Why you should embrace tensions in digital product development.

June 15, 2022

The relationship between product managers and designers is key — especially in the discovery phase to create innovation and ultimatly customer satisfaction with the product concept. But what are the best ways to collaborate?

Learnings of speaking with Marc Abraham ein Designdrives episode 44, Author of “Managing Product = Managing Tension”

Marc Abraham, currently working as a Head of Product as ASOS and shares his insights on the intersection of product management and design.

Product Management comes with different shifts and changes and finding one’s balance especially as a product manager in the industry can be tough, which brings us to the issue of tension in digital product development. In this article, we will be merging the thoughts shared during this episode and aligning them with the lessons we gather from his recent book “Managing Product=Managing Tension”.

“Managing Product = Managing Tension” by Marc Abraham

Designer-Product manager relationship.

The journey towards creating a product starts with an idea or a problem. That process starts with people and their problems, needs and dreams.

Product managers and designers therefore need to work closely together to identify the best process to follow within the resources available to come up with a solution for the intended consumer and deal with technical constrains and business objectives along the way.

Finding the right rhythm within any team means involvement between all necessary parties. This also involves the business models and technology that can support a product and its users. As a product manager, coming up with a suitable strategy while looking through the consumers point of view should be the ultimate goal. This will involve best practices such as consulting engineers before development to ascertain how realistic or otherwise it is to implement any designs depending on their technological capabilities.

The product manager needs to bear all the user requirements and merge them with the team’s technological abilities as well as the designers’ point of view with regard to how far they can go to achieve a common goal. Business strategies also have to be put into consideration to ensure that the available capital can support both the workforce and resources needed to deploy a product successfully. The best design changes always combine a win for all parties, most importantly business and experience.

Tension is good.

“Tension doesn’t have to be a bad thing… Tension can actually be healthy…” — Marc Abraham

One of the main issues facing any production team is the ability of designers, engineers and business people to come to a common goal and deciding on a strategy that satisfies all three groups. Every design process is hard and there are obstacles that come along the way but the crucial part is finding the comfortable spot within all the chaos and embracing the good in tension. Tension allows any creative to look beyond what they already know and assumptions they create about their users. Asking the hard questions and taking the risks in any product development process allows a team to look further than the norm, while serving the user best. This process between the stakeholders is where you create product differentiation and innovation: depending how you value all of the aspects your end result will differ to other product teams that went to a similar process designing their product. By dealing with the constrains everyone in the organisation is asked to “think harder” in order to solve this problem.

Embracing the new.

Clearly, times have changed and so has the digital trend. With the onset of the pandemic, there has been an acceleration in the online habits of most users and this has also affected the product development process. More users are becoming more aware of the online platforms and how to shop and interact with products online.

For product development, the option of interacting with consumers face to face has become obsolete and remote work has become the new norm. It is important to note however, that it is harder to capture what is on the user’s mind as compared to how it would have been in person. This ultimately means that business models and additional programs need to be added to the development strategy to accommodate growing trends.

Why do products fail?

“One of the key reasons why companies fail is because they lose sight of the customer…” — Marc Abraham

The mind, matter and moves, are three factors that summarize on the ideation, building blocks and interactivity of any product.

While a product might initially cover the needs of their consumers, product developers often loose sight of the most important driving force, which is the consumer. This ultimately leads to failure. A product reflects the company behind it and imbalance within a corporation ultimately leads to a shaky and undesirable product.

Companies need to be aware that the foundation of any product relies on the user experience and it is therefore important to engage with customers and be fully aware of their surroundings, in order for them to provide a suitable product. In short, ‘Do not be complacent. Do not lose focus’.

The future of design.

Being a product manager means having all-round approach in order to deliver without compromising on the user experience or the suitable strategy. However, in UX design, while it looks like the primary goal is to create and design, it is critical for one to have an eye for the future. This covers factors such as the data a user needs to access the product among many other entities. If these elements are overlooked, the customer experience in terms of UI/UX design is ultimately compromised. “Stay curious, question your thoughts, because that is how we innovate”.

The questions we often ask ourselves allow us to drive beyond the norm and think outside the box to break assumptions around a product and the development process. While we can sometimes be blinded by the tensions surrounding the product development process, embracing the conflict and making the tough decisions ensures that a product grows beyond its limits, while serving the needs of the consumer.

As a designer, learning on new trends and keeping up with the growing needs of the consumer plays a critical role in shaping the project manager’s vision for a product. Finally, going beyond the user’s interaction with the system away from the UI and considering other supporting factors such as data consumption also broadens a designers perspective.

In Marc’s point of view “designers and product managers should be joined at the hip” — especially in the discovery and conceptional face of any new product at feature. For product managers it’s key to drive the strategy from a user-centered perspective. For designers it is key to learn about the needs of other stakeholders and be interested in the data and strategy of the product development process. If you, as a designer, can argue your design with a win-win for business and user, you will have a better way succeeding.

What did you learn about the relationship between product management and designers? Let me know in the comments and make sure you share the article with the people in your team! 👋

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