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The ABCs of Product Management Technologies

November 19, 2015 | By Jeff Lash

  • Only 13 percent of b-to-b product managers use product-management-specific applications regularly
  • The main reason they don’t use product management tools is that they don’t even know that they exist
  • There are four categories of tools; idea management; concept testing; planning, prioritization & roadmapping; and product engagement

Imagine you hired an accountant who used an abacus instead of a calculator. It seems pretty outdated to use a tool like that when there are much more modern technologies available, right? As bizarre as this may seem, we see a similar pattern in technologies used by product managers. From our research at SiriusDecisions, we see that a large portion of product managers are using simple tools like Word, Excel, PowerPoint and even whiteboards for managing their roadmaps and product requirements. Only 13 percent of b-to-b product managers are using product-management-specific applications regularly (at least once a week).

The ABCs of Product Management Technologies

You can’t blame product managers, though. (I mean, you can blame them for other things, I’m sure, but not for the fact that they’re not using purpose-built tools.) Until recently, there really weren’t many products truly designed for them. However, the past few years have seen tremendous growth in new products designed specifically for product managers or with product managers as one of the primary personas. So why aren’t more product managers using them? Well, as with any new technology or category of tools, awareness and adoption take time. The main reason that product managers aren’t using product-management-specific tools – cited by 32 percent of product managers – is that they simply weren’t aware that these sorts of applications existed.

Well, here we are to the rescue! We’ve been covering product management technologies at SiriusDecisions for a few years now and, in my humble opinion, have a good assessment of what’s happening in the market. In addition to the dramatic rise in the number of new vendors in this space, we see sub-categories starting to develop. So, to help with the ABCs of product management technologies, here are the four main areas of product management technology we are following at SiriusDecisions:

  • Idea management. Product managers may have 99 problems, but a shortage of ideas ain’t one. It’s usually the opposite – there are too many ideas to keep track of and prioritize. Which ones are most crucial to customers? Which ones will help reduce user frustration? Which ones will cause a spike in revenue so you can buy that boat you’ve been eyeing? Idea management platforms help aggregate and organize ideas for new products and product enhancements, and allow for internal and external feedback on the ideas, helping product managers improve communication with stakeholders and better prioritize needs and enhancements. My colleague Jill Stanek wrote more about this type of application in this blog post.
  • Concept testing. Product concepts are like babies – no one thinks theirs is ugly. Well, I hate to break it to you, but yours might be. (Your concept, not your baby – that’s a discussion I’m not going to get involved in.) Unfortunately, it’s all too common for product managers to get so enamored by their concepts that they “forget” to get feedback on them. Concept testing has been around for some time, but the idea of leveraging technology to expedite the process is new. Concept testing tools help gather buyer and user feedback on product and enhancement ideas before they go into development. Many allow for automated, asynchronous testing, so you can do research as you sleep. (Not sure how you enter that in a timesheet, though.) In addition to being used for concept testing, some also help with design and development of prototypes used in testing. Others help gather feedback by supporting usability testing as the concept is being developed.
  • Planning, prioritization and roadmapping. This is the granddaddy of product management technology categories – if your grandfather was only a few years old, that is. Just like SFAs are the central tool for salespeople and marketing automation platforms are the central tool for demand marketers, these tools have the potential to become the central tool for product managers. This category is moving fast, and a large number of vendors are jockeying for position. You have read about our SiriusDecisions SiriusView to Product Planning, Prioritization and Roadmapping Applications, haven’t you? The one where we cover 11 vendors whose offerings are designed to assist product managers develop product plans, prioritize features and enhancements, and maintain and communicate product roadmaps? If you haven’t, why don’t you do that now? I’ll be waiting here until you get back.
  • Product engagement. Once the product is developed and someone has used it for the first time, the hard work is done, right? Oh, if it only were that easy. Especially for SaaS products, understanding how a product is being used and getting customers to increase engagement is key to ongoing success. Traditionally, this required a lot of manual effort and involved piecing together different off-the-shelf tools plus custom technology. Now, an emerging set of product engagement tools not only make this process much easier but also allow a much deeper level of insight. Product engagement tools monitor activity and allow product managers to target interventions with users who meet specific criteria in order to maximize engagement. These tools can also be leveraged for internal or external product training; for customer marketing purposes to promote upsell; or to engage in conversations with users through an application.

That’s our view of the ABCs of product management technologies. What are your thoughts? Is there anything you think we missed?

Jeff Lash

Jeff Lash is Vice President and Group Director, Product Management, where he leads the Product Management and Portfolio Marketing Research and Advisory Services. A recognized thought leader in product management, he has over 15 years of experience in product management, product development, product marketing, and user experience design. Follow Jeff on Twitter at @jefflash.

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