It’s no news that the UX product designer’s position overlaps extensively with the product manager’s. So much so, in fact, that in some cases of careless team management, clashes have been known to develop due to an absence of clarity as to seniority and leadership.
But that’s not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about what makes the person in charge of UX product design such a valuable member to the team, not the least *because* of all those overlaps with the product leader.
UX Product Designers are in Charge of Scaffolding
When you think about it, the UX designer is the single member of your team that is head-over-heels involved in the product development process from its earliest stage. Product design, in the sense of primary prioritization and direction, is still just an idea until it is given shape and form.
Where product UX is concerned, the UX designer is the one who crafts a structure and gives the vision form, borders and a visual direction. It takes a lot of experience, insight and multi-layered perspective to plan a properly scalable interface that appeals to the users it is meant for.
Your UX designer is that person, who is also embedded in the process, on blueprint level, which makes their opinion pretty darn valuable. It does NOT mean blindly accepting what you are pitched, but their take on your product experience and user flows certainly entitles them to your attention.
The User Whisperer
Your UX professional is the most user-oriented member of your team other than you. This is inherent to the job description and the nature of the UX designer’s work – to always consider the user’s perspective, above all and before all.
I mention this because the user experience, user personas, user feedback and professional experience with user interfaces – all of these are a critical aspect of the agile product development process.
In a product development environment where you often can’t afford the time or resources for user testing and data-based research, there needs to be a someone to champion the users, and that can’t always be the product manager.
The PM is driven by the bigger picture, which includes budgets, deadlines, stakeholders and technical constraints. The UX designer becomes that person, which allows you, the PM, the flexibility to act out of strategic motivations.
Product UX is Hardcore
I know it sounds like I’m promoting an 80’s punk band, but I feel like I need to stress this point: UX is not a recommendation in the agile development process; it is not one of those “nice to have” positions, nor is it a “soft science” take on the product. User Experience is no less important than building the infrastructure of your code properly or marketing to the right audience. UX is an essential aspect of a successful product.
So much of the optimization process comes back to the users’ experience: we identify navigation blockages with heatmaps; new features are often the result of feature requests by beta users; we try to offer differentiating features to outdo our competitors (in the eyes of our users) and we are constantly working to iron the kinks, make the code run smoother and the UI glide more sleekly to appeal to our users and acquire more of them. Much of that is the UX designer’s realm of responsibility.
Why Can’t Everyone Just Get Along?
Since this is such a sore topic, I will take a few lines to discuss the elephant in the room – overlapping jurisdictions between PM and UX.
The UX designer’s autonomy to define the product and expand features depends a lot on the dynamics between PM and UX. There is no definitive answer to the question “who does what”, because a PM who is more of a “UX Product Manager”, minded to user-oriented design – may be more dominant in the process, while a more strategy-minded UX designer should be able to make decisions which are not purely user-driven.
Melissa Perri, whom I’ve already referred to in this article, put it very articulately:
“Product Management with no User Experience Design creates functional products that don’t make users excited. User Experience Design with no Product Management produces delightful products that don’t become businesses.”
Personally, I’m a big fan of delegating. I prefer working with confident, experienced professionals so I can trust their opinion instead of having to specialize in everything. After all, as product managers we are a Jack-of-all-Trades and a master of none, and accepting that is always a good opening start for a fruitful and productive relationship with your team.
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