The Product Manager Stack
Engineers have countless “stacks” articles. These articles list the best hardware to use to maximize productivity to the hottest frameworks/software.
Product Managers don’t have the same wealth of recommendations for what tools to use. This is a list of tools I use.
Product managers continuously engage with teams, competitors, and customers on Slack, by email, Zoom, or in person. But, if you are like me and memory is not your forte, investing in the right tools will help you stay organized.
I warn Product Managers against the overuse of instant messaging tools (Slack, Teams, text message). Because of the transient nature of these tools, crucial pieces of information get lost. As a consequence, I recommend Product Managers avoid direct messages except for coordination.
Emails are a crucial part of my workflows and have been a personal chore for years. If emails are critical to your role, invest in inbox zero. I can’t recommend Superhuman enough. It’s expensive at $30/month, but after trying it for a few months, it has changed how I interact with emails.
Just like instant communication, in-person or Zoom conversations will lead to critical information being lost. However, I found a trick - voice recorders. I’ve been rocking a voice recorder for years, and it has saved many conversations from being forgotten.
Be considerate and don’t record people without their consent…
If you follow my advice above, you’ll accumulate countless notes & thoughts. In fact, I advise Product Managers to elevate these notes and call them “product insights.”
There are a plethora of note-taking tools available. They range from expensive with advanced features like roam or Obsidian to extremely simple like Apple Notes. I’ve tried many over the years, and I stuck with Evernote. I prefer simplicity and free-form notes while keeping some advanced features.
Note-keeping at a company is more complex. I recommend choosing a tool that makes it trivial to collect & share product insights. At Truework, we’ve invested in ProductBoard to gather product insights. It’s a fantastic tool to allow the entire organization to send the product team insights from their daily driver tools (e.g., Slack, Gong, Salesforce, etc…).
Well-organized product insights are the collective memory and shared product context for the organization. Without insights, Product Managers will lack the shared language and awareness of what customers need or what competitors do.
Prototyping & Decisions
Now that you have product insights and start to create a shared context among Product Managers, the product team will be ready to iterate the best product ideas through prototyping and make decisions.
Many great ideas will never take off because a Product Manager fails to create a strong image in the mind of their design or engineering counterparts. Products ideas are, first and foremost, visualization of what a solution looks like. I recommend every Product Manager at truework to master one low-fi prototyping tool. The tool can be as simple as pen & paper and sketching. Alternatively, Balsamiq, LucidChart, or even Figma can help you create a low-fi prototype in minutes.
Personally, I recommend against Figma for low-fi prototyping; the tool invites criticism on the form (UI) rather than on the content and the experience (UX). I use Figma for high-fi prototypes.
When it’s time to move forward and record product decisions, writing is irreplaceable. Product teams fall apart if there’s no mechanism to record decisions. A good wiki & project tracker are crucial parts of a Product Manager stack. Not all options are created equal. Unlike insights & note-taking, wikis should be read-first, bias towards organization features and good search. I am partial to the Confluence + JIRA combo and avoid write-first applications like Notion.
Time is the raw material of creativity. It’s essential to building great products. If you don’t have uninterrupted as a Product Managers, odds are you’re not going to do a good job.
Running from meeting to meeting is a failure mode for a Product Manager. Your role will be of a Project Manager.
Time is a resource and tool in the Product Manager stack; make sure you have the highest quality time possible. In fact, I recommend 1 hour per day of uninterrupted thinking time. Actively manage your calendar to create that space by putting blocks of time to “just think.” Some people swear by Clockwise; I haven’t used it and won’t recommend it yet.
If you have more recommendations for Product Managers, let me know!