Are Your Tools Hindering You, Or Do You Just Think They Are?

On Slack channels, I constantly see discussion on the use of tools.

  • What should I use for roadmapping?
  • What should I use besides Jira or Trello?
  • Should our team use Hip Chat or Slack?
  • Why is this tool so horrible?
  • We just started using this one tool, but then another shinier one came about that just might be better and our developers really want to switch to it.

As a product manager, we are curious about these new tools that pop on the daily that help us with our work. What are they doing differently than competitors? What have they done that leads one to considering switching tools altogether?

You don’t want to use a dull knife when cooking up something. You want a knife that is best suited for the job that makes it as easy as possible.

That said, if the best dish you can cook is Kraft Dinner, then the tools you use won’t really matter. If you have a lousy product or a team that doesn’t mesh well together, using better tools isn’t going to magically make everything better.

Those tools won’t help you when Gordon Ramsay yells at you for overcooking the risotto. Source: BrainBerries

Having the right tools to improve your workflow and your product are important, but not as important as people make it out to be.

You can end up constantly second guessing yourself if another tool would have been better, and you end up spending more time on thinking about other tools you could use instead and learning said tools, then working on your team, and the product itself.

So if we use this tool, and works it with that tool, the workflow will help this tool, which in turn helps with that tool…Source: Hypnosis Downloads

You end up falling under two cases.

1. You and your tools are really holding you back, and you and your entire team just can’t stop complaining about a certain tool.

Maybe it got pushed by upper management, maybe they went all in with it, and they didn’t want to back off from it. Everyone at the office at the very least tolerates it, or hates it. In this case, when it’s glaringly obvious, then it’s ok to look around and find a better tool for your team to use. Did you guys just switch a few weeks ago? Maybe give it some more time before giving a final verdict.

Then, there is the other case:

2. You want to blame a certain tool just because you’re not seeing the results you hope for in your work.

Instead of looking at your product, or your team, you start to look at the tools. What easier way than to blame the knife instead which is dull, or should have been replaced a long time ago.

If the person holding the knife can’t chop an onion to save their life, would having a new fancy knife really make a difference? You start with learning how to chop the onion properly, and then you can look at getting a better tool.

It’s so easy to say the following:

Oh, if we only had the latest, shiniest task tracking app, or the newest tool that’s even better than the current one we use, things would be so much easier. We would have more sales! We would be making more money!

Ok, if you’re using pen and paper and excel and still send faxes, sure, you can find some means of upgrading. Every once in a little while, a tool comes along that just blows everything else out of the water (Slack would be an example), but that is a rarity.

In Conclusion.

Look, I like tools that will help you as a product manager. They’ll help your team with the decision making process. But, they are not the be all, end all. Your customers don’t really care about your workflow, but they do care if you’ve built a quality product that addresses a problem.

Originally published at on May 2, 2017.