Product Management and UX — two different worlds in one universe
Design Leadership conversation with Andrés Bohórquez Marin
Product strategy, user experience, design and photography intersect in the life of Andrés Bohórquez Marin. Design Impact spoke with him to discuss his journey and his perspective on the keys to effective collaboration and the working dynamics between designers and product managers. Bohórquez Marin is a design manager and strategist, who transitioned from user experience to a role as product manager.
The path from Design Leader to Product Manager
As Bohórquez Marin got acclimated to his role as product manager, he reflects on how designers and product managers view the product world. He comes to the realization that as a designer he used to think along the following way:
“Designers are committed to creating the best experience possible — sometimes unintentionally sidelining other constraints that may be invisible to them”
As a designer, he had a very specific view of the product world. Now, as a Product Manager he has gained an expanded perspective. He acknowledges that product managers are working as hard as the designers are. The both of them are trying to find the most appropriate balance to the equation —deliver the best experience, with the best technology, and the best business outcome.
This means that the best experience sometimes may not be that ideal design or that ideal / perfect experience. Instead, we should be looking for the right outcome considering the constraints that the product is facing. If the team concentrates only in the design and the experience, we may be missing opportunities of higher value and benefit for the customer and for the organization.
As designers, we need a more expansive perspective and broaden our peripheral view
While the designer’s focus is very important, every now and then we can benefit from looking at things from a different angle. Designers can benefit from understanding that the product managers are not trying to simplify the product outcome to save money, or to deliver an inferior experience because they may consider it unimportant or unnecessary. Product managers are not showing lack empathy for the user either. Product managers are juggling and prioritizing many different aspects of the product to create the highest benefit for the customer, the business and the brand.
Designers have a few options:
- Simply give up, and move away from the project (not recommended); or
- Take the time to ask questions and be open to honest and transparent collaborating with them to understand what are the challenges they are facing as a team
- Leverage the same empathy for the product manager as they apply towards understanding the end user
Our attitude as designers towards the conversation and interaction with product managers is critically important. Bohórquez Marin reflects on how our desire to achieve the best experience possible could be perceived as a hurdle, rather than as a collaborator. As a product manager, he views designers as close partners and allies. He encourages designers in the product teams he is responsible for to be seen as advisers and collaborators, having a shared understanding on the expectations they are working as a team pursuing the best outcome possible.
Emotional Intelligence is critical for all involved
The working relationship between the product manager and the designer, according to Bohórquez. Marin is like that of any other relationship between two people — your significant other, a friend, a colleague. The important aspect is to apply the basic principles of emotional intelligence, being aware of the mutual needs, listening and understanding each other’s perspective and point of view.
Effective communication is fundamental to create a productive and enduring working partnership.
If the designer has specific goals, but the product manager is not aware or vice versa, that creates friction. They will pull in different directions; they will not be pursuing the same goal. The two of them have to be clear in their expectations and align their goals and objectives to ensure success.
“As designers, we need to understand this — to be successful, the relationship with the product manager is as important as the product outcome.”
Developing a partnership of equals
The objective that designers must pursue when they are working with a product manager is to develop a harmonious working relationship. This will enable them to work productively, be more agile, and design and develop better ideas. Neither the projects, nor the relationship ends when the product is launched. Unfortunately, many products fail and die prematurely because the working relationship within the team members is simply not good.
“The product is a reflection of the people in the working team. If the relationships are good, [there is a higher likelihood that] the product is delightful and successful”
Clearly articulating product and design decisions
A symptom of a bad relationship manifests when the designer and the product manager spend time and energy battling each other. The cost of this is high. The team looses the investment in time, effort and resources, while achieving very little progress. The designer and the product manager start making and complaining that the other “does not understand me, or it is not being reasonable.” However, we should consider that we are not being persuasive enough. If both sides start playing a friendly negotiator role then things might move towards the right collaboration model.
Selling design effectively — hostage negotiation or articulating decisions
Is there something in common between these approaches?
Balance is the objective
Bohórquez Marin considers important for product managers to have knowledge and understanding of UX. At the same time, it is fundamental for the designer to understand business and technology. Product managers, technologists and designers need to invest in each other. It is important to have mutual empathy and understanding of what each person is responsible for and plant the seeds for a high yield in the future. Cultivating a positive relationship produces short and long term benefits.
“The biggest lesson I’ve learned in this transition is that UX is only as successful the sum of all parts”
The experience for the user has to be good and delightful, but it does not need to be perfect from the get go, says Bohórquez Marin. The team cannot sacrifice the balance of the equation between the three elements — Business, UX and Technology.
Challenges at a different level
As product manager, says Bohórquez Marin, “I am heads down into problems at a different level. Now I have gained a different appreciation for the other functions within the team.” For example, the team has a limited capacity, and deadlines are defined. The decisions that you need to make are difficult. You have to determine what the priorities are and say “yes to a few things, and no to most of all other things, because you can only accomplish so much in a given time span.”
Bohórquez Marin identifies two main challenges that need to be solved. The first one relates to the rigidity of each functional area in some organizations. The second one is the need for designers to help product managers understand the value when presenting UX work.
Rigid parameters — the need to be flexible
The objective of the UX work is not just to design the best experience. The objective is to design the best experience within the variables and limits of the constraints at the time. From that perspective, a positive working relationship allows designers to question the parameters that are presented to them and explore the problem with an open perspective with the product manager and the technologist.
It is possible that those parameters have hard limitations. However, it forces both the product manager and the designer to be flexible and harmoniously align to produce the best solution.
Challenge to Designers — Articulating the value
UX designers need to bring product managers along in. a journey that clearly articulates the value of the proposed design. A way to achieve this is to be very structured and well prepared when they present their work. The product manager and other executives need to quickly understand the value of the design proposal — so that they can justify the prioritization in the backlog.
Bohórquez Marin presents the following test to designers — for their next design presentation:
- Prepare a half page summary — with 2–3 highlights of the value and benefits that the design brings to end users
- Use those points as the agenda to guide the design presentation.
- Observe how people react to the presentation; listen to their questions and feedback, while actively listening to the product, business and technology perspectives.
- After the meeting, take a critical look, analyze and integrate the feedback.
Two worlds, one universe — we are in this together
Product Management and User Experience appear to be two different worlds. However, they belong to a universe that is real, in which the objective is clear — give the user the best experience possible balancing. design, technology and business. We are in this together.
About Andrés Bohórquez Marin
This article was inspired by the interactive conversation with the UX Design Immersive Cohort Group at General Assembly. Special thanks to Nick Finck, instructor and design leader for the invitation and to his students.
This article expands on the discussion about the following question:
How can I prepare to continue my career development with the objective of moving towards product management?
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. They do not represent the views of current or previous clients or employers.
About Design Impact
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