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7 ways to improve your designer–PM collaboration

7 ways to improve your designer–PM collaboration

As a product designer, you’ll spend a lot of your time with a product manager. There’s an art to creating an awesome, mutually beneficial working relationship. Here’s what I know.

1. Build a solid relationship.

“If the relationship doesn’t work well, but you still have to work together every day, you’ll become annoyed or, worse, stop communicating with each other.”

  • Value: Will it solve the customers’ problem and will they buy it?
  • Usability: Can people figure out how to use it?
  • Feasibility: Can we build this?
  • Viability: Is that solution viable for our business?

2. Transparent communication.

“There’s no one correct way of working. The designer and PM should clarify what they’re good at and how they want to work together.”

3. Focus on outcomes.

  • What’s the desired change in customer/user behavior that will drive business results?
  • What can we do to support that?
  • How will we know when we’re successful?
  • And lately, how does this fit with our company goals?

4. Build a shared understanding.

“Ask good questions and have the PM walk you through their research. Get into their head and gain a shared vocabulary.

Designers should ask how we know something is a problem. PMs can provide context about the addressable market that experiences this problem and share their notes.”

5. Discover, together.

  • Hold workshops to synthesize learnings from user research together
  • Visualize learnings to share with other stakeholders or team members
  • Define jobs-to-be-done or use cases together with PMs
  • Facilitate sessions to generate solution ideas
  • Invite engineers to sit on interviews

6. Inform product decisions through design explorations.

7. Embrace compromises.

In conclusion: mistakes you should avoid and what to do instead.

  • Having no relationship to build on: Investing in building a good relationship will pay off infinitely.
  • Lack of communication: This leads to making a lot of assumptions. When assumptions don’t meet with reality, there’s going to be a lot of friction and frustration. Without frequent and transparent communication, it’s going to be hard (if not impossible) to discover the right thing to build, which is ultimately your shared goal.
  • Working in silos: It’s very easy for things to get lost in translation when you’re just moving things along in waterfall fashion without actually looking at them together. Things like synthesizing research insights or making an important product or design decisions are best done together.
  • Having a great relationship as a foundation
  • Communicating often and transparently
  • Sharing outcome-oriented mindset
  • Creating shared understanding
  • Running product discovery activities together
  • Informing product decisions through design explorations
  • Embracing compromises

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