Product Management Maturity And Tool Support

A recent report on product management tools by Sirius Decisions has revealed that 50% of Product Managers are looking for product management specific tools.

There are a number of dedicated product management tools, such as those surveyed by Sirius Decisions, yet when you ask product managers only 13% seem to use such tools. What can be gleaned from another survey,  by Product Hunt  is that no dedicated product management tool seems to be on the radar of product managers. At first I thought it was a mistake, so I contacted Product Hunt to verify. The method they arrived at their list was the following

We came up with the PM tools list by polling leading product managers in the industry and that’s what they selected

Being the supplier of one such dedicated Product Management Tool, we wanted to dig deeper into why there were such discrepancies in the market. Looking at the list by product hunt, the tools are all generic tools or for some single purpose, but none were used for supporting a coherent product management process. At least not such as described in the reference models of AIPMM, ISPMA or similar industry standards.

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In the ERP space there are numerous tools that cover for such industry standard processes like Procure-to-Pay or campaign management. So, why don’t we see more tools that support a best practice process, but only tools for either very generic purposes (Trello, Evernote or Excel) or very specific purposes (like KISSmetrics, Streak or Do)?


I believe that the reason has to do with maturity. The maturity level a company has is a fairly good indication of what tools will work. If you want to implement SAP in a CMMi level 1 company it is going to be a tough ride, since SAP is wonderful for repeatable processes, and at level 1 you don’t have such. Conversely if you want to implement project management in a CMMi level 5 company with only trello, it might also be a hard sell.

The CMMi model is both loved, hated and misunderstood. Anyhow, given the right understanding and appropriation, I think it is a good framework for conceptualizing maturity.  We have to remember that it is not about any particular process, but a metamodel that stipulates something about the proces that you should follow. therefore it is not a competitor to the ISPMA syllabus or the AIPMM PRODBok. Rather these are particular ways of executing product management process.

Product Management is covered by the Development process in the CMMi model called CMMi-DEV and it should therefore be possible to single out process areas and look at what sort of tool support that fits. In the following I will go through the 5 maturity levels of the CMMi model and describe key processes and give recommendations for optimal tool support.

Level 1 – Initial (Chaotic)

It is characteristic of processes at this level that they are (typically) undocumented and in a state of dynamic change, tending to be driven in an ad hoc, uncontrolled and reactive manner by users or events. This provides a chaotic or unstable environment for the processes. As the CMMi-DEV says:

“Maturity level 1 organizations are characterized by a tendency to overcommit, abandon their processes in a time of crisis, and be unable to repeat their successes.”

There are no particular process areas pertaining to Level 1.

Tool use: Eclectic, Usually Microsoft office suite (Excel, Word, powerpoint)

Recommendation: Select one key part of the product development process to support with a tool (idea management, Bug fixing, development, planning). Find one central place and tool to document. The tool should be tactical and “light weight” and easily customizable

Examples: Trello is light weight and will fit for almost any work proces where you have work items (ie. tasks, features, userstories) that go through phases. Podio is another popular tool where the strength is in its customizability. There are plenty of Apps where one is guarantied to come close to your needs and then you can just adapt it. Uservoice is good if you want to manage the ideation process. Zendesk is for support and will be great if your primary pain is to address and fix users problems.

Level 2 Repeatable

It is characteristic of processes at this level that some processes are repeatable, possibly with consistent results. Process discipline is unlikely to be rigorous, but where it exists it may help to ensure that existing processes are maintained during times of stress.

Here is what the CMMi writes about Level 2:

“Also at maturity level 2, the status of the work products are visible to management at defined points (e.g., at major milestones, at the completion of major tasks). Commitments are established among relevant stakeholders and are revised as needed. Work products are appropriately controlled. The work products and services satisfy their specified process descriptions, standards, and procedures.”

Key Process Areas:

  • PP – Project Planning
  • PPQA – Process and Product Quality Assurance
  • REQM – Requirements Management

Tool Use: Usually one tool is used for part of the process, but often you will see differing tools across different departments in the organisation.

Recommendation: Converge on a common tool to use and focus on lowest common denominator across the people involved in the process. The most important here is that it should be possible to see the status of work products.

Examples: Jira is already used by millions and very good for assuring clarity regarding what is committed and the status of work products, Rally and Version One are similar and flexible. These tools are all good for the above mentioned process areas.

Level 3 – Defined

It is characteristic of processes at this level that there are sets of defined and documented standard processes established and subject to some degree of improvement over time. These standard processes are in place (i.e., they are the AS-IS processes) and used to establish consistency of process performance across the organization.

“A critical distinction between maturity levels 2 and 3 is the scope of standards, process descriptions, and procedures. At maturity level 2, the standards, process descriptions, and procedures can be quite different in each specific instance of the process (e.g., on a particular project). At maturity level 3, the standards, process descriptions, and procedures for a project are tailored from the organization’s set of standard processes to suit a particular project or organizational unit and therefore are more consistent except for the differences allowed by the tailoring guidelines.”

Key Process Areas:

  • DAR – Decision Analysis and Resolution
  • PI – Product Integration
  • RD – Requirements Development
  • RSKM – Risk Management

Tool Use: Usually a suite is used for a part of the process. And use of this is consistent across different departments.

Recommendation: Make sure the tool you have selected is a suite that is tightly integrated with up stream and downstream processes, because when you begin to reap the benefits of being at Level 3 you will usually want to expand the process reach. This is best done if it is already a suite.

Examples: Focal Point is often used for RD and RSKM and is very customizable. Sensor Six is aimed towards DAR and therefore worth considering if you want to focus on that process area. HP Quality Center, Rational Suite are sort of all round and has extensive functionality to support most processes.

Level 4 Quantitatively Managed

It is characteristic of processes at this level that, using process metrics, management can effectively control the AS-IS process (e.g., for software development ). In particular, management can identify ways to adjust and adapt the process to particular projects without measurable losses of quality or deviations from specifications. Process Capability is established from this level.

“A critical distinction between maturity levels 3 and 4 is the predictability of process performance. At maturity level 4, the performance of projects and selected subprocesses is controlled using statistical and other quantitative techniques, and predictions are based, in part, on a statistical analysis of fine-grained process data.”

Key Process Areas:

  • OPP – Organizational Process Performance
  • QPM – Quantitative Project Management

Tool Use: Consistent and mandatory use of a suite for the entire process

Recommendation: Make sure the tool supplies full fledged reporting facilities out of the box and customizable. Visualization is key to success here, because metrics that are not easily visualized are not going to help managemen.

Examples: same products as Level 3, but it is probably necessary to boos reporting: Qlikview, Mixpanel, Gekkoboard are good for visualizations of process trends, but if you need more sophisticated statistical analysis, SPSS, SAS or Rapid miner, to mention an open source alternative, are good options.

Level 5  – Optimizing

It is a characteristic of processes at this level that the focus is on continually improving process performance through both incremental and innovative technological changes/improvements

“ A critical distinction between maturity levels 4 and 5 is the focus on managing and improving organizational performance. At maturity level 4, the organization and projects focus on understanding and controlling performance at the subprocess level and using the results to manage projects. At maturity level 5, the organization is concerned with overall organizational performance using data collected from multiple projects.”

Key Process Areas:

  • CAR – Causal Analysis and Resolution
  • OPM – Organizational Performance Management

Tool Use: The requirements for the tool at this level is that it is “intelligent” and will supply the process with transformative input that is not realized at any earlier levels. It could be intelligent estimation or market analysis.

Recommendation: There are no tools at this level yet, so either it should be integrated with general AI systems or dedicated niche players

Examples: IBMs Watson is an interesting new general purpose AI, that could oprobably be used here. Another example is Qmarkets who supply prediction markets, for improving project delivery by using market dynamics. Employees can “gamble” on what projects or products will succeed.


There are many options for tool use and many options for process improvement. The best thing is to be very selective and start from the process side. Tools with out a process are like hammers without a nail: they can make a lot of noise. When you know what process areas to focus one you should try to find a tool that suits this area and the maturity level you are aiming for. The tools are all good, but they are built for a particular purpose, so if you use it for something different the result may lack.