As a kind of surrogate boss you work with directly on most days, it’s important to get Product Managers on your side — or to be on theirs. Often dubbed the ‘mini-CEOs’ in a company (though some would argue that it’s not the most accurate label), these special individuals sit shoulder to shoulder with the leads representing technology, design, and the business respectively. They are, after all, the judicators of what must be built now, built later or not built at all.
But are Product Managers not the greatest enigma to your squad or what?
The challenge is that Product Managers can come across as complete enigmas in your agile team — they can be completely unpredictable and mysterious! One day they’ll be inspiring you with the vision of the product and communicate clear success criterion, then another day come across as the lone pessimist, preventing all efforts to help realize the most amazing customer experience. Some days they’ll be the Guillermo to your Jimmy, cheering you on, and the next day be the one to tear it all down.
…Seriously, what gives, right? Did something upset them?
Here are some reasons I’ve compiled that may bring clarity around why they’re a little peeved:
Yes, it’s true — Product Managers (and POs) are ultimately responsible for failures related to the product. That responsibility includes ensuring the quality of the customer / user experience is held up to company standards. Because of this, it can be quite common to hear vested Product Managers weigh in on your work with comments like,
“I want you to move that button, over there!”
“Yeah…Why don’t we just go with [X idea]?”
“While you were away, I went ahead and put together this wireframe. What do you think?”
And yes, this can be irritating as hell. It can feel like they’re trying to do what ultimately is your job.
And they may inadvertently butt heads with you until you cement yourself as a trustworthy / reliable colleague. They want to make sure that the design of the end-to-end UX is in good hands. They would much rather you be the one to:
- Bring awareness / demonstrating expertise around UX in meetings
- Proactively involve them (and relevant stakeholders) in things like concept ideation workshops, research support, SME inquiries, etc.
- Flag usability issues or user pain points
- Push the boundaries of best in class experiences
- Clearly and effectively communicate the impact and value of UX to the business
- Ultimately approach the project as a partner supporting a common goal, rather than just a hired hand.
Why do you think they join UX hiring managers during the interview process? They recognize how important it is for the designer assigned to the project to be on top of their game.
In my earlier years as a UX Designer, I was pulled aside from my Product Manager and he told me,
“Developers have a good understanding of Information Architecture. They can tell you what works and what doesn’t. Why not gather their input?”
He had recognized my process had not factored in contributions from the development team and domain SMEs throughout the ideation stage. As UX Designers (especially Senior UX Designers), it can at times feel like the source of all the good / right ideas must come from you — just you. After all, you’re the “usability expert”, right? You’re the “accessibility advocate”, right? It can feel like all design critiques must end with,
“Great job _____ !”
“Amazing work ______ !”
“The UX is great because of you.”
“You really did a great job solving this for us!”
…when in fact, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
The role of the UX Designer is not always to produce the right designs / concepts, but to facilitate and support the environment where the right designs can emerge. Product Managers know full well that any good concept or design must be financially viable, technically feasible and add value to users. They know that many things must be factored in and many perspectives need to be considered. They want to see that you have the humility to recognize that early ideas can be poor and that you’re willing to address / iterate upon the shortcomings of initial concepts or ultimately support the right design.
If not for the reasons above, it could be for reasons that apply to all UX Designers and Product Managers across the entire industry. In 2021, NNGroup published the results of a poll centred around the responsibilities between UX Designer and a Product Manager — and who should do what according to these two groups. The study of 372 respondents revealed insights illustrating just how unclear who’s responsible for what. For the full article, visit: https://www.nngroup.com/articles/pm-ux-different-views-of-responsibilities/
For example, in the Research category, only 19% of Product Managers say the work of conducting Discovery is something UX’ers are responsible for, while 44% believe it’s theirs to lead. Conversely, a whopping 73% of UX’ers believe Discovery is their job, while a measly 7% of them think Product should take care of. The study lists a virtually all categories from Research, Design to Prioritizing and even Deciding Content. In short, there’s a ton of uncertainty. But whatever the case may be for you or your organization, what’s important is to level-set and spend some time to define who’s responsible for what — between yourself and your Product Manager.