Designers: A PM’s Best Friend

When it comes to being successful in a product management role, your interaction designer should be your best friend. You should be constantly sharing requirements, ideas and collaborating regularly with your designer.

Key Considerations for Working with your Designers:

  1. Provide Requirements at the Beginning

As a product manager, you must give all of the information that you have at the start of the project. Share the research, competitive landscape, and goals to be accomplished. Make sure you are constantly feeding information as new features are considered and others are discarded.

If you fail to provide all of the requirements, you’ll prolong the project and your designer may get frustrated with you by not giving the full story. In software, we expect changes and adjustments, but you want to make sure your designer can create a design that will encompass all of the experiences for the user that are needed. You can always scale back and remove a feature or requirement if it’s too much to get out in the first release. However, having the designer look at the full project holistically will benefit your product in the long run.

2. Be Open to their Ideas and Suggestions

Remember that your designers – interaction and visual – are experts in design. They have the “eye” for good design and should be bringing ideas to the table regularly. Designers should be looking at competitors and standardized interactions that can be utilized. Your designer has many more years of experience in design than you do, so make sure you give them the opportunity to bring their best ideas forward.

3. Collaborate and Brainstorm Regularly

You should schedule regular check-ins – either in person or over the phone. Reviewing the designs and the intentions together as a team – with the development team as well – will ensure everyone is on board with the direction and interactions that are planned. Make sure you always keep in mind the user’s perspective and the goals to be accomplished. If you do that, you will succeed as a team.

4. Work within their Domain

There are many tools that designers can use to share their designs and get feedback from their product managers. My team uses InVision but many prototyping tools are available like Axure, Marvel, UXPin, and more. Designers need feedback quickly so they can continue to adjust and get to the final designs. This communication is key to keeping your project moving. If your designer thinks you are slacking on providing feedback, it will put a strain on the relationship.

As product managers, we must always think about the big picture and strategy. Utilizing all of your team members’ skills and experience is the key to succeeding. If everyone has a clear role and together you have goals to accomplish, then you will be able to move forward quickly. Being a product manager is a balancing act because you are making long term strategic decisions as well as short term tactical decisions. You have to rely on your team, especially your designers, so you can continue to move your product forward. Build a solid relationship with your designers, and you’ll see positive results and success for the entire team.

Hosting User Events is Gold

When I moved into a product manager role from over 10 years in marketing, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew that I would be part of a team which built software products for companies looking to hire candidates. I was told that being on a revenue generating team would be a great place to be (especially when the economy was down) versus in marketing which is an expense generating team. When I transitioned to the product role within the same company, I was a little unsure, but wanted to try something new. My new boss wanted to utilize my marketing skills, and I’d also have the opportunity to learn and grow about building software. It sounded like a great match, and I was ready for the challenge.

I started learning about our current B2B product and saw a long list of all of the new features that clients were asking for through their sales representative or customer care. I realized we had a lot of work to do to make the product better.

Why You Need User Feedback

My manager was meeting with clients regularly and bringing us the requests for what more needed to be built. However, as a team of product and technology team members, we didn’t have a good process to decide on prioritization. I started meeting with clients when they came into the office and presenting on our product’s capabilities.  In one calendar year, I presented to over 100 companies either in person or on the phone. I learned about their challenges and what areas of the product we needed to invest in further to make our product better. It was a huge leap in education for me about how and why talking to users of our product was helping accelerate our product’s vision and development.

Because of my marketing background and my knack for planning, I planned our first user event where we’d host a bunch of customers for a few days and learn more.  The goal behind hosting an onsite event with users of our products was multi-pronged. These are the benefits to hosting and why you’ll feel like you won a stack of gold afterwards.

Three Benefits to Hosting User Events:

1. Immediate Feedback from Multiple Voices

When you are considering the features and functionality of a product, it’s best to get feedback on a regular basis. When you have a user event, you have an opportunity to present your plans to many people and get lots of feedback in a short period of time from multiple perspectives. You may learn that a new feature that you had lower on your list is actually super important to your users or vice versa. The immediate feedback can help validate and confirm your roadmap or help you pivot and try a new path that will lead you to success as a product manager.

You must get multiple perspectives from multiple clients when deciding on your plans and roadmap. If you rely too heavy on one voice, you are putting yourself into a corner and it will be difficult to get out.

2. Development Team Hears Directly From Users

When you host these user events, you must have your development team join. They should be meeting with your customers to hear directly about their struggles and challenges. When engineers go back to their desk to develop, they’ll have that much more information as to why and who they are building the product for. It will accelerate their productivity and hopefully make them more excited and passionate about their role in the process.

3. Build Relationships

As humans, we are always looking to find people to connect with and having in-person opportunities for your team to build relationships with customers will drive productivity and fuel their minds. Bringing clients into your office allows you to host them and make them feel welcome. This gives your brand more credibility and you are part of building the trust needed to sustain the relationship long term.

This year, I planned and hosted the sixth annual event for my team. Every year we get smarter with how to prepare and set expectations to make the user event successful. All team members should be invited — product managers, engineers, designers, researchers, analysts, marketing, etc. Everyone who is behind building and launching new products and features should be present and interact with the users who are your target customer.

Go For the Gold

Your users will know that they are part of the development process by contributing their feedback so you can build better products for them. You can then ask them for further feedback as you make progress on the items that they requested or the challenges that your new feature will solve for them.

I view these events as “gold” because all team members and clients walk away with so much knowledge and excitement for the direction that you are headed. You’ll feel like you won a stack of gold.