Useful tools for Product Management

Tools are critical to the product manager to be effective. Here I talk about some of my personal arsenal of tools to be effective, not a complete list, but useful aids to the job at hand

Product Managers are tool users. Perhaps not as monumental as our ancestors who began using stone tools at the dawn of civilization, we as a class are pretty comfortable with the technologies and share a willingness to try new things.
As the cloud attains ascendancy, there are several great tools that either extend our work arenas, provide collaboration, or facilitate communication. This is by no means a complete survey, just a sampling of a few that I use on a frequent basis. You will note that there are none of the specialist tools for roadmap management, or feature tracking.  That is grist for another post.

Note Taking

In the dim past, people used paper notepads, or engineering books to jot down notes from meetings, brainstorms, and to provide an indelible record of your thoughts. I personally have dozens of these books filled out, and filed on shelfs, where I have dutifully taken hundreds of customer visit notes, thousands of meeting notes, and many off hand thoughts. I can't remember the last time I actually went back more than one of these books and searched for a prior note. Perhaps it is because it is cumbersome, but more likely, it is because I have really mediocre penmanship, better suited to a physician writing scrips.

Enter electronic note taking software. The clear leader here is Microsoft's OneNote. It is an intuitive, easy to use vehicle to capture notes, plans, ideas, and other daily tidbits. It can also store snippets of an image, documents can be dragged in (PDF, jpg, word, excel, etc), and embedded into your stream of thought. You can also capture and organize favorite web sites, and gather material towards a larger work or bibliography. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. With the release of the 2010 version of OneNote, comes the ability to synchronize to the cloud, and to share your notebooks with other colleagues, allowing an intuitive data repository and collaboration vehicle. When I originally wrote this, it was a Windows only package, but now it is freely available via the Mac AppStore. Woot!

Multi system file synchronization

Again there are a few options here, but hands down, DropBox is the victor. It is multi platform, seamless, and for a modest annual fee, it will keep many computers in sync for critical files. I keep my main work files in my dropbox, and I can work on it wherever I happen to be. Also, there are methods for sharing files publicly, but I am not really using it that way.

I have pretty much stopped using USB thumbdrives. This just works better, and each major release improves the functionality. It is worth the money for the 50G plan 1TB plan. And the upside is that if they should go defunct, you don't lose your files. They are on all your computers, so there is little risk. DropBox gives you a few options, a 2G "free" account to whet your appetite, and then a 1TB solution for $9.99 a month storage version. They have also added business "team" plans.

Password Sychronization

Unless you are foolish, and use the same password everywhere, you probably have a growing collection of internet and web passwords. From banking to services like facebook, twitter, and shopping sites, you will want unique, and more importantly nontrivial passwords. Enter 1password. This is a great application that provides security, and with the Dropbox account, safe synchronization across all your computers. The strength is the plugins for all the major browsers to auto fill in the log in screens, and to provide a generator for new passwords. It is not free, but it is a reasonable price, and worth every penny. It is multi-platform with clients for iOS, Android, Mac and Windows, so if you  are like me, living in a fragmented world, you are covered, and never far from your passwords.

There are a few free options out there, but the integration with browsers and the convenience that it provides make them cumbersome and less than friendly to use.


Clearly, this is not a complete survey, but it is a start. I will periodically post items on new gadgets and tools that I use to make my life better.

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