I work at Slalom and have worked at a variety of agencies in LA and Atlanta.
Spent a lot of time thinking…what’s next? Do I go into Management? Do I worry more about growing other people’s careers? Do I specialize in something? Do I start exploring more connected devices? Designing without an interface? How do I stay challenged and engaged? Do I write a book? I started speaking at conferences; that gave me a lot of exposure into what other people were doing Mostly, I wanted to make cool things, but to do it in a way where I got more control over the entire experience. I love working on a team and collaborating, so I had an opportunity crop up around Product Management in an Enterprise, on a Balanced Team using the XP Agile framework. The product I work on is used by employees in a retail setting; I just wanted to mention that up front.
How many of you work Waterfall? How many of you work Agile SCRUM? How many of you work XP? How many of you work Balanced Team? How many of you have heard of Balanced Team?
On a balanced team, team members take joint responsibility for the work. Where I work, the balanced team consists of the Product Manager, the UX Researcher/Designer and the Engineering Anchor. There is no SCRUM master. Anchors are experienced developers, who, in addition to coding full-time, lead the technical aspects of the project from start to end. The anchor acts as a resource for the rest of the team for technical and non-technical issues. UX designers create and lead designs; update designs based on user and stakeholder feedback- participate in user research, wireframing, and visual design in collaboration with the rest of the team - are on-site and embedded with the team full time
It also means that we do a lot of cross-functional pairing to check each other. I will often pair with my UX designer and vice versa. Because I have a really long history of UX, I am very, very focused on making sure that everything we do is something the user wants and is tested with our users before it’s ever coded.
One of the most interesting aspects of balanced team is the idea of shared ownership. I think of it as running a business, where you entire team owns the business. You can’t just go off and make decisions for the rest of the team. It’s a very collaborative kind of thing.
I tend to think of the 3 of us as business owners. We are running a business, creating a business product and are jointly responsible for the business.
There has to be a sense of joint responsibility and trust. I have to trust the engineers to do their job, the UX designer to do his/her job and they have to trust me to do my job. This doesn’t mean that was always agree. In fact, we disagree pretty often. But the team, together, has to agree on outcomes.
One of the benefits of sharing ownership is that you should also work towards a “shared understanding”. Everyone on the team should understand the problems you are trying to solve and have some understanding of each others’ work. This means that transparency is super important and may not always feel natural at first.
I’m highlighting balanced team because the Product Management role that I’m doing is maybe a little different from other Product Manager roles. I sit with my team. We are co-located all day. Things come up all day, every day with both UX work and Development work. I may run off to a meeting here and there, but generally, I’m there all day, every day.
It’s not always warm and fuzzy. We disagree. Team members switch in and out. Some people get along together better than others. So this cycle happens frequently…especially when people are working together very closely.
It can be weird going from UX to Product.
I was thinking about plate-spinning as an analogy to what I do all day as a product manager and I found this! I didn’t know that you could even do this!
But there are time when I’m definitely not popular. There are times when I have to make a call on not doing something as fast as UX may want. Or overhauling a piece of the experience. That’s really hard. I may really want to overhaul a piece of the experience, but then always have to think about the value of that overhaul and if there’s something more pressing that will bring more value.
There’s also a lot of pressure that comes from stakeholders who may not support something users are asking for. This is such a different feeling than doing UX. When I was just doing UX, I definitely felt like I had air cover. Like someone had my back. As product, now I’m the one who provides air cover for the team. So I’m on the front line. So this is where I have to conduct a lot of experiments in Discovery and then collect data from the pilot to support my decisions.
There are a lot of sources of input to Product. I guess that’s one of the things that stands out. You have a lot of plates in the air.
I don’t want to spend too much time talking about SCRUM v. Balanced Team
At a very high level, PMs sit between UX, Tech and the Business
Because user experience professionals are often already fluent in understanding customer needs and knowledgeable about the markets for which they are designing, they have the potential to make good product managers.
It’s really tempting to get into the UX design, especially. But while I am happy to look at a design or interaction, ultimately, I have to let go and let the UX designer run with it. It’s more about delegation. It’s a hard thing to do sometimes, but Product Managers should try to be more strategic than tactical. When you’re in the weeds too much, it’s hard to see where you’re going.
I get into this conversation with UX a lot and it’s really hard. As a UX designer and researcher, you go out there, talk to your customers and come back with the most kick-ass design ever. It meets all of the user’s needs. Then you talk to your engineers and your Product Manager, and it can’t be done. At least, not yet. Or not quite how you envisioned it. Due to constraints. Can you live with something less than ideal? I think this is also something that’s really different. You have to live with less than ideal, less then perfect…the good enough. When you’re putting together an MVP, this is especially important because you want to get something out there quickly that you can learn from and get perfect. Perfect takes time.
I like the analogy that the Product Manager is like the bus driver. We are not the expert in any particular area, but know a little about all the areas. But we are steering the bus in a particular direction. Getting the team on board is not always easy. Some folks may want to get off the bus! But learning to lead a team is really cool. I think that coming from UX into Product gives you a really stellar advantage. While you may give up the day to day control over the specific features and the UI, you do get to work at a higher, more strategic level, shaping the future of the product. And you get to evangelize UX! A PM who comes from UX is your biggest champion.
What skills do you need to transition Product Management from UX?
Soft skills - this is probably the hardest - this not something that is necessarily natural for people, but it can be learned!
Leadership As a Product Manager, you’re the mini-CEO of your domain You’ve gotta know what you’re talking about so you can lead by example Strategic Thinking As the PM, you need to have a vision for your product on Balanced Team, you and the team come up with the Vision together, so that everyone has had input and can buy into it [share template] I put our Vision Statement in front the team so that we always have that in mind It’s really useful when we onboard new people as well We also collaborate on our Persona With a lean approach, we collaborate on a provisional Persona and iterate on it over time
This is the best part!! As a PM on a Balanced Team, you get to pair with your UX resource! That means that you get to go along to do customer research and work together on the solution. This is where you really get to let the customer/the user shape the product and make sure that the stakeholders understand that.
Research, research, research Presenting research Understanding data Analytics Sketching, prototyping and iterating quickly
UX might feel like they own the experience and Product may feel like they own the experience. Product managers feel as though they should be responsible since they manage the product, but user experience professionals feel as though they should be responsible since they spend time researching user needs and interacting directly with customers and users.
Good product managers should be just as close to the customers as the UX folks. Some weeks are better than others, but I feel so much more centered and confident when I go do the research with UX. I feel like I’m on the right path and that gives me the courage to really fight for what’s right for the customer.
I’ve talked about this before in other talks, but I feel it’s worth a mention here as well. It’s been fairly recent that UX has gotten a seat at the big table and has been part of C-level conversations. This means that as a UX Designer, you’re being taken more seriously…
Knowing a lot about all aspects of the business This takes time, but when I did just UX, I didn’t go as broad in understanding the business or all the details As a PM, you have to know EVERYTHING - or at least try to! People will come by and say, “hey, did you think of [x]?” and at least most of the time, you want to say, “yes”. You’ve gotta be curious about the details Because I have so much responsibility, that really increased my level of curiosity!
What I was good at Being a Product Manager is tough! You can read everything out there, but nothing can prepare you for actually doing it.
I’ve been at it for 8 months –
I think I’ve done really well at the things you’d expect – Product Discovery, helping to come up with a really easy to use UI
But I’ve also done well with: Making allies with a diverse set of stakeholders Getting disparate stakeholders to come together and talk Being transparent Sharing our Discovery process, findings
We hear a lot about failure these days. How cool it is to fail. How much we learn form failure.
I’m not sure I like the term “failure”. What I can say is that it’s better to fail small and often, rather than fail big. That means that we need to conduct lots of small experiments and get a lot of feedback.
Get fresh eyes on your product. You get in the weeds and stop seeing things. We’ve got a very challenging QA environment. The product I’m working on has a lot of downstream dependencies of various services being up. When a service is down, we just retry. Well, we got so used to things being down, that we stopped talking about it. We got used to services being down and for a while, we didn’t do anything about it! Then we got a new person on the team and she was like, “why is everything down all the time? That’s not acceptable.” That was a real wake-up call. In big organizations, fixing things isn’t easy or quick. But you have to be persistent.
We had a retro last week and the guy leading the retro asked the team to come up with one thing they’d change about our product. That was so brilliant. We are so in the details every day, that taking a moment to step back is really important. And to also give a voice to every person on the team.
I, personally, need to let go more. To not get in the weeds and let other people on the team do more driving. As we gel more as a team, I think that will happen more and more. And when people make mistakes, don’t play the blame game. Just figure out what happened, learn from it and try not to make the same mistake again.
There are a million books, articles, blogs out there on Product Management, so I’m not going to bore you with a giant list of resources. But I will say….
There’s no guide to Product Management. The most valuable tool I have is my peers. I can go sit in on their meetings, they can sit in on mine. We share findings, resources, etc. If you want to give Product Management a try, do it in a place where you have support. The same is true for UX, right? If you are just starting out, you want to be in a place where you have peers. You can ask questions, go to their meetings, watch them in action.
From UX to Product Management
FROM UX TO
01 March 2017 | amUX
"A balanced team is an
autonomous group of people
with a variety of skills and
perspectives that support each
other towards a shared goal. It
has all the resources and
authority it needs to complete
projects on its own. It values
and iterative delivery.”
More info: www.balancedteam.org
So what skills do I need
to go from UX
•Soft skills - this is probably the hardest - this not something that is necessarily natural
for people, but it can be learned!
• As a Product Manager, you’re the mini-CEO of your domain
• You’ve gotta know what you’re talking about so you can lead by example
• Strategic Thinking
• As the PM, you need to have a vision for your product
• on Balanced Team, you and the team come up with the Vision together, so
that everyone has had input and can buy into it
• [share template]
• I put our Vision Statement in front the team so that we always have that
• It’s really useful when we onboard new people as well
• We also collaborate on our Persona
• With a lean approach, we collaborate on a provisional Persona and
iterate on it over time
• Build empathy and shared understanding with your team
• Building relationships with all stakeholders
• This also includes being the internal face of and cheerleader for the product.
Especially in organizations with many products, product managers need to
generate interest and excitement within the organization about their vision