Sector thesis

PM toolstack - trends and opportunities

Our thoughts on the landscape of current tools and emerging trends for product managers

Rohit Jain, Deepanshu Pattanayak, Published: 14 Jul, 2021

Product managers today are the conductors in the symphony orchestra of design, development, marketing, sales and support functions coordinating the product from conception to launch and its evolution in response to user needs and feedback as well as the competitive landscape. While a lot of products have come up in the last couple of years, PMs still rely on mails, spreadsheets, and word docs for a lot of their tasks involving other teams. In this article, we look at the tools product managers today use and analyze the big gaps and emerging interaction patterns that represent promising directions for new products. 

Key responsibilities, stakeholders and tools used by a PM

Product managers are typically expected to spend their time in:

  1. Thinking about what problem to solve and why 
  2. Figuring out how to solve the problem
  3. Managing stakeholders — engineering, design, UX research, sales, customer support, etc.
  4. Managing and coaching the team

As an organization grows, ~70% of a PM’s time is spent on 3) above to interact and collaborate with multiple different functions of the organization as part of their day to day workflow to :

  • Gather insights on the product from different functions like user research, customer support, sales and marketing
  • Prioritize the product features to be built out based on these insights
  • Decide the product roadmap and collaborate with relevant stakeholders like engineering, design, legal, etc. to eventually launch the product

With remote work becoming the new normal, most of these discussions happen online and are asynchronous in nature most of the time. We spoke to PMs in some of India’s and Silicon Valley’s top companies and tried to get a sense of what are some of the key functions a PM typically collaborates with and how many different tools does he have to use on a daily basis. We have laid down some of the commonly used ones:

  • User research tools for getting user feedback on current/to be launched product features. These tools also enables PMs to scout for opportunities and problems which denote a whitespace for future extension of product capabilities. These tools can include either survey tools like Qualtrics, SurveyMonkey, Typeform or A/B testing tools like Optimizely, LeanPlum, Apptimize.
  • Design and ideation tools to collaborate with UX design team to make sure the product design is in line with business requirements and customer needs. Some of the commonly used tools include Figma, Invision, Mural, Miro, Lucidchart
  • Project management tools enable PMs to manage the entire process of product development and launch. Key features range from defining product requirements, listing down activities to be executed to launch the product, collaboration with stakeholders and tracking progress. Most popular tools are Notion, Trello, Jira, Asana among others.
  • Sales and marketing enablement tools are more relevant from a B2B context — CRM & other sales enablement tools contain product insights from sales conversions with prospective leads. Product managers leverage them to understand product requirements of potential customers along with their feedback on existing features. Some tools in this segment are Salesforce, Hubspot, Gong, Chorus, Highspot, Seismic.
  • Product analytics tools provide a detailed assessment of how the end user is interacting with the website or product thus enabling the product managers to get a granular understanding of adoption, click through rates, conversions, drop offs, etc. Most popular ones are Amplitude, Mixpanel, Pendo, Clevertap, Heap, Fullstory
  • Customer feedback tools range from ticketing platforms, customer success tools, chat platforms, social media, app and play store and customer review platforms. They are a source of customer feedback on what the users are liking vs not liking along with key drivers of adoption, usage and churn.
  • Collaboration and documentation tools to take and share notes, and communicate feedback and ideas across the organization. Commonly used tools are Slack, Notion, Google Docs, Evernote

Modern day tech stack for product managers

Issues faced by PMs with current tool stack

  • Because of this ever expanding PM tech stack, most PMs today are facing a huge challenge where all their product insights are scattered across multiple siloed tools and to defend a particular item in the roadmap, they have to search across multiple tools to put together the complete picture and then collaborating and aligning on it with all relevant stakeholders is also equally hard. And this is only going to become more challenging. As per a recent report by Blissfully, SMBs use 102 unique SaaS apps, mid market companies use 137 while for enterprises, the count is a staggering 288 apps. Not only this, the usage is growing at 30% YoY. 
  • User insights are a PM’s gold mine. And this is an area where PMs are challenged since the feedback coming through user research and customer feedback channels lacks context and detail today:
    • Context: Feedback collected through surveys has a lag and forces the customer to reconstruct his journey at one particular instant which may result in a few details being missed out or mixed up with some other platform experience. Instead, if there were more ways of capturing real time feedback or matching user actions to bugs encountered, this would be much more contextual and detailed.
    • Details: Customer support tickets and social media reviews when aggregated at an issue type level highlight key pain points being faced by users. But existing platforms don’t allow a PM to double click on any of them to zero in on the exact feature which needs to be fixed and a lot of product fixes involve a considerable amount of guesswork or marrying insights between platforms like Zendesk and Amplitude/Mixpanel to get a better picture.

Emerging trends and products we are excited about

But it is not all doom and gloom. Some of the best minds in the world are also taking note of these issues and therefore we are now witnessing some interesting tools emerging to ease the work of product managers. We have jotted down a few which we liked the most.

  • As we saw, the product feedback data is present in various silos which makes it difficult for PMs to create and collaborate on the roadmap; qualitative survey notes are present on Google Docs or Evernote or Notion while insights from quantitative surveys are in Qualtrics or Typeform or spreadsheets, etc. To address this, tools are emerging which enable consolidation of these insights along with features like issue tagging and analytics

    • Productboard acts as a repository for collecting insights and feedback across tools; categorizes insights into product ideas, requests, and feedback to route it to the right product team and map them to the respective feature ideas and helps prioritize features based on their frequency of occurrence. PMs can also easily create, share and collaborate on the product roadmap where every action item can be linked back to the captured insights
    • Dovetail helps in transcribing video and audio interviews and creating a unified repository to combine and store insights from all other forms of survey data collected from Qualtrics, etc. Dovetail also tags most commonly occurring insights highlighted across all surveys and links them back to the source thus simplifying the analysis for the product manager
  • Feedback collection process is becoming more real time. Tools like UserLeap and Maze enable designers and product managers to quickly create surveys from a rich library of templates and get user feedback as they browse the website or platform.

    • UserLeap conducts research through micro-surveys. These surveys are triggered by certain events on the website or platform (e.g., users stuck on payment page or search page for more than X mins) and help understand the user behavior at the appropriate moment. This is especially helpful for a product manager because while Amplitude tells him that the user got stuck, UserLeap helps unearth the “why” behind it without having to contact the user.
    • Maze enables designers to collect data from users/customers in the design and prototyping phase itself through an easy integration with tools like Figma, Sketch, Invision and Marvel. This saves designers valuable time that they would have lost had they waited to create a feature and then collected feedback from users
  • Rise of video based survey platforms as remote surveys grow in importance during the pandemic in the absence of option to travel and also as a cost saving measure

    • Dscout and Lookback provide a video based SaaS research platform which enables respondents to capture their in-the-moment experiences of apps, websites, consumer products or even real estate visits
  • New breed of tools like LogRocket are enabling product managers and engineering teams to map errors/bugs reported with the actual user action in the front end which led to that error. The entire user journey is recorded and can be mapped back to network logs, Javascript errors, and performance telemetry for in-depth debugging to discover what went wrong

We are excited about this space because as organizations collect more data from users and remote work becomes embedded as a permanent feature in most teams, we believe there is huge potential for a new category of tools to come up and ease the pain point of PMs in collecting information from users, storing it in a single repository, converting it to actionable insights and collaborating with the rest of the organization.

Incase you are building in this space or know someone who is, please feel free to reach us at deepanshu@pravegavc.com and rohit@pravegavc.com