Top tools for Digital Product Manager to get the most out of remote teams

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Maulik Sailor
Maulik Sailor
December 6, 2020
So, what are the top tools for product teams to improve their remote work? Read on to know about some of the best tools that I can recommend to product managers and scrum teams to work remotely more efficiently.‍
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What a year 2020 was! It surely forced many companies to rethink their operational models and adopt the remote work model to adapt to the new normal. I was fortunate enough to lead Product Development Teams in a 24*7 delivery model with remote teams and cannot advocate enough the benefits of building a high-performing team of global talents vs a local pool.

Companies are acknowledging the fact that remote work is here to stay and offers benefits for all parties, especially for Product and software development teams. Remote work can make engineering teams and software developers improve their productivity, work-life balance, save money and job satisfaction. For product managers, remote work offers access to the deeper global talent pool. However, for organizations to exploit remote work more effectively, you need the best tools to enhance your teams’ productivity wherever they are across the world.

So, what are the top tools for product teams to improve their remote work?

Here are some of the best tools that I can recommend to product managers and scrum teams to work remotely more efficiently.

Mind mapping

Connecting concepts to create disruptive ideas requires intensive and extensive mind mapping. I think, this is what Miro was designed to do. In no time it has become my favourite tool for me to document all the crazy concepts that I develop. Digital product teams working remotely can rely on Miro to organize concepts in related groupings at the beginning of the ideation process.

Flowcharts & Diagrams

If you are looking for the easiest way to organize and map out high-level ideas, you should consider using Miro. With Miro, you can put together notes and ideas from your team and get a rough sketch of the concepts quickly. Miro is the go-to remote work tool if you need to undertake complex and high-level process mapping and rough sketching.

User Research

Finding the right participants for user research remotely can be a challenge if you do not have the right tools to customise and automate the process. I use Ethnio to create elegant recruiting screeners for me to conduct remote UX research and automate online exercises and surveys. Typeform is also very effective for customizing the design of your surveys, quizzes, or forms based on what your need. Both Typeform and Ethnio are perfect for doing qualitative and quantitative research on users and personas to validate concepts.

Brainstorming

Can you brainstorm without the brains being in the same room? This was our biggest challenge when we were planning our discovery workshops. Anyways, we gave it a try and relied a lot on Miro and of course Zoom.US. We developed all the required knowledge templates in Miro and leveraged the Random Words brainstorming technique for free association of concepts. We used Miro to place our central concept in the middle, which allows other team members to add related ideas to create a much large and complex concept. It also allows for larger brainstorming techniques that you can use in your discovery workshops.

Roadmapping

Roadmapping is all about prioritising, tracking, and organising mission-critical issues. Typically, I prefer MS Excel for this, but Atlassian Jira remains my favouring Roadmapping tool as I find it easy enough but also detailed tool for my development tool to see the details as required. Perhaps, this is one of the tools that I have used the longest in my product management career and still highly recommend development teams, both local and remote, to organise and prioritise product roadmaps, strategy, and releases more efficiently.

Wireframing

Pen and Paper is the best wireframing tool, but for remote teams, I recommend using either Adobe XD or Miro. These tools can streamline your wireframing process and come in handy for creating low-fidelity product mock-ups prior to visual design. Both Miro and Adobe XD allow you to use just one tool for the entire process. Alternatives are Sketch and Figma, but Adobe XD just wins my vote because not only it offers all the features of the these tools, but also it overcomes all the their limitations quiet well.

User Onboarding

Personalising User Onboarding is a smarter way to guide and help your customers to understand your software instantly. Remote teams can leverage User Lane to personalise User Onboarding. It is designed to you guide your customers in real-time through the features and functions of your software. You can also rely on User Lane to automate remote team training to enable new hires to understand your software and catch up quickly with the rest of the team.

Prototyping

When it comes to prototyping, you need a tool with all the features to make your project a success. Again, Adobe XD has all the features you need to create high-fidelity product prototypes after designing but prior to writing code. With Adobe XD, both product managers and designers have a powerful prototyping tool to deliver interactive prototypes that simulate a user experience and collaborate in real-time.

User Experience Designing

To translate your small bulb into something tangible, you need a remote work tool that is robust enough to make user design as smooth as possible. Sketch can help you create user flows and take rough product design ideas to the next stage. You can also use Figma for designing or InVision for design collaboration. These tools are effective but lack some features for remote teams to collaborate effectively. IMO, Adobe XD is the best alternative for user designing since it combines all the features of these tools and can visualise digital products like software. Having all the features you need in a single tool can streamline your product design processes better.

Usability Testing

Usability testing apps are essential for product managers to ensure the new product features are fit for purpose. One usability testing tool that stands out is UserTesting, which is highly recommended for agile product teams. UserTesting allows you to monitor how real users interact with newly released products. It comes in handy if you need to get and analyze user feedback on your prototypes and pre-release versions. With UserTesting, you can receive and analyse videos of your target market, ask questions, and get feedback within an hour. It can help you discover what’s resonating with users.

Agile Project Management

Managing active product management processes requires a highly integrated one-in-all solution to reduce your workload. This is where Atlassian Jira comes in handy. It is a one-in-all issue tracking software that offers deep integrations throughout the development and releases workflow. Jira allows PMs to track bugs, issues, and project management functions. You need Jira to manage an active product management process in an agile workflow.

Analytics

Can you analyse and optimize your customer journey without knowing where traffic comes from? No, right? Google Analytics is probably the widely used tool and can help you discover where your traffic is coming from. It is also effective for analysing what visitors are doing on your site in real time. However, my recent favourite product analytics tool is Amplitude to understand users of their apps and release products with better experiences. You can use Google Analytics for free and Amplitude for paid to analyse and optimize your full customer journey. Both can take care of the most critical part of the process.

A/B Testing

In today’s multi-channel world, your A/B testing tool should allow you to interact with users across different platforms. If you are looking to test different versions of features and copy to optimise your product, you can use Optimizely, Google Optimize, or Apptimize. Both Optimizely and Google Optimizer allow you to create A/B tests, multivariate experiments and redirect tests. But Optimizely also supports multi-page experiments and third-party integrations. On the other hand, Apptimize enables you to optimize all your customer digital touchpoints and track the impact of your optimizations across different platforms.

Heatmapping & Session Recording

If you want to analyse how visitors are using your website, Hotjar is the perfect remote work for your product team. With Hotjar, you can leverage heat maps and user-session recordings to analyse how visitors use your apps and websites. Hotjar is effective for receiving, recording, and analysing direct feedback from individual user sessions, clicking, and scrolling.

Team Collaboration

When it comes to remote digital product teams, seamless collaboration is one of the core ingredients for success. Although Slack is very popular, I prefer Microsoft Teams. Why? Well, it is a well-integrated tool with inbuilt Video calls like Zoom and it is well integrated with other Office 365 products like Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneDrive, and Outlook. You do not need to keep switching since all essential collaboration tools are well integrated. I just find Office 365 as a much better product compared to Google’s and widely accessible unlike Apple’s proprietary formats.

Project Planning and Knowledge Management

Both Atlassian Jira and Confluence are excellent for product documentation and agile project management. In the recent past, Notion and Trello have emerged as alternative remote work tools and are becoming increasingly popular for fast-paced start-ups that require flexible solutions to visualise projects. But I still prefer the Atlassian suite because it offers all the tools a project manager needs to assign, track, and update task-level responsibilities assigned to members of their team. MetroRetro is also emerging as an alternative for sprint retros.

Developer Collaboration

As the highest-rated platform for developers, GitHub is popular for a reason. It can bring together designers and developers to deliver quality products. From reviewing code to managing projects, and building software, GitHub is ideal and essential for developer collaboration for coding.

A new tool for remote work can improve your product management operations and do wonders for productivity, communication, and results. However, there is no one-fits-all solution when it comes to remote work. You must choose tools that address the unique needs of your product teams.

Development Methodology

Well Scrum and Kanban would be an obvious answer, but it can become a bit challenging to coordinate efforts of different teams. Hence, I would recommend SAFe framework for organisations with multiple remote teams. To be clear, I would not recommend organising a large PI planning week, which could easily become a super spreader. However, I would recommend organising a remote PI planning with only the RTE, Product Management, Systems Engineering and Epic Owners, who all can then coordinate efforts of their respective teams and stakeholders. Possibly I will write more on this in a different blog.

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