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Guest Post: Do Product Managers just take credit for great UX design?

NOTE: The following is a guest post from Tom Leung. If you want to submit your own guest post, click here for more information.

I recently had a fun chat with a former colleague about UX versus PM. We were talking about how I thought the Analytics Pro app PM did a great job delivering such a great customer experience; the design was intuitive, and everything worked seamlessly.

My UX friend said (with a bit of a smirk) “‎90% of what you describe as product management sound a heckuva lot like design to me.”

Oh no he didn’t. Sometimes I think he just likes to set me off on a rant. And if that was intention, he was successful.

1) Design without Customer Insights is just modern art (useless).

I’ll be the first to give credit to UX designers for the actual designs but I think PM’s play two very important roles.

First, they help define the requirements which, if they’re good, represent what users want and need most as well as map to the long-term vision for the product and strategic considerations for what will build a durable, high-growth business. Moreover, while great UX is about elegant, clean, and simple designs — great PM’s help identify latent needs and ideate corresponding product ideas .

Good PM’s come up with the very first scribbles on a white board or on a piece of copier paper that are the seeds of what eventually could be a ground-breaking feature design.

2) Mocks don’t ship themselves.

Even if the UX designer was solely responsible for the design, the PM still plays a vital role shipping a real product.

Arbitrating disagreements between engineers (who invariably say they can’t build it the way the mocks look but did it a “better” way) and designers (who invariably file countless bugs when the staging server shows something usually far less elegant and cool than the mocks). Even before those “good disagreements” there are the disputes over what to build and how to implement the design in the first place.

The PM has to drive towards consensus, get everyone bought into a shared vision, and be the meeting rat hole eradicator. It’s not that the designer, marketer, bizdev guy, QA person, Ops person, business owner, and engineers aren’t smart – they’re incredibly smart. It’s just that functional experts are experts because they go deep into their area of specialization and as such have blind spots when it comes to the other functions.

Trying to understand all the perspectives to avoid shipping something that does well for most functions but fails miserably for one of them and synthesizing all of those perspectives to arrive at a optimized release isn’t trivial.

3) If you build it, they won’t come

Every now and then truly great products just spread like wildfire, especially if they have network effects. Unfortunately, most products (even great ones), need more than innate UX greatness to really hit it big.

PM’s need to work with product marketers (if there are any) to get the word out, influence the influentials, present at conferences, come up with PR hooks, optimize sign up flows, and effectively be the face of the product is essential — especially in the early days.

I think we all know of products which are actually second best from a taste test pov but have #1 market share — this is especially true in the B2B spaces. Those second best leaders are almost always the result of really polished and aggressive marketing, sales, and evangelism. More often than not, especially in smaller companies, that requires a great PM to lead the charge.

So yes, PM’s take credit for great the UX’s that make it into the hands of users. They should.



Tom Leung blogs about product management at AlwaysBeShipping.com.  He is currently VP of Product at Marchex.  Previously, Tom has held senior roles at Google, Microsoft, and vc-backed startups.  He studied history and economics at Bowdoin College and technology strategy Harvard Business School.