Product Management Toolkits
Four Points to Consider.
Several months ago we conducted an informal survey of product management toolkits. Hardly scientific, we were very interested in understanding perceptions of their value. Why? Because as authors Steven and I commonly get requests for “workable” templates from our books. Up until that point we tended to respond by sending a PDF of the tool in question to whomever asked. However, the frequency of these requests hinted at a larger market opportunity.
The polls we conducted spanned a variety of LinkedIn discussion groups since no single poll would give us sufficient information to generate a reasonable sample. As I said, less than scientific.
However, the findings were insightful if not statistically significant. To summarize, we found that approximately 60% of respondents were open to purchasing product management toolkits and may or may not have already done so. The other 40% were less inclined to do so favoring tools that they had created themselves (often based on Microsoft Office products).
Today’s product managers have largely had to develop their own tools and learn through “trial by fire” as our industry continues to be underdeveloped. Think about it, how many universities can you name that teach product management to undergraduates?
I’m an Adjunct Professor at DePaul University’s College of Computing and Digital Media and I’m told that there are only a couple other folks who actively teach undergrads in the US. Compare that to adjoining professions like engineering or project management. This single data point illustrates that we’re still early on the curve as a profession.
So we tend to rely heavily on our own ingenuity and creativity. Product managers by and large are resourceful people.
While self-reliance got us this far it’s pretty clear that 6o% of the respondents have looked beyond their own tools and are open to other options that can save both time and money. To me, that is one of the key benefits of incorporating thoughtful product management toolkits.
Several weeks ago Hakan Kilic related his experience implementing one of our product management toolkits. Hakan pointed out that toolkits, no matter how good, need to be localized based upon the needs of the business. I happen to agree with Hakan.
Prior to founding Actuation Consulting, I led product management for three separate organizations. While we developed many of our own tools I continued to evolve them over time and across different organizations. However, I also evaluated and purchased other tools that could enhance our efforts, streamline a manual task, solve a specific business problem, or help drive consistency. In these instances, it made sense to rely on others expertise. Why reinvent the wheel?
This brings me back to the point of the poll. We conducted the poll as a supplemental data point since we were being asked to make our project and product management tools available to folks that had purchased our books or taken our training courses. Before we took the plunge, and devoted production time to doing this, we wanted more information. The polls results helped nudge us down the path.
Things have turned out better than we had projected. In fact, we’re rather pleased with the outcome and will be expanding the set of tools we offer in the very near future.
I think the bottom line on product management toolkits is that while they’re not a panacea for structural or organizational issues – they are very useful in the following instances:
- Solving specific business challenges that the team has not faced before – for example, clarifying roles, transition points (hand-offs), and responsibilities in your product’s production process or on your core product team
- Creating a standard terminology and common set of tools across the product management team
- Speeding implementation – assuming you buy into to the methodology that underlies the toolkit (some kits don’t actually have one)
- Focusing more of your time on creating value as a product management professional and less on developing tools
I have yet to meet a single product manager that professes to be an expert in all aspects of the product management life cycle (ranging from the conception of an idea to the products ultimate retirement). Product management toolkits have a roll to play in helping spread knowledge and best practices.
It’s good to see that 60% of the poll respondents are open to evaluating their options. In today’s environment of lean teams and limited time and resources inexpensive tools that improve product team performance can make a difference.
Greg Geracie is a recognized thought leader in the field of product management and the President of Actuation Consulting, a global provider of product management consulting, training, and advisory services to some of the world’s most well-known organizations. Greg is also the author of the global best seller Take Charge Product Management. He is also an adjunct professor at DePaul University’s College of Computing and Digital Media where he teaches graduate and undergraduate courses on high-tech and digital product management.