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UX practitioners -- such as UX Designers, IAs or UX Researchers -- typically consider understanding the user's needs as part of their role.

By extension, UX practitioners often define some, or even many, of the requirements on their projects.

When working with Product Managers however, the task of "owning requirements" is typically seen as the PM's responsibility.

To what extent should the UX practitioner get involved with defining requirements when working with a Product Manager?

This is my main question, but here are some related questions to help illuminate the topic:

  • Is this an area that becomes the Product Manager's "territory", to which the UX person should defer -- just at the PM perhaps has to defer on UX matters?

  • Obviously there will be some overlap, but how do you know when you've got the balance right?

  • How do you avoid friction and preserve harmony within the team, such that everyone understands their roles and responsibilities?

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To what extent should the UX practitioner get involved with defining requirements when working with a Product Manager?

It depends on the org, the product manager and a lot of other variables. Do what works best for your situation.

Some product managers exercise a sense of ownership and paint a clear vision of where they want to take things, and in my experience this is makes UX work a lot more straightforward than product managers who won't give you a straight answer.

I think of this quote about having a position, from Jason Fried: "When you don’t know what you believe, everything becomes an argument. Everything is debatable. But when you stand for something, decisions are obvious." It has been my experience that product managers who act as mini-CEOs give UX a more solid basis of strategy to help rationalize decisions.

How do you avoid friction and preserve harmony within the team, such that everyone understands their roles and responsibilities?

Friction is inevitable when you try to drive for clearer expectations. People rarely understand their roles and responsibilities anyway - takes a truly rare and talented manager to help team members know where one role stops and another role starts.

I think your best shot is at influencing what others can expect you to contribute. You can do that by understanding their charter, their remit.

  • What are your product managers on the hook and accountable for?
  • How do their managers measure success
  • How does your UX work fit into their product management work?

Start there, by understanding the needs, behaviors and motivations of the people you work for.

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The relationship between PMs and UXers over product requirements entirely depends on the position of Design within the company's structure and the product development cycles.

In my experience Product Managers are always accountable for the product they own and are solely responsible for writing product requirements. But product requirements should account User Experience requirements.

The product development cycle should encourage a constant exchange between PMs and UXers. But it's up to the PMs' to identify UX related problems to be solved and it's up to UXers to look for an optimum solution. The definition of a "problem to solve" can be vastly different according to the stage of development: at a high level, a problem may be a question about consumer behaviors; at a low level, it can be a utilization dip passed a particular point within the content. But in no case, the PM should design a solution to the problem within the product requirements.

The process of finding a solution should ideally go through phases of discovery and alignment, then design and production (the classic 4D design process - Discover, Define, Design, Deliver).

It's important to establish a trusted relationship with PMs. And to make a relationship sustainable between PMs and UXers both parties must agree on a process that makes space for discovery, reflections, and suggestions. To initiate such relationship the best course of action is to recognize that PMs are(should be) experts in their product's domain. Learning from them is key to understanding the product and the PM's perspectives, but it also gives UXers a chance to reflect on the product and assert their own expertise.

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    Nice points. Although I hadn't heard before that PMs should be domain experts. Do you mean that they must become domain experts or that they should already be 'from' the domain in question when they begin the job? – Michael Heraghty Mar 16 '18 at 7:17
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    @MichaelHeraghty , (sorry for the late response) I meant they must become domain expert within their company. The best PMs I worked with could explain designers everything about the product they were in charge of: from its current and future strategic position within the company to the technical landscape the product was built upon. – Julien Lallemand May 8 '18 at 2:10
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From some of the experiences I have had with project teams and company organisations that have the role of product managers, it seems like they are the ones that have to balance the business, technical and user requirements with the budget and timeline of the project to deliver an outcome.

So as the UX practitioner I think they share responsibilities with the business analyst and developer to advise the project manager on the relevance of their area of expertise and help work out how to prioritize or balance each aspect of the product requirement.

It would seem to make a lot of sense for the UX practitioner/designer to be championing the user requirements, and perhaps to work out if there are potential conflicts with other requirements. That way it avoids stepping on other people's toes and allows the product owner to make decisions based on unfiltered input from the people that know best.

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