Product management begins with a good product manager.
This is the person in charge of a product life cycle, ranging from customer surveys to product testing.
Sounds like a lot of work, right? That's where technology comes in.
Product management is where technology, customers, and your business intersect. Understanding product management tools and when to use them can help ensure your product is a success.
Likely you won't use all the tools we review here. But it's important to understand their role in building a product management system that works best for you.
What is product management?
The short version is that product management is the process of managing a product from birth through growth. It begins with a product idea, then customer feedback, through development, testing, and pricing.
The product lifecycle starts with discovery and planning.
Discovery is when you figure out what products to produce. In the planning phase, you create a product roadmap, identify milestones, and create a timeline. Then, in the product development phase, you'll build, test, and launch the product.
But the launch isn't the end. In many ways, it's just the beginning. Successful products can live on for many years. And during that time, they may go through many revisions and upgrades.
This is why a good product management life cycle includes a feedback loop with the customers. You must use that regular flow of information to refine and improve your product throughout its life.
Product management isn’t project management
It's a common mistake, but product management and project management roles are entirely different.
A product manager guides the long-term success of a product. They're responsible for product vision, product strategy, development, and longevity. Their primary stakeholder is the consumer of that product.
Project management, on the other hand, is about execution. Project managers balance budgets and chase deadlines and milestones. They focus on day-to-day project deliverables, building towards a final deadline and overall success. The key stakeholders in a project can change along the way, but there's generally a project owner and a project sponsor.
Although the tools used by project and product managers may be similar, the functionality needed is very different. Looking at those differences is a handy way to understand what you'll need from your product management software.
Product management tools are designed to:
- Be a product roadmap tool
- Track market trends
- Gather customer data
- Map user journeys
- Analyze product data.
Project management tools help you:
- Define goals
- Track timelines
- Define scope
- Plan and track project progress.
Why do you need product management tools?
No product is just a product. They reflect and are intended to help deliver a company's goals, objectives, and strategy.
A great example of this is Spotify. From the get-go, the company's strategy and primary goal was to change the rules of the music industry.
Customer needs and wants
Spotify launched in 2008 when online music streaming was very fragmented. There were illegal platforms like Napster and The Pirate Bay, but you could never be sure you'd find what you wanted. iTunes and Pandora were also in the mix, but both had drawbacks. iTunes wanted you to pay per song, and Pandora was more like a radio station — you couldn't choose your songs.
Spotify's founders saw the opportunity and developed a product that's still with us today. Based on customer wants and needs, they took the best product features of the existing platforms, pulled them together, and built something better.
Spotify continues to evolve (and improve) today based on customer use and feedback.
Maximize internal resources
Product managers have a finite amount of resources, including time, money, and human labor. The secret to developing a successful product is to maximize your resources.
Daniel Ek and Martin Lorentzon didn't have a product manager tool to help them, but that's precisely what they did.
When they founded Spotify in 2006, it was just the two of them with their accumulated skills and experience. Living in and working out of an apartment in the suburbs of Stockholm, they spent those two years creating, testing, and fine-tuning the first product release.
They're still both very hands-on today but have significantly grown the Spotify team. At the end of 2023, they had around 10,000 employees working in 15 offices worldwide — all focused on changing the music industry's rules.
Collaboration and communication
Although Daniel and Martin didn't need a collaboration tool when it was just the two shouting from different rooms in the apartment, they do now.
Collaboration and communication between team members are crucial for developing any product, especially if those team members are in different time zones across the globe.
If you think of what Spotify produces being done on a production line, where the 10,000 employees would stand next to each other on the same line, virtual real-time collaboration lets them do the same work from their living rooms across the world.
Oh, and virtual team collaboration helps Spotify streamline processes, produce less waste, and save time because it's always available (when the employees need it).
What to look for in a product management tool
Before you begin, it's always smart to take a step back and think about why you need a product management tool in the first place.
For example, if your product manager has difficulty speaking to customers, you'd want to consider a CRM (customer relationship management) or a survey tool.
Taking a moment with staff involved in product management to discuss their needs will give you a better understanding of the variety of tools that are required.
Ultimately, your goal is to help your team with product development.
And, of course, your budget will need to be factored in.
In-app collaboration features
- Can you collaborate on tasks and documents within the platform?
- Does the app have virtual whiteboards?
- Can you do in-app "huddling" or video meetings?
- Will the tool help with work and goal tracking?
- How about issue tracking?
- Even though tasks are assigned to different team members, centralized task tracking helps ensure the whole team knows each task's status.
- Will you be able to track user insights in the tool?
- Can analytics be visually represented (think dashboards)?
- Can you do custom reporting in the app?
- Will this tool work on employees' current devices?
- Can the tool play nicely with other tools you and your team use (e.g., Google Workspace)?
- Can data be imported easily from other tools that are currently in use?
Ease of use
- What does the learning curve look like?
- Is user training and education costly?
- How does your team feel about using this tool?
Top 10 product management tools
Motion is perfect for your product management toolbox
Since you can sort tasks by assignee, deadline, project, or even priority, it allows you to see what's happening, when, and who's responsible at all times.
It can also help you track, manage, plan, and automate your team's schedules — all within a simple and intuitive interface. This will be a lifesaver when you're managing your product roadmap.
Motion also helps product teams collaborate. It allows them to share updates with team members, view each other's schedules, and work from within a centralized workspace. You can add notes, comments, and attachments to all your tasks and projects.
Slack is a popular messaging tool that allows team members to message or collaborate virtually. It also lets users make video calls and enables you to create channels where you can simultaneously message a group of people.
And because Slack is so popular, there's a good chance that your external vendors and suppliers are already on the platform. Slack has claimed that nearly 80% of Fortune 100 companies use it.
Evernote is a web-based application that lets team members capture, save, and sync text, image, and video files across different devices. You can use it on laptops and mobile devices, and it’s great for capturing information and sharing it with your team.
Instead of writing things down on a napkin or sticky note, you can open a digital note and jot down your thoughts. Or you could record your comments and share the audio clip with or without a transcript.
This web-based product began as a simple file-hosting service. It enables your team members to store, search for, manage, and share digital assets in a centralized, online location.
Dropbox allows users to save files in online folders to sync across multiple devices. Team members can work both online and offline. It helps you unify aspects of your digital asset library and, to an extent, even lets your team edit and collaborate on files.
Every office has a whiteboard that’s used for brainstorming sessions. While this is great for use in an in-person meeting, it’s not great for virtual meetings (or follow-up). Attendees need to take down all the items into notes or take a photo of the board to work from later.
Miro's online collaborative whiteboarding platform works like a traditional whiteboard, except that it's hosted in the cloud. This allows distributed teams to communicate and collaborate across formats, tools, channels, and time zones.
A popular analytics tool, Google's service allows you to examine the behavior of your customers online. This can be exceptionally valuable if, like Spotify, yours is an online or digital product.
You can see what pages they navigate to (and from), learn where they are in the world, and understand how long they stay on which parts of your website.
This data is useful for identifying their preferences, key features they use regularly, and areas ripe for improvement.
Where Google offers solid insight into analytics, Heap takes the process a few steps further by adding data science into the mix. This can help you understand the user experience at a more nuanced level – everything they do, everywhere on your website.
As a result, you can identify problem areas and fix them, which helps to improve customer retention and satisfaction (and your bottom line).
Mixpanel is also an analytics platform, but its claim to fame is that it allows you to focus on your mobile data. And in a world where up to 60% of online purchases are made from mobile apps, this is increasingly important.
Customer surveys are critical for product managers to get user feedback and collect user stories. They allow questions to be asked of customers and you to collect data on customer feedback.
The free Google Docs Editors suite includes Google Forms, a survey administration tool. Like most Google products, it’s available as a web application and is easy to use. Little or no training is required.
SurveyMonkey offers what Google Forms does and then some. For example, it has a “Build it for me” feature that’ll do everything for you. All you have to do is select the type of survey you want, specify your goal, choose a template, provide your company name, and upload your logo. The app takes care of the rest.
Many advanced features aren't free, but SurveyMonkey has tiers, so you don’t pay for services you don’t use. The site also offers information on implementing surveys, getting helpful customer feedback, and ensuring they positively impact your business.
Tips for better product management
The key to managing your product successfully is effective and constant communication and collaboration with all internal and external stakeholders. You know what they say: teamwork makes dreams work.
Product management is made up of many moving components. You must understand how to prioritize tasks and ensure your time and resources are used efficiently. You might have the greatest widget in the world, but if the total cost to make that exceeds what customers are willing to pay, it’s all for naught.
Using a tool like Motion, you’ll centralize all the documents associated with your product in a single location. This means your team can access them as needed, reduce errors, save time, and improve quality.
Follow the data
You need a lot of data to understand the market fit of your product. Customer demographics, key features, sales figures, cost of resources, revenue...the list goes on. The key is combining that data and always having access to it for useful, informed decisions.
Using Motion as your product management platform
Finding the right product management tools for you can be tricky. But the best place to start is with your product management schedule. Consider Motion, which allows you to track your product development process, including task assignments, automate the work schedule, and stay on top of your team’s progress in real-time.
Motion also offers custom views, including assignee, priority, and due date.
When you feel there aren’t enough people to help manage a product, the AI-powered Motion becomes the assistant you need.
Sign up for a 7-day free trial to get started.