February 18, 2022
How Would You Beat? with Guest Christian Crumlish
In our latest episode of the How Would You Beat podcast, we were joined by UX and product management veteran, Christian Crumlish. Christian has led organizations and been an individual contributor for over 20 years. In this episode, we discussed Christian’s new book, “Product Management for UX People”.
As Christian explains, his book is meant for people with a UX designers. For many UX people, product management sounds like a new job that happens to overlap with the job they currently do. However, they reach a point in their career where this overlap becomes an obstacle, or at least something they need to understand better. Going forward in their careers, they can either choose to become a product manager themselves, or learn to work better with them. The book helps people with UX strategy roles be more comfortable framing their job as a product strategy role, or at least being a key part of their organization’s product strategy.
Where Do UX and Product Management Overlap?
We asked Christian what he thought the UX role and product management role have in common, and what some of the big new challenges are if you're trying to add products to your UX toolset. He argues that the overlap is quite large, and can sometimes involve similarities in tasks, but it's much more an overlap of concern, focus and responsibility. User experience is all about the person who interacts with the software and how to get them to engage with it more effectively; product management is also largely concerned with a consumer’s needs and how meeting their needs can help sustain the project that you're working on.
The biggest differences between the two roles, however, lies in the fact that the work itself is very different. The product management isn’t necessarily a design-related discipline, and the day-to-day work of a product manager typically doesn’t happen in software programs like Photoshop or Figma. Rather, product managers are the ones writing tasks for developers, creating brief product specifications, and giving presentations to leadership on why the product is worth building.
As the designers and product managers advance in their careers towards leadership positions, they both end up taking on more customer-centric roles and responsibilities. The overlap becomes more and more complete as the details of the job tasks start to become less relevant to the bigger picture. All the while, the writing aspect of the job remains incredibly important. If you're in leadership, you’re making reports, writing emails to other executives, and generally having to communicate those big-picture ideas and strategies to of people throughout the organization.
Driving Team Collaboration
At the end of the day, everyone’s main goal should be trying to create customer value. Unfortunately, it’s too easy to lose sight of this fact. You’re trying to get teams to work together. No matter the role – whether it’s product management, UX/UI, marketing, or finance -- the goal is to agree on what you're going to do for the customer. This connects nicely with Jobs-to-be-Done because, ultimately, Jobs-to-be-Done teaches us every product is made for people to “hire” it to get a job done. By incorporating Jobs-to-be-Done, it becomes possible to move the conversation out of the comfort zone of both the UX and product management disciplines.
It’s a challenge for some businesses to conduct product discovery in a collaborative way. If the organization has a UX research department, that's great. If they do product management in a way that truly understands the needs of an audience, that's great too. Some organizations are doing both of those things in an uncoordinated way though, whether it’s talking with the same group of customers but using two slightly different questionnaires, or talking with them at different times without knowing about it, not coordinating research, or having turf battles. It's much more effective for the teams (and better for the customer) if the two teams can figure out a way to collaborate and piggyback on each other's work, developing a shared approach to what the customers need. Jobs-to-be-Done offers a fresh way of analyzing these needs and how both product management and UX groups can satisfy them.
Relating to the Customer’s Job
The Jobs-to-be-Done framework is a reminder that product management is not merely a matter of design, or even UX. It's everybody's job to figure out what you’re making, who it's for and what problems it solves. If you truly understanding of your customer’s job, their problem, or the goal they're trying to achieve, you don't need any innovation theory to explain it at all. It should be in plain English.
You want an environment where everybody agrees that you’re trying to craft an amazing user experience. Sure, you’ll still want coding specialists and HR specialists and design specialists, for example, but everyone should be on the same page about what the customer wants and what the jobs are they’re hiring your product to do.
UX and UI are extremely important, but an easy to use app does not create customer value unless it gets the functional job done faster and more accurately.
Conversely, an app that gets the functional job done quickly and accurately can overcome inelegant UX.
A great example of this is Craigslist. Craigslist is, by no means, the pinnacle of modern UX/UI but it gets the functional job of buying and selling stuff done incredibly well. It has market liquidity and that liquidity is really difficult to get right, especially in the kind of two-sided markets Craigslist operates in. Craigslist’s main engine of success was that the founder, Craig Newmark, was the chief customer support person answering user feedback every day. Instead of listening to the outside noise of people saying they needed a fancier logo and better menus, he focused on the things people were actually asking for in his support inbox.
A Fear of Data
From Christian’s perspective, UX people often have both a reasonable fear of the way data is used in relation to design, as well as some less well-grounded phobias that are more cultural or temperamental. Designers don’t generally love numbers and data. For them, it’s very much about the visuals as this is what they respond best to. This is partly why data has crept into UX more slowly than into other parts of business. The issue has largely been presented as “no design decision can/should be made without data.” Eventually, this moves product development away from the design process entirely, which is not desirable. Christian says, “I believe any UX designer worth their salt wants as much information as possible about the problem, about the users, about the action, and about how things are actually working right now.”
For certain kinds of product managers, and even certain UX people, they will start to have a feel for the data. For the pure UX designers, it's more about being open to data being just another ingredient in the product development process. Instead of thinking in terms of “data-driven”, it’s more useful to think of it as “empathy-driven.” Data is really just an input used to help you empathize with your customers’ struggles. That’s why it’s important to include emotional jobs in every Jobs-to-be-Done analysis as well. In most jobs, people are anxious, worried or emotional about something and part of the beauty of a great UX is it makes you feel confident that you're getting the job done.
A Call to Collaboration
There's a cliche in the world of product management: "the product manager is the CEO of the product." This communicates the idea that there is a person who has an operational responsibility for whatever happens with the product. The problem is, this comparison glosses over some of the real differences between an actual CEO, who can hire and fire and who has final say on almost everything, and product managers, who usually manage teams that do not report to them directly, do not have hiring and firing control, and often do not have real profit and loss responsibility.
There's design-oriented work that UX people do that product managers don't have anything to do with. Then there's the business-oriented work of product management that the UX people are frequently exempt from caring about. The UX people live inside a world where the profit and loss on that product is governing everything they do, and yet, they’re rarely the people who are going to be in charge of setting targets or making final decisions. They’re accountable for everything and everyone but in control of very little and no one. Christian’s book is, essentially, a call to collaboration. It’s better to work together than to go back to office politics, turf wars and egos battles.
We are so wrapped up in what the end user wants but often there is another customer closer to home, like a coworker or a colleague in an adjacent discipline who can provide better insights. Instead of fighting about who’s in charge of what, we can all learn to value the role that the other disciplines play in what you're doing. Christian challenges both UX and product people who want to develop that empathy for their customers to also have empathy for the sales people and the marketing people and everyone else who may not be on your team but is on the organization’s team. Find out what put them in that position, what led them to do certain things, and try to meet their needs just as you're trying to meet the needs of the end user. If you don't have alignment internally, it's going to lead to disconnects in communication and priorities will be out of whack.
Posted by Jay Haynes View all Posts by Jay Haynes