The Evolution of UX

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Ian Armstrong has put together a fantastic article here called The Evolution of UX Process Methodology. I could try to paraphrase, but it’s too good, so I’m not even going to try. Check out Ian’s article. I will add a few of my own points based on my reading of the article, but a full read is a must.

Ian states that “in its purest form, UX Design is waterfall based.” These days, in most circles where folks are talking about UX, ‘waterfall’ is a dirty word that hearkens back to rigid PMBOK processes and exhaustingly long requirements gathering sessions, but Ian’s absolutely right. You have to get a sense of requirements, gather perspectives, mock things up, test out assumptions, wash, rinse, repeat. It’s waterfall. There’s no way around it.

Ian nails one of the key problems with being outcome based, what we work towards with agile vs. requirements based. This is a conundrum that many of have faced and still work to reconcile:  “Whereas classic UX is requirements based, Lean UX is outcome based… Designers found themselves under immense pressure to fill a sprint backlog before they really understood what they were building. As a result, a lot of development cycles got burned on features that never made it into the final product.”

So much development and rework lost trying to anticipate product needs… <sigh>

I’ve read a lot about Google Ventures Design Sprint, and attended a session at an O’Reilly Design conference where they talked about it, but even then, Ian’s explanation is as succinct and spot-on as any I’ve come across:

“Google Ventures conceived the design sprint, which allowed teams to rapidly define and test a low-fidelity prototypes. This jump-started the Lean UX cycle on emerging product teams and effectively eliminated the waste and rework problem.”

I’ll put a pin it there. Check out Ian’s original article.

Product Management is Product Thinking

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John Cutler wrote a great article here: We Need Fewer Product Managers. — To a Product Manager, it’s a provocative, and maybe disturbing title, but I definitely get where he’s coming from.

He writes:

…We need more product thinking, and less product managing.

You don’t need a product manager to:

  • “Get work done”, and keep the team focused
  • Manage projects, and give status updates
  • Manage a team, and advocate for the team
  • Have “accountability” for shipping features/projects
  • Facilitate standups, planning meetings, and retrospectives
  • Talk to customers and users
  • Measure the impact of work, and design experiments
  • Write user stories and requirements
  • Test work with customers and users

We have roles (hats) for these things: project managers, UX, researchers, data scientists, business analysts, team managers, coaches, etc. Do product managers often wear these hats? Sure. Do you need a product manager to wear these hats? No.”

John’s exactly right.

We have roles for these things, for these many and varied disciplines. Of course, especially in the beginning, there’s usually one evangelist wearing a lot of these hats, but as an organization matures towards a product-centric approach, the role typically known as the product manager, rather organically, becomes that of the product thinker. I’m confident that, in time, the natural evolution that brings together, seemingly disparate, disciplines like UX, IT and business needs will be thought of as a whole instead of separate parts. This is the natural outcome of truly undergoing a digital transformation. That evolution is happening, albeit slowly outside of software development organizations, but it is happening.

The best product managers start in UX

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Some may find this controversial, disagree or just find it to be utter rubbish, but I believe, in the venn diagram of product management, it’s the background in user experience that truly makes the best product manager. I believe that in time, it will be UXers and UX designers or folks who came up through design that will eventually come to be the best product managers. You can have an understanding of the business. You can have an understanding of the IT. In both of those cases you’re removed from what the user are looking for and what they’re hoping to achieve with the product, and focused on the other facets of the respective discipline.

I also believe that there will be a time, when those designers have to tuck their design experience in their back pocket (design and UX thinking are likely second nature at this point or maybe that was just the case for me) and start to learn about the business and the technical aspects. This pivot is the thing that will leave some designers disinterested, some may even find it unsavory, and because of that I think that many designers will stick with their respective discipline of design, but for those who have that broad-ranging curiosity about all of the moving parts of their product I think it will be the UXer/designer that will be the discipline to lead product management.