If you want to be a bad product manager, insist on finding the perfect software solution to use in product management. Spend months and months evaluating different packages, comparing the features and evaluating their functionality. Finding the right tool is important, because it can fix all of your product management problems. The ideal software is out there and you will discover it if you put enough time into finding it.
If you want to be a good product manager, find good tools that support your product management needs. Software that can help collect customer feedback, manage requirements, and plan roadmaps is beneficial to product managers. However, great tools can not make up for bad product management, and great product managers can do fantastic work without great tools.
Sports provides a useful analogy for the utility of product management tools: product management software is to product managers what golf clubs are to golfers. Would Tiger Woods still be a good golfer even if he had a beat-up old set of golf clubs? Probably — maybe not as dominating as he is now, but he would still be one of the greatest. If I buy the same golf clubs that Tiger Woods uses, will I be able to play just like him? No way! Tools can enhance one’s skill but not act as a replacement.
There are golfers who spend much more time looking for new clubs, golf balls, and other equipment in the hopes of magically fixing their game, when they would most likely benefit much more by putting their time and energy into training and practicing instead. For product managers, there’s no problem with finding good tools, but there is a problem with focusing too much on the tools and not enough on the other product management duties. No software can substitute for getting out of the office and listening to customers, talking with your product development team face-to-face, and thinking strategically about the vision for your product.
Lastly, there are hundreds of professional golfers, all of whom use some different type of equipment — drivers, irons, putters, balls, bags, shoes. No two have the exact same setup. If there is one “perfect” set of tools, why doesn’t everyone use it? Endorsements aside, it is likely because different tools fit different people. Equipment needs will change depending on your skill, preferences, strengths and weaknesses, as well as the conditions you work under. The same applies to product management — what is appropriate for a small software startup may not work for a multi-national insurance company. Even within the company, different products may have different needs depending on the size of the product, the product development team involved, the different roles and responsibilities, and other factors. Best practices should be shared but never forced if they do not fit.
As a product manager, you should investigate what different types of tools to support your product management activities. I say “tools” and not “software” because the best tools for a specific situation may be Post-It notes and index cards. Excel and Access or open-source tools may work well for others. Many good software packages designed specifically for product management exist and may be worth evaluating.
Finding the right tools is important but can not replace good solid skills and competencies in product management. Rather than trying to find the “perfect” solution (which does not exist), look for good tools that will support and enhance your product management practices.