The features are structured in a way that will help you ask yourself the right questions at the right moment, and articulate your overall strategy. Clearly a product by Product Managers for Product Managers.

And yes, it integrates with Jira (and other tools).

THE product management tool.

Tools I’d like to use in the future

Billing & invoicing

For now, having used home made tools, I’m looking forward to using Recurly. Anyone has experience with it? The feature set seems great, and the customer references are many.

Inbound Marketing

Well… that’s kind of an empty space here. I must say I’m not sure of what to expect out of such a tool. So even on that, your advice is welcome.

Customer Success Management

I’ve heard a lot about trending Customer Success Management tools. Sounds pretty cool, as they are supposed to integrate with all of the previously listed tools categories. They should give information about each user from the day that they first hit your website, until the day they quit your product. Wait, no, until they pay for an extra round, otherwise that product missed on his promise.
Experience here?

What are your thoughts?

Even if I’m writing a blog, I’m not really the kind of guy who likes monologues. Feel free to let me know of your thoughts on the tools you have been using, and your recommendations!

Featured image by florianric

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s