Build It Yourself: How Product Managers Can Leverage Low-Code Tools to Maximum Effect

Delivering business applications at an accelerated rate has become possible with low code development tools. Low code development platforms (LCDPs) have enabled the rapid production of applications tailored to the organization’s requirements. In fact, Forrester the LCDP market to grow to $15.5 billion by 2020.

Product managers are accountable for overseeing the multiple portions of a product's development cycle to ensure success. A PM's day-to-day activities requires them to wear multiple hats, i.e. defining strategies, determining customer requirements, streamlining and roadmapping, sprint planning, goal tracking, leadership, evaluating results against market, cross-functional organization, making product decisions, and much more.

Low Code Tools and Their Impact on PM Responsibilities

It's not a cut-and-dry process to narrow down the exact duties of a PM for each phase of a product cycle. Instead, I will describe the main low-code tooling commonly adopted by product managers that can impact their daily tasks.

Workflow Automation

Roadmapping consists of focusing the team on the key tasks that are required to fulfill the objectives. Various tools such as Aha!, ProductPlan, Roadmunk, Monday, and Product Board are commonly used by PMs to make things easier and effectively implement data-led product planning through automation. Visually collaborative layouts, custom work boards, and individual notifications in these tools clarify the sequence of work for teams so that they can build products 10X faster.

Task Management

Asana, Jira, Rally, and Trello are a few management tools used by teams to promote faster real-time collaboration and prioritize product tasks. As a product manager, you need to evaluate what high-level initiatives are creating a backlog and what needs to get back on track in a given build phase. PMs can use these tools to automate recurring workflows that enable their teams to work at full speed and deliver a properly aligned build.

Wireframes & Design

Multiple tools are emerging that allow PMs to translate a product vision to a real-time working prototype. Sharp user design and flawless customer interactions have been made simpler by top tools like Crowdbotics, InVision, Framer, Mockingbird, Adobe XD, and Axure. Instead of a traditional design process, low-code prototyping tools allow user story creation via drag-and-drop tooling, fast wireframe assembly, and realistic layouts, thus bringing teams closer to production.

Time is of the essence, especially when a product manager wants to compete with the pace of the market. The above-mentioned low code tools are built to save time, create usable products with ease, and allow teams to allocate their saved time ito user testing and deployment activities.

Choosing the Best Low-Code Tooling for PMs

It can be tricky to select the right low-code tool for rapid development. Product managers are responsible for leading overall development, so if PMs do not carefully choose their low code tools, then they might end up with a stack of unrelated tools that do not integrate together and actually increase resistance.

For example, as a PM you might use one tool for communication, another for automation, and a third one for task management, and if they do not synchronize together, then it creates a nightmare. Instead of manually testing each tool to avoid this outcome, it's best to adopt the one which allows built-in integration and sharing/synchronization of data among different platforms right out of the box.

There are a few other considerations that you should take into account when assessing low-code tools:

  • Agility: Improved business agility is possible by developing through visual designs rather than coding, which exponentially speeds up application development. Low code tools with strong visual builders decrease the complexity of product development.
  • Diminished Costs: If you require fewer developers, then you can hire fewer developers. Moreover, delivering an app ahead of schedule boosts productivity and margins.
  • Improved Customer Experience: Living up to customer expectations is key. The speed granted by low-code development enables development teams to adapt to market changes and create a better customer experience through increased iteration.
  • Transformation and Change: Through quick building, applications can be transformed to meet modern requirements with easy clicks and less complexity. Some low-code tools like Crowdbotics even include automatic updates and maintenance out of the box.

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The Limits of Low Code for PMs

As I mentioned above, product managers are responsible for each phase of the SDLC (with the exception of actually coding). The PM role is sometimes contextual and can be anyone from a business analyst to the head of UX to the head of product analytics.

Low-code tools primarily have implications for those tasks which are usually not performed directly by PMs, but, if adopted, could fall within a PM's responsibilities. A PM is a layperson compared to a developer, but they should not be like, “Here, take the requirement document and we'll meet after you have built it.” Instead a PM needs to be a high performer across a range of contexts. To stay on top of their market and industry, it is essential for PMs to get a better understanding of changing technology, industry trends, and new tools.

  • PMs are not typically experts in agile software engineering, but they must fully understand each aspect of product development. Low-code tools allow PMs to customize workflows for their team and develop modern visualizations and automated work-boards without any coding.
  • Some low-code tools offer pre-built templates for tracking and resource management, which make it easy for product managers to keep an eye on everything in the form of graphs and metrics. Smartsheet and Kintone are the best to use in my experience.
  • Generally, product managers do not involve themselves in evaluating or forecasting the sales and marketing of developed products and applications. With some modern low-code platforms, multiple integrations are present for including features like budget management, billing, finances spent on ongoing projects, and much more.

Is It Possible for Product Managers to Design and Build Products Without Engineers?

This can be answered in two ways. One is related to standard software development, and the other has to do with low code tools, or "citizen development."

In a conventional software development lifecycle, it is beneficial for the PM to learn basic technical skills, elements of web and app development, and programming terms so that the PM does not need to rely on their engineering team for simple tasks.

When leveraging low code tools, if the PM develops a true mastery of the tool, then this can minimize engineer involvement and can get the job done with only occasional developer support.

However, completely removing the engineering team from the equation is not recommended. Why? Because someone with knowledge of the app's underlying operations needs to be responsible for actually building the product and keeping it operational.

The image above illustrates the fact that product managers, engineers, and UX designers are partners and must work in collaboration to bring a product to life. Product managers should focus on “what” and “why,” and engineers should describe “how.”

  • A PM should synthesize product strategy with the engineering team to better define feasibility because engineers know what technical challenges may be coming.
  • The engineering team, on the other hand, should state expected deliverable times based on requirements from the PM and customers so that adjustments can be made to avoid delays.
  • Both teams should communicate through standardized visualizations to represent their timelines so that necessary work can begin early and the roles of each team member can be described.

Low Code SaaS Tools for Each Development Phase

Low code tools have multiple capabilities and implications for the product development lifecycle. Integration with other platforms and hosting options are included in advance low code tools. Few low code tools support streamline and rapid development. Some enables citizen developers and software professional to collaborate on application development using integration feature.

Here is a list of low code SaaS tools for different development phases: planning, design, development, testing and deployment.

Low Code Tool Phase Key Features Pricing
Crowdbotics Design to Deployment - Drag-and-drop layout and model editors
- Automated deployment and hosting
- Task management + optional add-on pro services
Community plan: Free
Pro plan: $199/month
Advanced plan: $499/month
Enterprise plan: Custom
Appian Planning to Deployment (excluding testing) - Drag-and-drop layout builder
- No-code integration with AI/ML and enterprise data and web services
$90/month/user
Boomi Flow All phases of development - Connectors to integrate with Jenkins, GitLab, and other source code systems
- Default debugger, reflexive versioning for development, testing, and other phases
$10/month/user
Mendix Full SDLC - Agile management tools
- Cloud and on-premise deployments
- Jenkins, Git, and Jira integrations
Community version: Free
Single app: $1,875/month
Pro: $5,375/month
Enterprise: $7,825/month
Outsystems Full SDLC - Develop enterprise-scale apps without any coding
- Full set of native integrations
Enterprise: $6,250
Universal: $15,000
Quixy Full SDLC - Drag-and-drop field controls
- Visual builder for custom workflows
$10/month/user

Low Code Tools for Testing

The need for software testing is reduced to some extent while using low code tools, but still it’s better to test thoroughly. As a full-code platform with configurable devops, Crowdbotics supports all modes of custom testing via manual setup. Other low-code tools come with build-in testing early in the SDLC, such as Quixy, Boomi Flow, Caspio, QuickBase, and VisionX.

Unit Testing is usually skipped in low-code development because, in low-code tools, the units are pre tested. Automated API Testing is complex because the visual IDEs of low-code tools do not handle updates via APIs. The right tool for you will depend on your testing requirements.

Low Code Development with Crowdbotics

Crowdbotics is a the best way for PMs to develop production-ready apps by using prebuilt templates, modules, and visual scaffolding tools for custom requirements. You can manage tasks directly within the platform and can integrate apps via external open source APIs.

The bright side for product manager can use the Crowdbotics App Builder to plan screen flows in Storyboard tool or modify UI designes in the Layout Editor. Application deployment to Heroku is possible with a single click. APIs are mechanically generated by the visual model editor for an extensible, flexible backend. In short, our platform offers a wide variety of tools to meet the diverse requirements of technical PMs across all stages of development.

Conclusion

By 2024, low code development tools are projected to be the leading form of development at technical organizations. Product managers can choose the right low-code tool to lead their teams by assessing product requirements, scope, allocated timelines, resources, budget, and target market.

If you're a PM interested in using low-code to deliver applications faster, start building with Crowdbotics today.

Originally published:

December 22, 2020