The UX of Product Management

What is the difference between User Experience Design and Product Management?  Additionally, should product management come out of the marketing department or the engineering department?  This issues are coming to the fore recently at work as we start to mature our process and organization.

I have seen it both ways. Both ways are bad.  Reporting to marketing leads to a disconnect with the engineering realities.  Reporting to engineering results in a disconnect to real people and real users.  Both ways lead to conflict between engineering and marketing.  And where is the design department?  We are stuck reporting up to one group or the other, neither of which understands why we exist.  Both seem to think we are supposed to make it look pretty.  “Design is the way things work, not how they look.” – Jobs

My personal feeling is that product management should report to neither department.  It should be its own thing.  It should empower the engineering department and the marketing department at the same time.  The marketing department represents the ideal world.  They should ask for the sun, the stars and the moon.  The engineering department represents the reality of production.  What can be handled in what amount of time?  They need details and specifics.  Marketing should not be forced to provide those details.  They should be blue sky.  Engineers should not be told they can not have details, that is just unfair.

By having the product management department as an independent group, then it is the function of that group to interpret the dreams of the marketin/business people and turn it into the details and reality of the engineers.  I described this exact thing to the Intuit CEO, Steve Bennett as a UX conference.  He didn’t get it, but I tried.  It is the role of the designer to understand both worlds and produce the bridge between them.

It is an exciting time for me, as I try to help bring about this and see if it works as well as I imagine.

2 replies on “The UX of Product Management”

There was an ajaxian article with a report from a conference with a similar message, though much more text:

The situation here doesn’t quite fit any of those pictures. The people who are supposed to picture the blue sky are all former engineers, not marketing people by trade. Sometimes it looks like I’m the only one who cares about interaction design. I try to get the other developers to learn that, too, because there is noone who could do that really well.
Of course results could be much better if someone who is trained to design interactions would be on the team. I wonder if we should try to hire someone who could do that, though I currently don’t even know what the equivalent to “interaction designer” would be in german.

It’s actually really hard to hire Product Mangers, precisely because they need to have a solid footing in engineering as well as business and marketing, and that’s a difficult balance to hit correctly. PMs tend to end up in marketing because product management and product marketing have a lot of overlap, and in the “many hats” environment of a startup it’s very common to have a PM doing both product management as well as product marketing. Not everyone does things that way — Google, for example, likes to have PMs with a more technical focus — but it’s more usual for them to be in or closely allied to marketing.

All this is complicated by the fact that in many early-stage startups, generally one of the founders is very closely involved in creating and driving the vision for the product. When that’s the case, the “Product Manger” can become more a person whose task is to create the supplemental materials to flesh out the executive’s vision, project manage the process, and do other process-focused tasks that the founder doesn’t have time for anymore, than the actual owner of the product roadmap. And that’s completely understandable — it’s the founder’s “baby” and s/he can find it difficult to let go and trust someone else with that job.

Often, this situation doesn’t start to change until a company has grown to the point where it has multiple products or lines of business. At that point, a standalone product management group to drive product development becomes much more practical.

Whatya think?