Transitioning from User Experience to Product Management

Podcast with Jeff Lash and Chris Baum


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banda_headphones_sm.gifI had the pleasure of talking with Jeff Lash and Chris Baum on their two part article, Transitioning from User Experience to Product Manager. We talk about how more and more UX professionals are looking at taking on the role of a product manager.

This is a valuable conversation for those looking to make a change in careers; an honest discussion about the pros and cons of each profession.

We discuss:

*Product Vision – The importance of creating a vision and educating others about it.*

We discuss the Product Management Vision framework discussed in their article and how creating and educating others about the vision for a product is a key aspect of the Product Manager’s role.

*UX vs. Product Management: Responsibility, Focus, and Reliance*

Jeff and Chris discuss the following elements that outline the three central differences between the UX professional and Product Manager:

a. Responsibility
b. Focus
c. Reliance

*Coach vs. Tyrant*

We also discuss the importance of conflict management and how the product manager acts more like a coach in getting the team to move towards the same goal. Understanding both the market and the user are key aspects of the product manager. In essence, the Product manager has to not only “make the Kool-Aid”, they have to drink it as well.

*All Responsibility, No Power, So Listen!*

Jeff and Chris provide a realistic definition of a Product Manager as someone who has all of the responsibility and none of the power. They go onto to discuss the need of the product manager to listen carefully to not only their team, but also how to lead without authority. As well, the importance of knowing where your product can fit with all other products offered by the company.

*Let Go of the Details*

Chris talks about the importance of realizing that as a Product Manager your role shouldn’t be focusing on the UI in creating Wire Frames and Site Maps. As a Product Manager your role is to see the bigger picture and provide the vision and clear direction for your team.

*IA Summit Presentation Recap*

Jeff and Chris discuss the presentation they gave at the 2007 IA Summit in Las Vegas.

*Other notes:*

Check out these great blogs on Product Management:

Pragmatic Marketing
SVPG Blog
The Product Management View
Tyner Blain
Michael on Product Management & Marketing

*TRANSCRIPT*

[intro music]

Jeff Parks: This podcast is brought to you by TechSmith. Right now, millions of people are snagging, are you? And by The IA Summit. This year, your peers and industry experts will speak about how topics such as social networking, gaming, patterns, tagging, taxonomies, and a wide of range IA tools and techniques can help as users experience information. Further events happening all over the world, be sure to check out Events.BoxesAndArrows.com.

The other day, I had the chance to speak with Jeff Lash and Chris Baum on their two-part article, “Transitioning from User Experience to Product Manager.” We talk about how more and more UX [User Experience] professionals are looking at taking on the role of a product manager and the pros and cons of both professions. In particular, things to be very aware of, if you’re going to make that transition, and knowing the differences in the roles and responsibilities, and what, ultimately, you’re accountable for as a product manager that you may not be currently accountable for as a UX practitioner.

A huge thank you to Jeff and Chris for taking time to join me today, and I hope everyone enjoys the podcast. Cheers!

[podcast begins]

In your article, you mentioned that product management is garnering more interest from interaction designers, information architects, and UX designers looking to increase or influence and ensure user-centered product development. Jeff, the first part of the article talks about defining–”What is a product manager?” Maybe you could talk to our listeners a little bit about that?

Jeff Lash: Sure. I think, as we described in the article, traditional product management treats the product manager as kind of president of the product. So, really, there should be one person who’s in charge of all aspects of the product, and, obviously, you need to work with people from different areas of the business. So, finance, sales, marketing, development, engineering, production, things like that. But, really is, I think we’ve seen on lots of projects and products, you need to have that one person who’s coordinating all those elements and really taking ownership and overall responsibility for the success of the product.

Parks: Exactly. Chris, you go on to talk about the responsibility of product managers. You note that because user experience professionals are often already fluent in understanding customer needs and knowledgeable about the markets for which they’re designing, they have the potential to make very good product managers. Maybe you can outline some of the key points and why they make good product managers.

Chris Baum: First and foremost, we really understand, as UX professionals, our job is to understand how people approach using a product. Really, at its core, when you start going across all those different elements that Jeff mentioned, the idea is that you can bring that knowledge to the entire product not just the user experience to the interface, but also things like the marketing and the service aspects of the product. Really, having that larger purview, it really leverages the knowledge that we have as user advocates.

Parks: Right. In the article as well, I guess, address this question to both of you, you outline a framework for how to monitor a market response. The framework follows a vision strategy, a roadmap, requirements, and features. As UX professionals moving into product management roles, might there be a tendency for them to jump straight to the roadmap without having experience in developing vision strategies before, vision and strategy?

Jeff: Yes, this is Jeff. I think it’s always a challenge. I think that’s not just for user experience professionals. I think it’s for anyone as to really be able to step back and say, “What is the purpose of what we’re doing?” I think, the tendency, a lot of times, is if you’ve got a product that was, you know, a single inventor had a great idea. He says, “Oh, we’ve got this great idea for a product, let’s go ahead and start building it.” I think a lot of people even skip the roadmap and just get to, “All right, what are the features it should have?”

I think that as UX professionals, a lot of times, you know, people are brought in kind of once the requirements or features have been defined. They’re used to spending most of their time really saying, “OK, how can we best design this feature or what’s the interface that it should work with?” But, I think, really, good product management spends a lot of time on those upfront activities and really establishing what is the vision for this product? What’s the market for it? How are we different than our competitors? What are the market needs that we’re going to be solving?

I think, like Chris mentioned, I think user experience professionals have a lot of the traits and experience that helps, because really we spend a lot of time in usability research, and site visits and things like that, really trying to understand the underlying needs and problems of our users that we’re trying to solve. That can flow into that process of creating that vision and strategy.

Parks: Exactly. Chris, the other point that was mentioned here was this idea of the roles and responsibility would be something like portfolio management. Maybe you could talk a little bit about that and what that involves?

Chris: I mean, for example, one of my positions is I worked at eTrade, and eTrade, of course, has several different business lines. There’s not only the website aspects of it but the software that–they have a trading software as well. The thing is that you, as a product manager, learn more about the customers that you’re serving and bring that knowledge into your product, you can also start to gather knowledge and share your knowledge with people and other products.

For example, like when I was at eTrade, I did a lot of things around the customer service aspects, like the content around that, helping people find information, et cetera, et cetera. Of course, customer service, in and of itself, is really more about finding content about the other products on the site. So, I was working very closely with the product managers there to figure out what they were trying communicate with their product and make sure that, not only could the customers find the information they were looking for, but also that we represented those other products in the right light that fit with their vision and their strategy. Then also, influence that vision and strategy through what we were finding out, what customers were having issues with.

Parks: Yes. That’s interesting, because you also go on to talk, in this article, about the roles of a UX designer versus that of, say, a product manager. You outlined three main areas of responsibility, focus, and reliance. Jeff, maybe you could talk a little bit about those three areas and how they differ?

Jeff : Sure. I think, this part of the article came about because, in talking about this and discussing and talking with other people I know, there’s kind of, sometimes, a lot of confusion. There’s a great article that we referenced on by Jonathan Korman of Cooper who really kind of, I think, hits the nail on the head as far as describing what key areas a user experience professional does. And then having people say, “Well, in my organization, we call that a product manager.” So, really, we wanted to try to delineate how that was really different.

So, I think, responsibility is probably the biggest area and kind of what we were talking about earlier, in that, a product manager is responsible for the overall product. While each individual contributor to the product should be concerned with its overall success, really they’re not responsible for it. So, a user experience person should be, obviously, concerned with the marketing strategy, the pricing, and the engineering work. But really, they’re not responsible for those aspects, whereas the product manager is.

Focus, kind of, ties in to that, and again, that each contributor, the user experience person is focused on these experience aspects, that software engineers focused on the software development. They’re focusing on those individual areas where the product manager is not really focusing on any one area, but needs to understand what’s going on in every area.

And lastly–reliance, and just that, as a product manager, I rely on the people I’m working with on my product development team to do their work. An information architect usually is not relying too much on anyone else. They’re, in general, responsible and accountable and have everything they need to do their own job. But, in my case, as a product manager, I’m relying on all these other people, and obviously, working with them. So it’s a different–and that kind of gets into the more of the softer side of product management. You have the leadership, team building and cross-functional teams, and that sort of thing.

Parks: Yes. Exactly. Because also, you point in the article, Chris, that how to deal with conflict between product management and user experience. Because ultimately a product management role, at, least from what I gathered, from these two articles is really looking at the bigger picture and not focusing on a niche area as Jeff just described around, say, an information architect. And dealing with conflict is a critical part of a product management role, I would imagine.

Chris: Exactly, I mean in part of the article, in the second part, we talk a little about the product manager being more like a coach on a professional sports team. It’s someone who is trying to gather all these people that have amazing talents and get them all moving towards the same goal.

Using the sports analogy seems a little tired, but it is so true, especially as a product manager. In many cases, you don’t have authority over the usability people or the engineers, they’re reporting into other structures in the organization, and unless you can communicate your vision in a way that gets them excited to participate in it, you’ll end up having them refocusing on what they want to do as technologists or what they think is right as a user experience professional, so the idea behind being able to get all those people going in the same direction is actually, when it works really well, is really powerful.

Parks: Yes.

Chris: But it can be tricky.

Parks: And following up on that point, Chris, in your article you said, “a product manager should not be detached from customers sitting in the office and meetings while user researchers are conducting research, ” is there a tendency for product managers to not be involved in the UX process in general from your experience?

Chris: Yeah, it’s really easy right? Because you have the user experience people and especially at first it can actually be, you can let go more of that, especially if you trust the user experience people you’re working with, because you can be worried about, you know, like focusing on the vision or examining the market opportunities, et cetera, et cetera, but the thing that any product manager has to do and it’s too easy to let go of, is make sure you’re touching the people that you’re affecting. But, you know, seeing as you have to touch all these different areas, it’s really easy to focus on, you know, managing up–

Parks: Right.

Chris: –getting the programmatic aspects of your product in order, you know, getting the resources for it, but unless you continually come back and touch the market yourself–

Parks: Mm-hmm.

Chris: –you lose that perspective and so it’s something we really wanted to put forth in the article.

Jeff: Right. I think just to add onto that I think it’s again, you know, if your job, your sole job is to understand the users and create the designs around that then obviously you’re going to be focused on spending a lot of time talking with customers. But as a product manager, that’s one of your many responsibilities, so it’s you know, it’s tough to get out of the office sometimes. When you’ve got meetings and you’re talking about pricing and marketing and logistics and operations and things like that, it’s a lot tougher but I don’t think, I’d be surprised if user experience people who transition into product management have a problem doing that.

I think it’s kind of in our blood, you know it’s something that I don’t need to be told to do, I just understand I need, you know, I set goals for myself and I make sure I do it. But I think for people maybe transitioning to product management from other areas who haven’t had as much of a background in getting out and talking with customers, you know, face to face, you need to be kind of reminded.

Parks: Right.

Jeff: And I think, you know, it’s probably the central tenet of good product management is really to understand the market, not just what your customer needs, but what’s the competitive space, what’s the market, you know is it growing? Are there technology changes? Are there society changes that are going to be impacting it?

Parks: So ultimately those experiences as UX designer is actually a strength going into a product management role. Would you say so?

Chris: Yeah, I think that’s one of the biggest things that’s helped me into transition is that you know I’ve been able to really focus on you know what do our customers need? What do our users need? How can we provide that to them? I think that’s been the biggest thing that helps me out. There’s a lot of other things that I’ve had to learn along the way that I didn’t have as much experience in, but I think if there’s one thing that I could say if, you know, you want to be a good product manager it’s to really make sure you understand your market, understand your customer needs and create your vision and strategy around solving those customer problems.

Parks: Exactly, and that is actually a great transition into the second part of your paper, because you talked about the idea of, you know, making that transition and things you need to understand about that–the product management role. In the first part of the paper you talked about what you do as a product manager that you don’t do as a UX professional and a couple of points that I found really interesting were, the first one, which is, “evangelize the product, you must champion, you must be, you must champion both the product internally and externally, ” and that’s a bit of a difference, a shift in the way UX professionals work.

Chris Baum: I mean, it’s really true.

Jeff: Yeah.

Chris: You know, being the product manager, puts you in a position that, as I mentioned before, the whole idea of being the coach, and you know part of that is the motivational aspects of it. And not only do you need to motivate internally with the people that you work with in the various engineering team, the finance team, the marketing team, et cetera, it’s really important for you to, as Jeff has said before, and it’s really I think kind of brilliant, you have to not only drink the Kool Aid, you have to make it.

[laughter]

Chris : And get everyone else to drink it too.

Parks: Yeah, exactly. And Jeff, the other point that was of interest to me in here was, “provide input on strategies of other products within the organization,” so again, I think it speaks to this idea of being able to really communicate effectively and sort of think outside the UX box and look at the bigger picture.

Jeff: Yeah, and it gets back to what we were talking about earlier about you know how your, the portfolio management aspect. And that’s actually one of the areas that, I think, prompted the most comment on the first part of the article is just about, you know, great, you’re managing this product, but no product really stands alone, and I think more and more we’re starting to see within organizations, you know really, some, some, more attention being paid to how products fit together.

You know the Google example of Gmail, and the Google calendar, and Google documents, is a good one–you know Yahoo has done this for a long time in making their products work all together but I think unless your company has one product, and most companies don’t, really you need to start thinking about that. And it’s one area I know that can be frustrating sometimes as a user experience professional saying, you know, well this seeing what’s going on in one area of the company and saying, “oh geez, I should be able to give some input on that, I have some experience talking with customers and things that I’ve learned that could help provide input, ” and sometimes you’re just not, you know, they don’t invite you to the table.

Parks: Yeah.

Jeff: And for better or for worse, whether it’s right or wrong, as a product manager, you know, you, just by default, sometimes get invited. I know lots of people who are UX professionals who are involved in those, much, those important, higher level strategy discussions but a lot of times, you’re not, so I think that’s a big responsibility of not only having ownership for your product but then working with the other products in the system and making sure everything works together well.

Parks: Absolutely. The next part of that paper you talk about challenges and forces working against you, which Jeff, you just, which Jeff and Chris, excuse me, you both talked about at the first part, but one of them was, “as a product manager you’ll have little to no actual authority, ” and you’re quoting a guy, Kowaski, I think that’s how you pronounce his name.

Chris: No, [Greg] Kowasaki.

Parks: Kowasaki, thank you, described a product manager as someone who has “all of the responsibility and none of the power, ” so I read that and I think, “well, why in the world would you want to get into product management then?” But this is a reality of the role of a product manager. Correct Chris?

Chris: That’s absolutely true in more ways than we can really express in just the article.

Parks: Mm-hmm.

Chris: Because you know when you start talking about touching all these different practices within an organization, like they all have their own portfolios, too, so you have the engineering team all talking amongst each other about what the next technologies are, and they’re trying to bring those influences into their work as practitioners, same with the user experience folks and the same with the marketing folks and the same with finance folks and so it’s really, it’s a challenge because you want to listen to all those influences.

Parks: Yeah.

Chris: but you also don’t really have direct control over them and so it’s really an interesting, it’s really interesting that dynamic to try to take you know, take the input, but make sure that everyone kind of goes for the same goal. And you know, personally it’s been a very interesting adjustment to go from making recommendations about what the product should do, and you know sometimes having them honored and sometimes not, to being the one that takes the recommendations and you know, makes a decision for the product, but yet you need to make sure that, that we honor where they’re coming from so that you make sure that you give the people the right attention and that they get, you make sure that they get, they feel like they were heard.

Parks: Right.

Chris: in the right way, and that you really seriously considered it.

Parks: Yeah. Exactly.

Jeff: I think that’s you know probably the biggest misconception that people have a product management is you know, if you’ve never, if you’re a UX person you’ve been on a project and said, “Oh, you know if they’d just put me in charge of that website,” or “if I was in charge of that software, like, I’d fix everything,” and this, I think there’s this misconception that you know just because you have the title “product manager” you can change all these things. And that’s the biggest thing that you have to learn, you know, how do you lead without authority?

And I think it goes back to a lot of the concepts we’ve been talking about, again about, you know, establishing that vision and like Chris said, working with the other teams and really it’s also at an executive level of trying to get, you know you need to get funding for your project, why is this product more important than something else? And it’s really about, you know, setting the–telling the story of why this product is important, what you’re trying to do and getting people on board with it, because, yes, you’re competing for resources.

Whether you like it or not, you’ve got to get people excited. It’s much easier to make things happen in an organization when you’ve got a product that people want to be a part of rather than something where you’re just telling people what to do. And that’s tough. That’s really an issue about, like, management and leadership not specific to product management, even.

Parks: Yes. And at the heart of a lot of this is the fact that if you have all the responsibility and none of the power, it speaks to the other key points here, is that you’ll be at the center of regular disagreements between stakeholders. And managing that conflict is–well, personal-professional relationships, in order to move forward, you need to move through the conflict to get to the other side, sort of step yourself up to keep getting better. But, there aren’t very many people that are very good at dealing or managing conflicts. So, obviously, as a product manager, I would imagine, Chris, this would be a key part of the person’s job and to be able to be very good at managing.

Chris: That’s a little bit of an understatement actually.

Parks: And a half. Yes, I didn’t articulate that as clearly as I should have, maybe. But if this is– if someone’s moving into this role, this is something they have to be aware of, that this is going to be a part of their daily life.

Chris: Absolutely. It comes from every direction. Really, being someone who has been interested in the whole, like, kind of aspects of user experience, it’s been really an interesting function to, like, step back and watch my own reaction to things.

Parks: Right.

Chris: Because your reaction actually dictates, in many ways, how other people react to you–and reacts to the problem, reacts to the decisions you make. Because as the product manager, you’re the most basic, you represent the product overall. People are constantly looking to you, for how you feel like certain decisions and certain effects are going to change the product, or help or hinder its vision.

So it’s been interesting for me to, kind of, step back and understand the personality aspects of it.

Parks: Right.

Chris: Make sure that I’m giving people the right amount of attention. That you take into account all the effects, not only from a business standpoint but from a personality standpoint, and kind of keep those all up in the air at the same. It’s very much a juggling act.

Jeff: There’s really a fine line that you have to walk. If you’re too authoritative and too much of a “This is how it goes,” then you’re going to turn off people that you need to have a good relationship with. If you’re not enough of a leader, if you’re not forceful–strong enough–then you’re essentially going to take a backseat to whoever’s the most influential or yelling the loudest. There’s a fine line that product managers need to walk, taking responsibility, and showing their authority but at the same time, not steamrolling over everyone else.

Parks: Right. In the whole–[inaudible 22:08]

Chris: Sorry, Jeff.

Parks: No, go ahead, Chris, please. No, that’s great.

Chris: It doesn’t change whether you’re working for a big company or a startup, because I have done both. It’s heightened in the startup situation because everyone is so close together. Yet, things change so quickly that you can always take time to normalize all those relationships. Whereas, in a large organization, it seems like you have time to do that.

Everyone has a lot going on, and they’re all kind of facing inward many times. But, when they come back out in the product situation, whether or not just focusing on the marketing aspects of their organization, it seems to me like that was a little easier at the bigger company. The startups are much more concentrated, and I found that very interesting.

Parks: Absolutely. Another main section of the article you talked about is what you do as UX professional, that you won’t do as a product manager. A couple of key points that I found in the article are product managers do not have the luxury of shooting for perfection in the theoretical ideal. You talked about how the joke is the user experience people always answer the question with, “Well, you know, it depends.”

So, Jeff, can you talk a little bit about that shift in terms of what they do now as UX professional that they wouldn’t do as a product manager?

Jeff: Yes. I think that’s a good one to start with. As a UX person, you’re maybe a bit removed from the overall big picture–the budgets, the timelines, and things like that. So, you kind of say, “Well, look, this is the best decision for the user.” Without knowing, really sometimes, all the implications that go into that. Again, I’ve worked with product managers who aren’t as good at striking that balance and still do shoot for that ideal.

But, ultimately, it all comes back to having that good solid vision for the product and saying, “Look, you know, is this good enough to get us towards our vision? Do we need it to be perfect?” and since you’re ultimately responsible, it’s about making a lot of those trade offs, I think.

As Chris mentioned, you know, UX people are used to making recommendations and saying, “Well, look, this is what I think the best thing for our users or customers would be.” But, the product manager needs to decide, “Well, that’s great, but that might take an extra month to develop. Can we go with the simpler thing that might not be as good for our users but would only take a week?”

I think, the good UX people are doing that now; I don’t mean to say that that’s something you’d automatically switch on when you become a product manager because I think as UX folks start getting more awareness of the business context around in which they’re working, they’re making a lot of those decisions today, even in their user experience role.

I think the other, and probably the biggest shift, and this was something that I heard from people when I talked to them before I started my product manager position, is that you’re not going to have the luxury of being down in the details. If you really like doing wire frames, and sitemaps, and doing detail design–you might not be a good product manager.

I mean I like it, but I also had to accept the fact that I’m not going to be able to do it and I just don’t have the time or the luxury to be able to do it. I work with great designers, and people who can do a lot of that detailed work. But that’s, I think, a challenge for anyone moving to product manager from any role.

If you’re a salesperson and you become a product manager, you’re going to want to become very involved in the sales process of your product and a lot of the decisions around the how the product is sold. But, you got a whole sales team that can work on that.

I might want to spend a lot of time working on the pixel-by-pixel design for the interface. But, I’ve got a whole team of designers; hopefully, that can be working on that. I’ve got other things I need to look into, at other aspects of the product that have more strategic level maybe. But that’s, I think, probably, one of the hardest things to do–to switch your mind from working as an individual contributor to now being kind of an overseer of everything that goes on.

Parks: Right. The other point that you make in this, Chris, is that product managers are not artists or expert practitioners. Can you expand a little bit on that idea? How it relates to what they do now compared to what they would do as a product manager?

Chris: Sure. That, actually, goes a little bit towards what Jeff was saying just a second ago, is that everyone comes from somewhere. You’re going to be thinking about the place where you came from. User experience people are going to be, especially at first, and I was totally guilty of this myself, like really thinking of the interface a lot when I first became a product manager.

But, what I’ve quickly found out was the time that I did that, the product suffered, because the other aspects of it–engineering, the trade offs, trying to fit the puzzle together in a way that makes sense for that moment. It falls off, and definitely, one of the worst things you can do, is be meddling with other people’s works. Somewhat, we need to be able to trust them and be taking their work and fitting that into the larger whole.

And then coming back with feedback and new work that actually satisfies what that vision is. That’s the whole idea of that cycle between from vision to features and then using the market to monitor the results of that. You want to make sure that no one is coming to you and saying, “We need a new widget for this feature,” or whatever.

You need to make sure you’re pushing the entire product going forward and that the interface part, the engineering part, the marketing part, pricing part, the service part–all that stuff is going the same direction, adding to that moment, instead of taking away from it.

Parks: Right. And you follow up with this idea about how to work better with your product manager now. Jeff, you point to the one idea of just start working with them more closely and understanding what they’re doing specifically.

Jeff: Yeah, I think thinking back to experience I’ve had in the past about where I had questions about, “Why was this decision made?” You know, “Well, this would have been better for our customers and why we’re doing this instead?” I think, sometimes it was really that I didn’t understand the bigger picture and the whole context of what’s going on.

So, working closer with your product manager now, as a designer, to help understand– “What is the big picture?” And if you’re recommending one thing and we’re doing something else, what are the other impacts? Because it’s not always about what’s best for the interface, or what’s best for the customer and user. There might be other products that we need this to do things for.

There might be strategic priorities that are outside of your product that you need to focus on. There might be engineering, or marketing, or sales, or finance things that you just don’t have awareness of. And I think a good product manager will communicate that information as much as possible, but I know I’m guilty of it.

You know, there’s just so much information. I try and share as much as I can with my team, but there’s some times that I just don’t know–I don’t know what people don’t know. So, I think, to work better with product managers now is just to understand the context of what you’re working in, rather than having it be a kind of adversarial relationship–in some cases I know it can be.

Really, trying to seek ground…and you want to be someone you can–who can–you turn to as what they call the trusted advisor. Not just on the user experience aspects, but potentially other aspects of the product as well.

Parks: Yeah. Absolutely, and in the last part of the paper you start talking about studying and preparing for our product management role, and you list a series of links, and… But I also wanted to help you promote your presentation that both of you are doing at the IA Summit coming up this year in Vegas. Maybe talk a little bit about what that’s going to be about, Chris?

Chris: So, what we’re going to try to do, is take some of the ideas that we started to put forward in this article, especially the part about thinking about how to relate to your product manager. And, kind of, take what aspects you can take from UX, bring that into the product management role, and then also start to think about the challenges part.

So that, you know, you go through from a workshop aspect and do comparative, and be able to understand how, what information you have to use for a decision at the higher level, so that as you’re starting to examine the possibility of moving into product management, that you really understand at a very hands-on level what it means. So you can have some idea of what that experience feels like, and maybe make a more informed decision.

Jeff: Yeah, I mean I know I’ve talked with a lot of people in the past few years who are user experience people, kind of looking for what’s next. I don’t want to be designing screens ten years from now. There’s some people who do and that’s great, and they’re great at it and I think we need people like that.

But there are also people who are looking for what’s the next step in their career. And I think our goal with these articles, and our goal especially with the pre-conference session at the IA Summit, is really to help UX people who are interested in maybe moving to product management, just understand a little bit more about whether it’s something they want to go into or not.

So explaining a little about what you do as a product manager, going into more detail than we can really hit in an article, and then also having it so maybe some people walk out and say, “Look, I understand more about product management, and this isn’t for me. Now that I know a little bit more about it, it’s something that I don’t think I want to go into. But I at least know how I can work better with product managers now.”

And then for the people who come and say, “Yes, this is something I want to do. I’m definitely interested in it, ” giving them some things that they can start doing to better prepare them. Because I know when I started as product manager, and most people I know who started as a product manager, it was kind of, one day you’re a product manager–Here you go.

Parks: [laughs] Right.

Jeff: And there’s not a whole lot of preparation and training, and I think it actually, it parallels a lot with the user experience professions in that there’s a lot of misunderstanding and mischaracterization. And different organizations treat the roles differently, so there’s not a real commonly accepted set of things.

And I think that’s probably a little bit more mature maybe in product management than in UX, but there’s still a lot of people who are product managers who don’t really know what a product manager should be doing. And our goal with this is really to help people who are interested in product management understand a little bit more about it, and learn what they can do to prepare themselves for that role.

Parks: Absolutely. You mentioned, just one final thought, you mentioned two major organizations for product managers: Product Development and Management Association, as well as the Association of International Product Marketing and Product Management, so people can Google those things, or of course they can look them up on your article. Are these associations sort of like the Information Architecture Institute? They provide a high-level context and information for product managers?

Jeff: I think both these are really more–the PDMA is–the more well-known, at least as far as my experience has been. And as an organization that deals with product management, not just technical product management but any kind of product management and development.

AIPMM focuses a bit more on the marketing side as well. There really isn’t any technical on-line or software type product management organizations. I think both of these are pretty mature and they’ve got training, and resources, and local groups, and things like that.

And there’s also, again, a lot of informal groups either that are, around the country and around the world, that are either formally affiliated with one of these two, or informally just you know, groups of people in a city who are getting together to talk about product management.

Chris: One thing we haven’t really talked about, and it’s part of not only if you find that product management is something you really want to look into but, is the aspect of helping a product manager if they aren’t getting out in the market enough. Like, talking to them about bringing them along on your research.

Or if they’re going out to talk to customers, that you go with them. As a user experience person, that would be an amazing way to really get into the mindset of your product manager. Or as the product manager it’s to really come together with your attitudes with your user experience people. Because, what that does is it really shows you the kind of things that the other person is looking for in their exploration.

And that’s not just a practitioner thing, it’s not just a product manager versus a user researcher or a user experience person. That is a personal connection. And obviously it would be ideal if you can have that same connection with your technologists and your marketers and your service people as well. But that is one way, as a user experience person going into product management, or vice versa, if you’re working with your product manager, to really understand where they’re coming from and to get resonating with each other on what you’re really thinking.

Parks: Right. Well… yeah. I’m sorry, go ahead.

Jeff: I was just going to say, the overlap, that’s one of the major overlaps between product management and user experience is that you need to be talking to the customers. And so, the more you get on board with each other there, the more that will infuse the product with the idea of serving customers.

Parks: Right. Because, ultimately, we all learn best by experiencing the lesson directly. And if product managers don’t get into the field, then they can’t really understand what the crucial nature is of understanding your end users. It was interesting, I was listening to a podcast by Marissa Mayer, from Google, who’s the Vice-President of Usability at Google, and she was talking about the Ten Commandments of user experience, and the ninth one was about how–was users, not money, and how Google has always followed the needs of their end users, and not jumped into the latest fad in technology. And to help create products. And obviously Google Gmail, Google calendar, all of these tools online are some of the most popular tools for people to be using today. So that, I think that speaks to your point. Right. Exactly.

Jeff: And just to add to what Chris said, I think pretty much every user experience person I know is told the frustrating story about, we found these things from the users and I have to spend weeks trying to convince the product manager that this is what people actually needed and that this is what we’re supposed to do.

Parks: Right.

Jeff: And it’s frustrating and you feel like you’re banging your head against a wall. And I know I’ve been through it before, and I think most people have. Wouldn’t it be great if you could not have to spend your time doing that, and instead spend your time actually executing on what you learned?

I worked on a product a couple of years ago where we did a bunch of concept testing. We went out into the field and talked with customers and users, and it was just me and the product manager, and we, after those couple days–and then as Chris mentioned, it’s not just the research you’re doing, it’s, well, you go out to dinner and drinks afterwards and you talk about stuff.

And when we got back from that trip, we both really had a good understanding of our customers and we agreed and we really understood what we were supposed to be doing. So I didn’t have to spend my time writing up a trip report, and putting a presentation together, and trying to convince them what we should do. It was, we knew exactly what we needed to do and let’s just start doing it.

So that was such a valuable experience for me and I know the product manager benefited a lot as well, because it was something that maybe, if I hadn’t asked, or really pulled him out, he might have not done that one his own. So it worked out great for both of us, and ultimately helped the product out a lot.

Parks: Brilliant. Well, Jeff Lash and Chris Baum–Thank you very much for joining me today.

Jeff: Thank you.

Chris: Yeah, thanks for having us. It was great.

Parks: Cheers. Again, the article is Transitioning from User Experience to Product Management, and you can find it on boxesandarrows.com.

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