UX and product management have broadly the same goals – to understand users’ needs, to create excellent experiences that solve those needs and to keep innovating products, with these aims in mind.
Product managers make up a sizeable proportion of the graduates of our courses. They benefit from learning the UX mindset, introducing UX techniques directly into their workflow and influencing others in their organisation to adopt UX as an integral process.
UX is essential for product managers. But don’t just take our word for it – we spoke to three product managers at the top of their game to get their views.
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What does a product manager do?
The product manager has a hugely important role in setting the strategy and roadmap for a company’s products. He or she leads the cross-functional team who are all involved in the product’s design, development and launch.
Dave Meyer, Senior Product Manager with Atlassian, says his number one responsibility as a product manager is “to set our product strategy and enable all the teams around me to work together to deliver it.
“That means working with design to research and understand our customer needs, collaborate across design and engineering to envision solutions, and then ensure that those solutions are implemented in a way that improves the customer experience.
“At the end of the day, I measure myself by how I was able to improve our customers’ experiences with Atlassian’s products.”
Niall Kiernan is Product Manager with Rockall Tech. In his role, he has introduced key product disciplines including market research, prototyping, usability testing, customer feedback loops, product theme setting, customer analysis and value proposition identification.
Niall works with departments across the company including sales, marketing, client relations, technology and the senior leadership team and says his role is to “act as the voice of the product”.
Stephen Sherwin is Senior Product Manager in Mobile Banking at AIB.
He says his role is to “have a clear vision for the product along with the goals you need to achieve to get there. The whole team need to be brought into this vision.”
He says his role involves discovering customer problems, prioritising them and working with the team to find the right solutions. It’s also vital to work with stakeholders and manage their expectations.
“My role is also to measure success and prioritise changes if goals aren’t being met.”
Stephen says product management is a mindset rather than a job title (something that’s easily relatable to UX design being a mindset and not just a job function).
He writes about what makes a good product manager in this Medium article, including a very apt comparison to a Sherpa:
“I’ve heard the role of the product manager compared to that of a Sherpa. They do things such as prepare the route, fix ropes in place and carry the necessary climbing kit up the mountain. They know the culture, they know the area and they know the people.
“When it comes to climbing the mountain, they have this phenomenal energy on the mountain. They really are the backbone of any expedition. It sounds like a similar role to me.”
Product management and UX seem to be becoming more aligned…
“Absolutely,” says Dave Meyer. “At Atlassian, we consider the leadership of any product team to be a shared responsibility across the product manager, the engineering lead, and the UX designer. We try to ensure that there is a 1:1 ratio of UX designers to product managers, and it’s critical that they communicate.
“We expect that product managers and UX designers collaborate to research and understand what customers need and then envision solutions. Product managers must understand the principles of great UX design and be able to offer our UX designers effective feedback.
“Conversely, we expect UX designers to work with product managers and engineers to understand the practical needs of customers and technical limitations in order to design the best experience given all the possible constraints.”
Stephen Sherwin agrees that the two have become a lot more aligned.
“It’s strange, I’ve been beating that drum a lot lately,” he says. “I’ve seen people put UX and UI together and label it as XD or Design but I think that UX and product management are much more closely aligned.
“I think the fundamental principles of both are so similar. For me, both involve doing a lot of customer research to discover what problems customers are having and then looking at ways to solve them.”
Niall Kiernan thinks UX has always been a critical part of software development where a person interacts directly with that piece of software.
“However, I would say that it [UX] has come more to the forefront of product design. If you look at the development process itself, it used to be driven by an inside-out perspective, as in the product would be completely developed in-house until that moment it was unveiled to customers in the hope of wowing them.
“Now there is much more of an outside-in perspective with much more engagement with clients upfront as part of the research and design. The wow is replaced with an acceptance moment in the middle of the process when the client sees that you have met their needs. It’s far less exciting and ego driven but reduces the amount of redo on the other side.”
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UX helps product managers day-to-day in their job
It’s hard to imagine a product manager doing their role without UX being part of it, in terms of the overall mindset and day-to-day techniques.
“For me, the critical thing is to change the perspective of everybody working on the product to look at it from the customer’s point of view, or in other words, the user experience,” says Niall Kiernan.
“If you can get the development team – developers, testers, tech writers, release team – all looking at what they do from a user experience perspective then the chances are you’ll end up with a product that is easy to engage with.”
He says it can be a real challenge to get to this change of mindset.
“My experience has been that only the real top developers or testers want to look at it from this experience [user experience]. The developer catchphrase that is very common is, ‘You just tell me what to build and I’ll build it’ or the testers being, ‘It’s my job to try and break the product’. These are both frustrating lines as neither help to really enhance the product, they are simply trying to improve the code.
“Having the whole team buying into UX means there are a group of people who are all focused on creating a much better customer journey through the product.”
Stephen Sherwin says on a day-to-day basis, UX helps him to understand customer pain points and how they can be solved.
“It gives me reassurance that I’m solving the right problem in a way that will help the user. It also minimises the risk of me developing something that doesn’t work, doesn’t meet its goals and makes users unhappy.”
Dave Meyer picks up on the customer pain points theme.
“As a product manager, I’ve seen the benefit of ensuring that we have consistent, high quality user experience across our product experience, and the pain that our customers feel when it’s missing.
“The hardest compromises a product manager will have to make are usually balancing UX quality, engineering requirements, and delivering on time. If you don’t understand how UX quality impacts your customers’ perceptions of the product, you won’t make the right decision.
“Product managers often care about a couple of key metrics: user growth, customer satisfaction and retention. All of these are going to be affected by the UX of your product.
“I work with the UX designers on my team every single day – we discuss wireframes and mockups for future features that our team will work on, we evaluate customer feedback, we review research and interviews that we conduct with our customers, and together, we plan work for the engineering team.
“When I’m formulating the requirements for a new feature, our UX designers are the key partner in determining not just how that feature should look, but how we communicate the requirements to the rest of the organisation and evaluate the success after it has shipped.”
People starting out as product managers should learn UX
“Definitely,” says Stephen Sherwin. “You are building the product for your user and UX helps you to focus on your user. Learning about UX early on gives you a great foundation for product management and even though there are differences between the roles, there is a lot of crossover.
“Also, depending on your company size or structure, you may not have anyone to do your UX so you may need to look after it yourself. You may not be able to be expert but it’s always better to be doing a little bit and learn from it rather than not doing it at all.”
Dave Meyer agrees that UX is a must-have for those starting a career in product management.
“At the end of the day, product managers will need to make UX decisions themselves from time to time. And even if you don’t, you’ll need to collaborate with UX designers at every stage of your product management career. The ability to ‘speak the language’ of UX is a must-have for any PM we hire at Atlassian.”
“Absolutely,” agrees Niall Kiernan. “And I’ve mentored a couple of people where the first thing I start with is thinking about the problem we’re trying to solve from the customer’s perspective.
“Then looking at the path the customer will follow in resolving that process before looking at what the actual screens will look like. To me, you can’t do software application development without engaging in UX.”