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The UX responsibilities of a Product Manager – Part 2

by Gary Schroeder

In part 1, we discussed the importance of Product/Market Fit and concepts of Problem Validation and Solution Validation. This part covers 5 key UX responsibilities of Product Managers.

To architect great solutions to market problems, always start with the user and work backwards. Work backwards from their problems and how you want them to feel when those problems are solved.

#1 Responsibility: Prioritize Along User Needs

This is the end game and responsibilities #2 and #3 explain how you will be equipped to do this, but it is important to keep the end in mind.

Users have a hierarchy of needs that must be met in order to elicit delight.  I encourage using Dan Olson’s hierarchy of user needs as your framework to follow:


Much of the framework speaks for itself, but I will add two comments:

  • You haven’t yet earned the right to work on the “Increasing Satisfaction” areas (Feature Set and Usability/Design) until you have satisfactorily delivered on Uptime, Page Load Time, and Absence of bugs
  • The entire hierarchy (not just the top category labeled Usability and Design) adds up to the user’s experience with your product.

To effectively deliver a great solution to your users, you need to effectively prioritize work that aligns with the above user hierarchy.

#2 Responsibility: Know Your Users

You are your customers advocate and in order to do that you need to know your users. You need to be able to answer questions like:

  • What market are they in?
  • What are the trends in that market?
  • What are your user’s business goals?
  • What does a day in their life look like?
  • What problems do they encounter throughout their day and why do they need your product to solve those problems?
  • How often do they encounter these problems?
  • Do they work mainly from an office, or are they travelling 40 weeks a year?

Knowing the answers to these questions and more is the only way you can grade your product according to the user hierarchy of needs. What do I mean?

  • Does your product need to have a 99.999% uptime all year long? Or will your target user base only be using it during the first 3-4 months of the calendar year?
  • Do your users use the product 8 hours a day and need it to be lightning fast? Or do they use it only sporadically throughout the week and thus are not that concerned about page load times?
  • Is there really demand for the seven new features your executive team says your product needs? Or will that simply clutter the product with unnecessary and thus unused features?
  • If 87% of your users work at an office all day on three monitors, do you really need to invest in a mobile application or take great pains to incorporate responsive design?

Knowing your users makes these questions easy to answer. Getting the right answers to these questions helps facilitate a better user experience.

#3 Responsibility: Feel Your Users

The above questions require a certain level of understanding. But this kind of understanding only requires us to know. Truly great products however are not born from the brain, they find their source 18 inches south–the heart.  This type of understanding requires us to feel.  Building great products not only require us to know what our customers know, it requires us to feel what our customers feel. This means that customers are no longer customers; users are no longer users, prospects are no longer prospects; they are human beings–people just like you and me.

Making the human connection is step one. Developing deep empathy is step two. Empathy comes from answering–with the head and the heart–questions such as:

  • What do your users fear?
  • What are the frustrations in their lives?
  • What do your users want to gain from his job?
  • Less work and more money you say?
  • Why does a user want more money? Knowing that it is not to get a nicer car and rather it is because his son has a rare health condition and the medical bills are piling up changes your perspective entirely. He wants to take care of his son. This means this user needs to do well at his job so he can get a promotion, but this also means he can’t work 70+ hours a week to achieve that because he wants to spend every moment possible at his son’s side.  He needs a tool that will work with and for him.

Questions to gauge empathy?

  • Have you ever not been able to sleep because you were concerned about one of your users not spending enough time with her kids and how your product can help, even if in a small way, steal back some of that precious time?
  • Have you ever obsessed over two clicks vs. three?

#4 Responsibility: Interest Does Not Equal Aptitude – So Master the Basic Skills

Your goal is not to become a UI/UX Designer but you have to master the fundamentals of User Experience so that you can ensure your solution is compelling. Fortunately it’s fairly painless to pick up the necessary UX skills you’ll need as a product manager*.

Skill #1: User Research and Usability Testing

While you will likely partner with a UX Designer for these activities, you need to be involved and, if necessary, lead these initiatives.

To validate desirability–which is validating problems and solutions–you need to be in front of real users.

  • Learn how to conduct discovery interviews to help (in)validate your problem hypotheses.
  • Use design reviews and usability testing with actual or prospective users to (in)validate your solutions.

Skill #2: Prototyping – To the user, the interface is the product.

That doesn’t mean you need to know Photoshop, Illustrator, or Fireworks. But you do need to learn how to take a screens first, quick and dirty prototyping, approach to designing your product.  Again, start with the user–what do they actually see? How will they interact with the product? Get comfortable using tools like:

  • Pencil (or a pen if you’re daring) & Paper
  • Balsamiq

Skill #3: Reviewing Designs

You own the use cases and so you need to vet every single design against your market and user understanding.

Designs can be innovative and elegant, but if they don’t meet your user’s needs, they fail. And while your UI/UX designers should be taking great pains to understand your users as well as you do, don’t count on it.  It’s your responsibility to review their work and vet them against your user knowledge.

Responsibility #5:  Own Your Own UX Education

There is no shortage of UX resources for free online which means you don’ have any excuses to be ignorant.  Below are my recommendations on where to start:

  1. Documentary – Objectified
  2. Book – Design for Hackers
  3. Course (free) – Human Computer Interaction
  4. Bonus (free) – Hack Design


As a Product Manager, your job is to achieve product/market fit. A key component of product/market fit is validating if there is a prevailing problem in the market and that you have a compelling solution to that problem (e.g. Desirable).

To ensure your solution is compelling, you need to prioritize work according to your user’s hierarchy of needs which requires you to have deep knowledge and empathy of and for your users. Beyond knowledge and empathy, however, you need to be actively involved in creating solutions yourself via prototyping, testing the solutions in design and usability studies, and finally reviewing all designs that go into your product.


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About the Author

gary-schroeder-bwGary Schroeder (@gjschroeder) has been helping companies deliver world-class products for over 8 years.  Currently he is Associate Product Manager at Accruent and writes about Growth Hacking, Product Management, Innovation, and Design at GarySchroeder.me.