A fine table requires the right tools to build. So it is with the hardware and software products we use and depend on every day. Like woodworkers’ tools used to produce fine furniture, product management tools allow talented product managers to build products that enhance and sometimes even save lives. 

Successful product development is a complex, multi-dimensional process. The best product management tools support this process. These tools allow product managers to leverage their skills and manage the array of skillsets within their teams. This combination of practiced competence, teamwork, and good tools produces well-designed products that people want and need.  

Let’s review the role of a product manager, the process involved in bringing a product to market, and the tools product managers use.

What is Product Management?

The journey from product concept to market crosses diverse and challenging terrain. There are many different stakeholders along the way, each with its metrics for success. Product management is the careful execution of each step. Effective product management charts a course that meets all benchmarks, satisfies all stakeholders, and brings quality products to market.

What Do Product Managers Do?

Describing what a project manager does often leads to analogy–an orchestra conductor, perhaps, or an expedition leader. These analogies fit in that they represent the kind of leadership inherent to each. 

Where narrow specialists dive deep into the weeds of their particular field, the conductor, expedition leader, or product manager maintains the broad view. Each role involves guiding diverse elements of an endeavor to a complete whole. 

In other words, product managers are specialized generalists. They possess the technical, organizational, business, and soft skills required to maintain the big picture, translating that vision into useful–and easy to use–products.

The Best Product Management Tools

The best product management tools are built by successful product management teams. They know what their colleagues need to deliver product development projects on time and on budget. The tools themselves demonstrate the core concepts and methodologies of product management. Reviewing some top product management tools offers a glimpse into that process. 

Let’s examine some of the most popular tools and how they relate to the methods and stages of product development. 

Strategy and Roadmapping

We use maps to help us reach an objective and ensure we are on track to meet that objective. Product development is a long and winding road. A product roadmap is a high-level guiding document visually outlining the purpose and direction of a product over time. 

In product management, we use roadmapping tools to describe the vision and strategy of product development. Roadmapping helps align efforts, communicate with stakeholders, and tie a product’s strategy back to a company’s overall business goals. Roadmapping tools also help managers and teams conduct scenario planning for each project stage.  

Some examples of roadmapping software include:

User Testing, Tracking, and Analysis

Any worthwhile product must be as frictionless as possible for the end-user. How easy or difficult is a product to use? 

Products typically involve user interaction beyond the product itself. How intuitive is the entire product experience? These considerations include a product website’s design and navigation structure, user support capabilities, or completed trial downloads. User testing, tracking, and analysis accomplish this critical goal. 

Examples of user testing tools include:

Project Management

First, it’s important to distinguish between project management and product management. Product managers oversee the whole board. Project managers organize and track the movements of all the pieces. 

That said, all team members interact with project management software as they perform tasks, collaborate with colleagues, and update progress. 

Popular project management options include:

Like any good product, these product management tools (and many more) evolve as product managers test, evaluate, and analyze their products to ensure they meet customer expectations. 

Learn Product Management Online at Merrimack College

With the applicable range of skills and experience, professionals with either a business or STEM background can thrive as in-demand product managers. The online MS in Engineering Management Product Management program offers both. 

The MSEM degree employs an experiential learning model that combines theory and practice in an industry-aligned curriculum. Students master high-level concepts and how to use the practical tools of the trade. Graduates are ready to apply the business, technical, and soft skills required to lead successful product development projects and teams. 

The flexible, 100 percent online program offers specialized tracks in Life Sciences, Software/Web/Mobile, and Technology. 

Successful products reflect a complex vision and planning process incorporating design and iteration, technical expertise, empathy, and communication. With the right tools, skills, and experience, professionals can harness these tools and traits, assume leadership roles in product management, and bring cutting-edge products to market that improve our lives.