How to Replace Excel As the Product Management Tool of Choice – Product Talk with Nils Davis

I recently had a very interesting conversation with Nils Davis, who is the former product manager of Accept 360s product management tool about, what it takes for a product management tool to succeed.

The default tool of a product manager is Excel, basically a list of things you need to do, so the first observation is that a product management tool has to do something better than excel.

It is necessary to take some thoughts out of the mind of the product manager and put them into the tool, so he/she doesn’t need to worry about them. Something Nils has detailed in another blog post

Three things that excel doesn’t do well that a product management tool should do grew out of our conversation.

Relationships
It should be possible to record relationships. For example if a several customers wished for a feature it should be possible to mark a requirement or feature with that customer. That way you can take a report with you to the client and report the status of that feature, when it is scheduled or whether it is part of a new release. IT would also be good to mark a feature as addressing a particular market or segment so you can make a report to document what you do for this particular market.

Another type of relationships is dependencies. I brought this up because it is something we hear sometimes from customers. If one feature depends on another it should be possible to record that in the system. My problem with this is that I rarely see anyone use it. When they do you quickly get everything tangled up in crossing relationships and don’t know how to get out of it. But Nils had a good reason for this: no one ever made a really good visual way for dependencies to make sense for the user.

Hierarchies
When you work with features it is important that you can divide a feature up into more parts. A feature could for example be authorisation and the sub features could be traditional log in, linked in authorisation, google+. Then it should be possible to follow up on the status of the whole feature by rolling up the status of the sub features. This would also support the workflow of increasing specification of a suggested feature. We may first agree that we need a log in function, then we will make sub-requirements for design of screen, password validation, account activation, password restore etc.

Collaboration
It is almost impossible to collaborate in excel, so I asked Nils whether this was also important, since we chose to focus on making exactly this easy in Sensor Six. Nils agreed that this indeed was a feature worthy of inclusion, since very often you need input to your excel sheet from various stakeholder and it is quite difficult to send an excel sheet around to different persons. You would want the tool to make it possible to get input easily.

I think this is a good test to look for in a product management tool. Is there one or more of these things that the tool does 10 times better, and you need that feature, it should be worthwhile to invest in it.