The development of a new product can be likened to any other creation process, in that it is messier and more complicated than people on the outside would like to know. Nobody wants to know how the sausages get made.
There are conflicts. There are obstacles that require reappraisals of plans. These things happen. Ultimately, there are many hands in the product development process, but the ‘parents’ of any product are the product manager and the UX designer. This can often be a focal point for power struggles within the company, the right-brained UX designer and the left-brained product manager butting heads.
It’s easy to see this as the creative type versus the suit. But in reality, this binary division is overly facile. A product manager and a UX designer share many of the same responsibilities, and, when they work in synergy, their efforts can ensure that a viable and innovative product comes to the marketplace.
The Product Manager
The product manager essentially acts as the middleman between engineers/programmers and the business side of things. A product manager must relay specs and requirements to the tech people, test prototypes with potential users, get input from investors and stakeholders, and map out a strategy for the product development process.
It’s the product manager who makes the budget, who coordinates between different departments at a larger company, and it’s the product manager who keeps the ball rolling through the long months when the product is in utero.
The UX Designer
The UX designer is responsible for the user experience. That is, they make the prototypes that show that the product is moving through the product development process, they design the graphical interface and overall visual feel of the product, and generally manage the ‘techier’ sides of the product development process.
This can mean experimenting with different models, debugging the internal mechanics, and even building site maps. Although the UX designer is more on the technical side of the great divide, these days a UX designer will find their duties substantially overlap with those of the product manager.
Overlap in the Product Development Process
Of course, it is not so easy to say ‘a product manager does this’ and ‘a UX designer does that’. A UX designer may well find themselves reaching out to customers for preliminary research and testing, and a product manager may often be in the position of having to make cuts to the product due to budgetary restraints. Or the UX designer may have to contact people in other departments while the product manager works on a mockup prototype to show to investors.
In any case, while the UX designer is more on the techie side of things and the product manager is more on the business side of things, they have substantial overlap on a day to day basis. The product manager and UX designer must look at each other as partners, not rivals.
With a proper division of labor, and a comfortable understanding of each others’ respective roles, a product manager and a UX designer can make great partners. Is it chocolate in someone’s peanut butter? Is it peanut butter in someone’s chocolate? No, it’s two great tastes that go great together.