Rooting for UX: rethinking and recreating roles

Last week, Diana Meehan and I arranged a meet up with our former classmates from the GA UX Design class.  I enjoy the camaraderie of the group. We had drinks in downtown and caught up with what each of us were doing.  There was a general sentiment in the group which is that everyone wants to get in to UX except for two people: me and Arlene.

Arlene is a product manager and she likes what she does.  She calls it “being the glue”.  I asked her about her work, how she works with cross-functional teams and that UX was just one of them. Then we landed back on the discussion of why I took the class in the first place.

I had been preparing for this question, I’m not sure why.  I admit there was a period when I thought I wanted to become a UX designer.  I thought to myself, I would do everything in my power to make it happen.  And then I took the class.

I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing to rethink becoming a UX designer.  In fact, I’m more interested in UX now than I ever was before.  I just realized I like being “the glue” and I’ve found that in what I do now.  The class did give me this idea: UX solves a lot of problems that PMs have to deal with on a day to day.  What if I could STILL be a PM and apply what I’ve learned?  What if I could marry the two?  Think of PM as the highly right-brained, obsessively organized and logical partner while UX would be the free-thinking, creative, people-loving counterpart.

In many organizations, people wear many hats anyway.  I then began to imagine a hybrid role where a PM can become a UX resource too.  Why not?

The only enemy is TIME.  Product/project management and UX are very separate and concentrated fields in and of itself.  True that it may vary: you could be a specialist, a generalist or a unicorn.  But even a unicorn needs TIME to do everything hence the necessity to split the roles.

Peter Merholz once asserted (forgive me, I paraphrase) that UX is not just a design field – it’s strategy. I think that its body of knowledge is applicable to all aspects of innovation.  But in order for innovation to happen, people involved need to get on board and work toward a common goal or at least a common virtue.

There is also the issue of conflict of interest.  PMs are trained to push back and treat design as a resource.  There is an underlying problem there.  The organization has to have an understanding that design is NOT simply a resource but a standard.  I advocate the notion that business intelligence need to inform UX decisions not drive them – and it does make a difference.

I’ve heard stories of how UX designers have to “deal” with upper management and they usually stem from managers who (reportedly) have little to no understanding of what goes in to design process and thinking.   I find these stories unfortunate.  If there is anyone in the organization rooting for the UX-ers, it has to be the leadership.  In fact, why not make UX the leadership to which PMs align?

Re-imagining roles might be just one way of showing advocacy for user experience.  It takes a certain kind of understanding and elasticity.

Here’s a challenge for all those who are in PM roles: double-take when you’re pushing back on UX.  Try employing the same basic techniques they use to critique their work e.g. 5 whys, active listening, test often, etc.  Perhaps that’s another way to advocate UX no matter what your role: practice it.

Takeaways from “Big Content Strategy”

I absolutely loved this talk. Here is an example of a very abridged yet fruitful session on Content Strategy imparted to us by Doug Kincade. Below are my takeaways:

  • The content of your web products should approximate values of great personal service.
  • Mobile first is just an easy solution.  There are alternatives to “mobile first” although it is considered best practice.  Again, it goes back to User Experience.
  • Get clients on-board with content strategy through design.  Get them to buy-in on design and all the assumptions that go along with it.
  • Guidance is a series of small steps.
  • Make your content easily available through contextual search results e.g. searching for car makes on the Lexus websites group related content.
  • Focus on most searched keywords and make the content available to site visitor right away.  This is called information strategy.
  • Plan out the content based on the user behavior/journey.  Have content available for them in different phases of that journey to keep them engaged.
  • Keep it fresh!
  • And finally this:

All-nighters are your friends.


Product management 101

Yesterday, I attended a Product Management bootcamp. I was trying to figure out if I had any transferrable skills from what I already do as a Project Manager. One takeaway was that Project Managers dealt mainly with people and tasks while Product Managers dealt with vision and features.

This definition made me think back on all the projects I have worked on. One was an iOS project I “inherited”, a maintenance project for X life science company.  It was for a native app they launched for their Japan team. I confess: a great deal of my frustration with that project was that it was already built. The company created a system patterned around how business was conducted in the United States. They then pushed the app to their international teams without realizing that business processes were different in those countries.

If I think about the app in terms of the people I managed and the tasks I had delivered in light of the requirements I was given, sure that part was taken care of.  But the app itself was a product.  The product was simply not designed for Japan which had processes that were characteristically unique.  I had to rethink the way I had to do my work because there I was, talking to a guy in Japan who was telling me that the business logic of the app didn’t work for their team.  If the point of the app was to automate their process, then I had to listen to Japan and post them as valid concerns about the product.

I guess, a Product Manager would have been tasked with strategizing this in the first place.  If they wanted to create value for this product to Japan, then some consideration should have been made about their business processes.

Another thing I picked up from the bootcamp was the idea of thinking in reverse.  I am a huge fan of this when it comes to anything. There’s a front and back. Top and botton.  Left and right.  In and out.  Beginning and end.   Conventional wisdom tells us to start at the default but more often, the inverse approach gives an insightful view about any subject whether you are planning a project, writing out user stories or doing QA.  If you can break something down in reverse, you can definitely build it.

Southisms PL: January 2015

Holy crap! It’s 2015 already?

Ah, January 2015 – a year anew.  If you have a Spotify account (you should get one if you don’t have one yet), make sure to follow me here or search my handle (1221023542) to get the latest playlists I curate. They’ll be coming out monthly.

This month, I listened to recurrent tracks and some delightful releases from 2014.  Check out some of my favorites below:

Dark Waves – I don’t want to be in love

Asher Roth – Fast Life (feat. Vic Mensa)

Chet Faker – Talk is cheap (Live at WFUV)

Sohn – Lessons

Shura – Touch (I wanna touch you but there’s history – damn!)

MV FEATURE TIME: I’m plugged in to music wherever I go.  Some of the best music I listen to are in the shower and is when this song came on.  I can’t stop listening to it.  The Blackjoy remix of this is a thing I can listen to every morning and be instantly put in a great mood.  Just listen to the Latin-laced percussion and throw in some organ, synths, clean guitar and uplifting bass line.

Also, this video feeds my obsession for…anything falling.