Product Managers are awesome! They keep goals in mind and priorities at the forefront –
and when designers get to work with them, it’s a real treat. Clearly, there is a lot of overlap in skill sets, but sometimes you’ll find yourself on a team without a dedicated PM. So if you’re a designer in a position where you need to do a little PM’ing – you’ll want to have these skills.
For a primer on what a Product Manager is and does on an Agile team, check out this great resource. The role is a bit tricky – and as a designer, the work can feel uncomfortable at first because PM deliverables can seem much less concrete than design’s. But, if you can master the secret art of Product Management, you will be a much better designer for it.
Ok, let’s get started.
A cornerstone of any great “Product Person” is an effective, engaging, and personalized facilitation style that can get you through any sticky situation. Here are some of the go-to activities that require expert facilitation. We incorporate all of these into each project we do:
At most companies, it is the job of the Product Manager to create and communicate the vision for the product. That doesn’t mean they go sit in a room and imagine something, then make other people build it.
The vision is built on a deep understanding of underlying user problems, business needs and (unless the PM is also the founder) the vision of the leadership team. For that vision to get anywhere near implementation, the PM has to get buy-in from all kinds of stakeholders. Once that’s done, they have to communicate the (revised, tweaked, improved) vision to the team that will help them execute.
There are no shortcuts for this work, and the techniques used come from general management rather than product specifically. Some tools that might come in handy if you’re selling a vision include:
Helping shape product strategy is a key skill, and also one of those “what the F@$# does that mean?” terms. There’s a lot of confusion about this, and if you want to know more I suggest you read this book. For our purposes, I think it can be broken down into:
Product Definition is probably what you are most familiar with. As designers, we are usually deeply involved with what sort of features are in the product, and how those features relate to a user need. While Product Managers think about those things too, they also have a few things in the definition process that are not a part of the the typical design process. The list below reflects both of these.
Working with Developers
Product Managers are always faced with tough questions from Developers like “Why are we building this?”, “Do we really need this feature now?”, or “Are you sure we need to rebuild Google calendar?”. Being able to communicate product and business needs to the people who are on the ground creating the product is super important. But, if you want to talk the talk you also have to walk the walk. You should be informed about:
Working with Teams
Product Managers are always thinking about how their team is feeling and how effective it is being. Team responsibility and its productivity has fallen on them, and they are often called upon to motivate and support designers, developers and any other disciplines that touch the product. At Carbon Five, we have learned a lot about working with teams. As consultants, we are not only working with new clients every few months, but also different teams inside Carbon Fiv. Here are a few things we have found helpful.
To sum up: when faced with a challenge, designers are used to getting scrappy and solving problems, much like Product Managers. Understanding the tools PMs use to solve problems can not only help you work with Product Managers better, but can also help you find solutions to your own design problems. Every designer has their own tool box – these are simply tools you can add to it.