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UX teams

Keeping UX and product teams aligned

Behind every amazing tech product, there’s a forward-thinking, multidisciplinary team. At the top of the list of experts involved in crafting the next killer social media platform or must-have phone app, the UX Designer and Product Manager are arguably the most vital. 

And that’s why the working relationship between their respective teams is critical for success. 

Although tasked with the same goal (building and shipping a successful product that’s meaningful and relevant to users) UX designers and product management approach things differently. To keep these teams aligned, it’s important to understand what makes each of them tick. 

Differences and similarities between UX and product management

Great (and memorable) products are typically exceptionally easy to use and present consumers with a beautifully simple experience. Need proof? Look no further than Apple. The company’s emphasis on clean, simple design is what gives Apple products their cult-like following.

UX covers all interactions that end users have with a company’s products and services. It’s up to UX designers to know the challenges faced by their intended audience when using a certain product and to then come up with an elegant, unique design solution to resolve them.

With product management, developing a great product is only part of the equation. For product managers, the job requires making key strategic decisions throughout the product lifecycle like coordination with cross-functional teams and consideration of market conditions. 

For product management, it comes down to delivering on the expectations of the customer.

As a product manager, achieving the desired result means providing support to a number of departments and stakeholders to ensure the product is effectively launched as scheduled.

In spite of their differences, UX designers and product managers share a lot of the same traits. Both groups need an in-depth knowledge and understanding of the user to be successful in their roles and they’re each responsible for guiding the product’s development.

Interestingly, it’s the overlap between UX design and product teams where most tensions between the two roles arise.

Common challenges product and UX face

Whether they realize it or not, most UX and product teams don’t take time to acknowledge (or appreciate) the contributions that the other one makes. Sometimes this translates into UX designers taking charge of product development and PMs presenting wireframes as UI.

Some businesses will forgo a UX designer, but absolutely demand a product manager. If the PM is customer-focused and recognizes good design when they see it this can sometimes work. But they’ll need a graphic designer close at-hand at all times.

Providing great UX goes far beyond wireframing and prototyping. It actually includes building a robust dev strategy and adhering to business objectives. Both of these are spaces inhabited by product and UX teams. This is why UX design and product management roles are often combined at smaller organizations.

Benefits of bringing UX and product together

When UX designers and product managers break down the existing organizational silos and make a concerted effort to align, remarkable things begin to happen.

Here are some of the benefits of UX and product teams that are on the same page:

  • Teams can maximize the input of observational data over uninformed opinion.
  • User concerns and requirements can be translated into actionable tasks
  • Both teams avoid costly, but all too common, innovation blind spots. 

So how can you hope to spark greater collaboration between the UX designers and product managers at the onset of a project, during the sprint, and at product launch? 

Tips to align product and UX

Across the product lifecycle, you’ll realize there are many opportunities for your company’s UX and product teams to benefit from their shared dynamic, increase their collective output, and gain mutual respect for one another in the process. But where to begin? It starts with company goals.

Align the team behind the company’s goals

In any industry, at any business, UX and product teams of all sizes find greater success once they identify and rally behind the goals of the company. Although UX designers and product managers own their disciplines, as employees their greater responsibility is to the business.

By rallying your UX and products teams behind a unified vision, accountability and cohesion soon becomes second nature. If your company goals are clearly defined, that is. In the absence of clear corporate objectives, align your teams around other common goals.

Bring both teams together before planning begins

For the most part, the planning (or discovery) phase is owned by the product management team. This is the time when teams first meet to determine how a product’s development can meet an unresolved customer need. It’s also the perfect time to loop in UX. 

Bringing UX designers into the discovery phase saves everyone time. This is a great opportunity for UX designers to talk to customers early on and get a feel for the product team’s working hypothesis. It’s also a way to build up camaraderie and interaction between UX and product teams from the start.

Clearly define each team’s roles and responsibilities 

During each major phase of the product lifecycle, UX designers and product managers will have some involvement at varying degrees. Both are focused on solving problems for users with the products they have in development. To avoid conflicts, keep the following in mind:

  • Product managers are responsible for the vision, strategy, timing, and road map.
  • UX designers are responsible for product design and meeting any brand standards.
  • Within areas of overlap, UX can share insights with product teams (and vice versa). 

For example, working on user-flow diagrams and low-fidelity wireframes together enables UX and product teams to forge stronger relationships and build communication channels.  

Loop in UX to visualize user needs

Often, the best way to articulate and explore a customer’s journey with your product is to visualize it. This is why UX teams rely on the customer journey map (or user journey map) to guide their work.

Showing the possible series of user actions toward goals (based on a specific scenario within a timeline) the customer journey map is more than a valuable UX tool. It also gives product managers a closer look at how UX teams find opportunities to optimize the user experience. 

Let product managers communicate the big picture to UX teams

Too often, UX designers get bogged down in feature development, trying to figure out what to design or test next. With a product roadmap in hand, PMs can communicate the organizational (and future) goals with their UX counterparts. Product managers can also validate whether or not users want what the team is building before committing further resources.

By gaining a sense of the bigger picture, UX teams can learn how feature development ties back to user engagement and company objectives. And as a bonus, this kind of collaboration fosters relationships and a sense of teamwork. 

Creating harmony and establishing strong working relationships between UX and product teams takes time, focus, and effort. But once properly aligned, UX designers and product managers will actually start looking forward to collaborating and testing solutions together.

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