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.