The Product Manager’s job is to work with cross-functional teams to create great experiences by solving well-defined user problems. To do this successfully they need to be proficient in the technology, the business, and the user experience, popularly described in the below Venn diagram.
Product Managers often focus their time and energy on the business and technology elements. Managing features requests, backlogs, roadmaps and communicating across the business. However, I feel that many Product Managers overlook User Experience and are lacking in these skills. It’s possible that this is down to the fact that UX has grown into a strong specialism in its own right over the past 10 years. Companies are now bringing in UX specialists, who take full ownership of this role as a defined function, and that really is a good thing.
A Product Manager doesn’t need to be a Product Designer, however, to be a well-rounded Product Manager you really need to understand the underlying principles of UX. Having a greater appreciation of UX will enable you to make better and more informed product decisions.
User experience is more than the user interface which encompasses what you see on a screen such as the buttons, colours, and fonts. UX is the usability of a product and considers areas like interaction design and human-computer interaction. In human terms, this really means designing with real people at the core. Producing a product which considers the overall experience that the user will have. It is focused on the needs of the user and the jobs (JTBD) or objectives if you prefer, that they are trying to accomplish. I think it’s de-focusing on internal goals and aspirations and looking at the product through the lens of the user.
UX can be the starting process however, it often comes in during product discovery phase. To unpack slightly, let’s say you have an existing product. An opportunity/problem has been identified by the business. Solving this will help to differentiate your product, sell more licences, make your proposition more sticky blah blah blah. The business is fully on board and in fact already coming up with solutions, a bunch of features, metrics and deliverable timelines.
Before you jump down the rabbit hole this is time to switch focus, unleash your product management expertise, and lead and execute a well structured process of learning and discovery. As with all things you have a variety of product discovery tools and each PM has their preferences, however, ensure that you also incorporate the UX mindset. This can largely be framed using design thinking skills and enables you to frame your questions with the user in mind;
- What is the problem?
- What are the user’s needs and priorities?
- What are the user’s pain points?
- Data analysis – to test your assumptions and current user behaviours.
- Reframe your challenges as opportunities (how might we)
- Ideation – Come up with the ideas.
- Prototype by utilising Interaction design & UI principles
- Test by observing if this solution solves the problem.
User Experience is a skill in its own right. It’s one that every Product Manager would benefit from learning and understanding. You don’t have to be a UX specialist but knowing the underlying principles will enable you to make better; decisions, processes and ultimately better products.
- Dom Norman – NN/g Group – grandfathers of design agency, loads of research that can be used.
- AJ&Smart – Product Design Agency provides a lot of thought leadership especially around design sprints.
- IDEO – the front runners of design thinking.
- Jason Fried – thought leader – great for challenging the status quo
- Steve Krug – Usability Guru.
- Luke Wroblewski – you definitely have used software designed by Luke.
- Inside Design Blog – Great insight into the world of design and UX.
- Interaction Design Foundation – awesome training if you want to invest some time and learn more.