JIRA

Jira for software development

This should not come as a surprise, but JIRA is my go-to project management tool. JIRA has rightfully become undisputed front runner for software development, and can easily be adopted to manage the needs of designers, business, etc. With a little imagination, the functionality of the platform can be expanded almost infinitely to accommodate any team's needs within an organization.

A number of things separate JIRA far from its competition, the most obvious of which would be the concept of tracking time. When compared to other tools, JIRA's workflow has been tailored with the focus of getting work done against a timeline, which is obviously how all companies work.

Just as important is JIRA's level of customization in issue types, schemas, workflows, etc. Regardless of what your team's work philosophy may be, JIRA is designed with customization in mind.


Trello

Trello for general purpose tracking

While I prefer JIRA leaps and bounds over Trello, the newer addition to the Atlassian family does have it's purpose in the world. Trello is clearly the simpler and less powerful of the two tools.

Trello is a good way to keep stakeholders involved in straightforward development projects. The simplicity of a Kanban board without the complexity of a larger tool makes Trello excellent for more casual projects, especially those needing a high level of visibility.

Trello's ambiguity in purpose serves useful when managing non-software projects as well, such as one's own life.


Asana

Asana for to-dos

Asana is an excellent tool to track personal to-dos for yourself or other members of your teams. Asana's grocery-list style of checklist items is a great way to build out a personal backlog of task, or simple reminders which do not require a high level of detail.

In my opinion, Asana solves a different problem than project management tools such as JIRA or Trello. I've heard cases of teams using Asana as a tool for tracking development tasks, which I strongly advocate against. Asana is not interested in time tracking, issue relationships, or detailed requirements. Thus, it is difficult to see how this tool could possibly be sufficient in managing a project.

Keep Asana simple, and leave the heavier lifting to the tools designed for that purpose.


Figma

Figma for collaborative design

Figma is one of the most impressive tools to recently surface in the design space. Figma can be described as a web-based version of Sketch, where all work is stored in the cloud.

Figma's most impressive feature is the ability to have multiple users modify designs at the same time, similar to how Google Docs replaced the Microsoft office suite of products. This is excellent for real-time feedback or collaboration within design teams

Figma can import sketch files, making it invaluable for those looking to modify or extract assets from Sketch without having the software. This is especially useful for Windows users.


InVision

InVision for prototypes and packaging design deliverables

InVision is a rapidly growing company with big ambitions. The product itself serves a myriad of purposes, with the ambition to dominate the design workflow space.

At its core InVision is invaluable for creating quick product prototypes using nothing but exported designs. This can serve the purpose of user testing demos, or to receive feedback from stakeholders in the form of annotations on designs themselves.

InVision's feature set has expanded to include exporting assets for development (similar to Zeplin), and has even moved into the workflow space with a Kanban flow reminiscent to Trello. There is plenty more coming down the pipeline.


Zeplin

Zeplin for extracting code and assets from sketch files

Designers may export Sketch files to Zeplin to remove the grunt work of exporting assets and compiling style guides for developers. When a design is moved to Zeplin, developers immediately have access to the design's color palette, margin calculations, CSS generation, asset exports, etc.

Tools like Zeplin are excellent for removing friction in processes such as handoff and design QA.

InVision has actually recently replicated this product within their own, so it remains unclear how Zeplin will fare in the future.


Drawio

Draw.io for flowchart creation

Flowcharts should be in every Product Manager's vocabulary. It's no secret that creating these diagrams are one of the least glorious aspects of product management, so selecting the right tool to make this process simple is key.

Visio and Omnigraffle leave a lot to be desired: neither tool has a clean or intuitive interface, yet both have a price tag seemingly much higher than the quality of their products. Draw.io has come to replace both of these as a free cloud-based program for creating logic flows.

Draw.io works well with Google Drive, making it easier for multiple teammates to conribute to a single diagram at once.


Smartsheet

Smartsheet for timeline management

As far as Gantt charting goes, I have yet to find a tool that handles this exceptionally better than any other. Smartsheet is likely just as good as any other, but I've stuck to it for now for the sole reason that it is most widely recognized.

Smartsheets are good for setting time expectations at the beginning of any project. This is a good way to visualize delivery dates, and hold parties accountable when dates are deliverables are missed.


Slack

Slack for team chat

Since Amazon's acquisition of Slack, much has been said about the role of instant communication within work environments. An argument can be made that opening a direct line to anybody and everybody has adverse effects on team dynamics. Even if this is true, it feels as though we may be splitting hairs.

Slack is excellent at facilitating casual conversation while simultaneously keeping teams productive. With the help of plugins and webhooks, Slack is also a great way to watch the pulse of a given project when time permits.

Aside from productivity benefits, Slack has silently been elevating company culture by opening a new medium of communication between teams.

Todd Birchard

Todd Birchard

Application Architect