What makes a successful working relationship between two team members? A few things that come to mind are empathy, having a common goal and excellent communication.
These traits are important when thinking about those who use your product, but also with the working relationship between UX and product management.
I’m writing this from a UX perspective, but something to note is that sometimes a professional may start in one role and end up working in the other. Also, some of the job duties will overlap. It’s not unusual to meet a product manager that started as a UXer or vice versa. It’s not that the roles are identical, it’s because they complement each other nicely.
Let’s take a look at why they are the perfect match on the product team.
What do UX designers and product managers actually do?
If you’re new to either role, or looking to get on a product team, it’s important to get to know the roles individually before identifying them as being a great duo. Roles may vary a bit from company to company, but the general idea is typically the same.
What does a UX professional do?
Despite popular opinion, UXers do not sit at a whiteboard all day. It’s part of the gig, but keep in mind, there are different UX specialties. Overall the UX specialists’ main priorities are being the user advocate, understanding their users by doing routine user research, performing user testing, and making sure that they are following the best user-centered design approach. Often UX professionals will do wireframing of design concepts and some may even venture into visual design.
The TLDR version is: UXers want to get the users on the most efficient path to satisfaction and make their experience as seamless as possible. By being the user advocate and reporting findings from research and testing, UX provides important insight that helps guide the decisions of the product team.
What does a product manager do?
To ensure a strong product that is well received by its users, a product manager is absolutely crucial to the business and product team. Like UX, they are user focused and want to provide the best experience. They are responsible for setting the strategy and roadmap for the product. In addition to heavy product strategy involvement, they drive the product direction and work with the team to make sure the company resources are building the right product and features.
In many cases, the PM typically is involved in the leadership of the cross-functional product team. There are always timing constraints, so they help ensure that team(s) are on track to deliver the solution with everyone involved in the product’s design, development, and launch.
Some other key takeaways for the day-to-day of the PM are:
- The PM has an important role of working with the team to ensure that solutions are implemented in a way that improves the customer experience
- They typically take on customer research as part of their job, but they cannot be everywhere at once. They work with those who are responsible for research and design (UX professionals for example) to understand customer needs
- In this role, they closely interact with the users. PMs often have valuable field research to share by understanding how customers use the product and what they need for a great experience
How does a UX professional and product manager work together?
Reading through brief role descriptions, you probably noticed a few overlaps. The job titles sound very different, and at a first glance it might be hard to understand the similarities. It really stems from both being user focused.
UXers and PMs collaborate with each other to research and understand what customers need and then they explore solutions. Product managers must understand the principles of good UX design and UXers must also be aware of the business objectives and any time or technology constraints.
At a high level, the roles seem to mesh very well together. By taking a closer look at their day to day work life, it becomes apparent that UX and PMs are the perfect match.
What makes UX and product management a great match?
Let’s take a look at the major reasons why UXers and PMs go together so well.
1) They share the same end goal
Both have the same goal which is to work together to create and improve products that help the user. They are always understanding and anticipating users’ needs. To stay goal focused, UX and product management keep their eye on the prize (a great product!) and are always referring back to the fundamental questions:
- What problem(s) are we solving?
- Who are we solving it for?
- How can things be better?
Both roles are user focused, but also have business objectives in mind. Without a great experience for the users, the product will suffer.
2) They speak the same user-focused language
These words aren’t just buzz words; they are core to the product team. Talk is cheap so both roles really focus on coming up with user-focused actionable solutions.
Regardless of how much experience a UX or PM has, they share common traits like:
- Having user empathy
- Ability to synthesize user research
- Curiosity and gaining good product insight
- Craving user feedback
- Continuous improvement philosophy
- Great communication
It also helps if designers learn the language of business executives too.
3) Teamwork makes the dream work
It takes a village to create great products and both have a lot of responsibility on the team. During the research and design process, the PM and UX will divide and conquer the tasks at hand. These roles work very closely together to learn everything they possibly can about the user base and gain product insight.
This insight into the gap between the present product and customer expectations, helps identify and prioritize product improvements.
Together they create actionable items. As the PM makes sure everything is on track and is covered, the UXer brings the ideas to life in their prototypes from the trends and user patterns that they discovered together.
By working together, they learn more about how the user interacts with the product and what actions they can take to achieve the desired effects. Because they are continuously working together and providing feedback, they learn a lot from each other and can adapt quickly to new findings or issues that may arise.
4) They keep each other in check
As someone in UX, I often propose the “best” solution, and at times it was too robust for the timeframe. The PM often helps with estimating the effort that it would take to implement them. Unless you’re on a team that has a lot of resources and an unlimited amount of time, it’s unlikely that all of the proposed features are developed in the time allotted. UX and the PM may work together to prioritize and strategize.
Compromising may have to happen. Priorities might not align between UX and the PM. Something that seems like an absolute necessity to UX may not be in line with business goals at that particular time. Maybe there is a tight deadline and a complete feature may not be in the cards. Product managers are balancing a lot: design quality, technology constraints, limited resources, etc.
UX is valuable to the PM because they may help keep the spotlight on the user when business objectives take center-stage. It’s a balancing act for sure, but UX will push for a high quality, consistent user experience across the application. They know that users will feel the frustration if something that doesn’t work or doesn’t meet their goals.
5) Conflict can lead to growth
Any relationship will occasionally have conflict. No need to panic about conflict, it isn’t a bad thing. If everyone agreed all of the time, progress wouldn’t be made.
Why would there be a conflict between a UXer and a PM? Product Management and User Experience design are both broad fields that are constantly evolving. In the grand scheme of things, they are pretty young professions. Roles may also differ from company to company. When there are overlapping tasks and goals, it may not always clear who’s responsible for what and how to best work together. It’s no surprise that on occasion UX designers and product may not agree on things.
There is a lot to be learned by listening to and respecting each others viewpoint. As they progress, an agreement will be made. From this conflict, growth often happens as the two are developing a solution that will work best for the end users.
UX and Product management: they need each other
Products aren’t created in a bubble. It takes the right combination of skills and a great working relationship between team members to make a great product for their users.
At times, UX and product management may overlap, but they bring their unique skillset and experience to the product.