We’ve seen first hand how great products come to life when product management and UX work closely together at the early stages of product development.
But it doesn’t always happen that way.
All too often, products and UX are siloed and don’t have a shared understanding of the customer or the job to be done. Or product and UX don’t collaborate effectively. It’s unfortunate. After all, product managers and UX designers share the same goals, right?
Although product and UX roles often overlap, the skills required from great product managers and great UX designers are different. The way I think about it is that product managers are focused on market requirements and the success of the product from a business perspective. UX is focused on understanding users’ needs and implementing solutions to improve their experience.
Where can things go wrong? Here are some symptoms of a disconnected PM/UX relationship.
How useful is a website’s navigation if it doesn’t actually navigate you through the site? Spoiler alert: not very.
If the layout and design of your website’s navigation is unclear and difficult to use, it will confuse and frustrate your audience.
When a user comes to your site, they’re looking for specific information. Your site’s navigation should tell them where to go and how to get there simply and easily.
If your site’s menu bar has several, cluttered drop-down sections and subpages, or if your site lacks a search bar and a way to return home, then your users are going to grow frustrated and leave.
Navigation should be simple and intuitive, otherwise, you’re going to see a drop in conversions and higher bounce rates.
Lack of information
Consider this scenario: a prospective client is exploring your website and they decide you have a product or service that they want – great! However, they only want to do business with people in their area, so they search your site for location information and it isn’t there.
Now they have to leave your site and use a search engine to find the information they’re looking for.
Your website should have all of the important information your users might need in one place.
Contact forms, email addresses, location information, and social media links are all key pieces of vital information.
Making your users search for information elsewhere is bad for their experience and bad for business.
Accessibility means that a site is equally accessible to all people regardless of disabilities or impairments.
There are various types of cognitive and physical disabilities that need to be considered when designing a site, and there are several ways you can make your website more accessible to individuals with these conditions.
For example, if your site features a picture of a yellow daisy, then the alt text for that image should be as descriptive as possible. Avoid leaving alt text blank or as the image’s original file name so that a screen reader is able to accurately describe the image to someone with a visual impairment.
Additionally, video or audio elements should include captioning, links should have specific and descriptive names, and form fields should be labeled appropriately.
Considering the needs of users with disabilities and impairments will create a better user experience for everyone who accesses your site.
Not Mobile Friendly
People are accessing the mobile versions of websites now more than ever.
In fact, Google now indexes mobile sites first over desktop ones. This means it is vital for your site to be mobile friendly.
The layout of your mobile site should differ from your desktop version. For example, the buttons on your mobile site should be larger and optimised for tapping rather than the precision of a computer mouse.
Additionally, long-form content with small text should be reserved for desktop sites, whereas content on mobile should be short and snackable.
Designing an effective mobile site will allow a majority of your audience to interact positively with your site.
Websites should be simple, straightforward, and easy to use. Avoid frustrating your users by recognising and addressing the signs of a poor user experience.
Once you evaluate your site for usability, you’ll be able to offer your users a better, more positive website experience.
Roadmap initiatives lack UX consideration
UX should not be exclusively separate initiatives, but rather baked into every feature on the roadmap. UX is an ongoing part of the process.
We talk often about how products are built iteratively, but this doesn’t mean that iterative products lack UX consideration. And it certainly doesn’t mean that design is something that you “skin” on a feature after it’s been released. Great design and usability should be baked into the earliest MVP.
An obvious solution is for leadership to provide an appropriate level of UX resources. If only 1 designer is shared among several PMs and dozens of developers, there will be strain on the process.
Regardless of resources, it’s essential for a product to communicate regularly with the UX team as the roadmap is developed and inevitably changes. When a product thinks of UX as an important stakeholder, the roadmap is likely to include design as a core part of new initiatives.
Product and UX aren’t working collaboratively
How collaborative is the relationship between your product and UX teams? Teams with a continuous exchange of feedback and regular meetings will build better products.
I encourage product teams to involve UX in the early feature discussions. When UX isn’t involved in feature discussions, the UX team won’t feel as much ownership. Or you run the risk of the UX team not being on the same page.
Or even worse, the feature isn’t well received and PMs blame the designers (or designers blame PMs).
Product managers and UX should be on the same page and share a common mission—the company’s or product’s strategic goals. If your strategic goals aren’t communicated (or well defined), there will be conflict between product and UX.
When product and UX operate in silos you wind up with products and features that aren’t compelling. I like the way that Melissa Perri phrased it:
“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.”
Product and UX are the same person
In some organisations, product and UX are the same person. This is often the case at early-stage companies where dedicated design or UX is a luxury. Look, I’ve done my fair share of wireframes and usability tests, but I know that a dedicated UX pro can run circles around me.
In the past I’ve worked on products and acted as the PM/UX combo. Once we had the resources to hire an UX designer, there were inevitably improvements that could be made—and an open exchange of ideas was encouraged.
If your company or product is further along, your team needs to have dedicated product and UX professionals. Although they may overlap depending on your team’s structure and capabilities, here’s one way of looking at their different responsibilities:
Set strategic goals and themes
Roadmap communication and release planning
User and persona research
Wireframes, prototypes, site maps
There have been a lot of articles written about the ratio of UX to product (or engineering). But more important in my mind is where UX is in the organisation. How closely are they tied to product teams? If they are reporting to marketing, or another team disconnected from product management, the collaboration may be strained.
“User delight” stories die in your backlog
Most product managers have experienced this at one point: as you prioritize the backlog (or start to cut stories to make a release on time), there is pressure to de-prioritize stories that are “user delight” stories. These might be enhancements or even new features that, when the pressure is on, can take a back seat to bugs and customer requests.
UX designers love to add as much polish to a product as they can fit in during a development cycle. While MVPs and getting a feature out the door is important, product managers sometimes de-prioritize these user stories that are not considered tangible features.
Unfortunately these user delight stories sit in the backlog and never make it into a sprint. After all, how can a PM trade out that “P3 bug” for a slick loading animation your designer has been working on? How does a PM quantify something as amorphous as “user delight” to justify sacrificing some other development initiative?