The Product UX Smackdown – Part 1

In almost every company, there’s tension between Product and UX.

The UX folks often feel undervalued while the Product folks feel like UX leaders aren’t realistic and connected to the pressures they are under – especially in an agile world.

Here’s what a member of our Chief Product Officer council said about their UX leader and team:

UX is blinded by ‘Design Thinking’ – too idealistic and often very junior.

Here’s what a member of one of our UX Councils said about the Product team:

Product already has something in mind when they define a product – they don’t really want to learn from the customer.

And here’s what a member of our GM Councils said about working with their Product and UX teams:

Are UX and Product going to be at odds no matter what I do? I’m doing everything ‘right’ but there is still tension.

What can be done?

I’m not going to tell you to create shared priorities and learn how to collaborate. Most of you know that already. Like the GM quoted above you already doing everything ‘right’ but it’s still not working. I’m also not going to tell you to sit around and sing Kumbaya either (though go for it, if you want to). These tensions are real and hard to address.

I decided to see if we could go beyond the annoying platitudes and do we what we do best – create an experience. In this case, I wanted to see if we could create a shared experience that helped Product and UX people go beyond their roles and see something new.

So I tested a new experience design that is quite simple.

I brought Product and UX leaders from across our Collaborative Gain Councils together but from *different* companies (so Product person from company A and UX person from company B) to see if we could architect an environment that would allow a different kind of conversation to occur.

What happened?

1. Cross-company cross-functional conversations really help

Pairing up UX and Product people from different companies can help those leaders listen and hear each other in new ways. We got to skip all the false harmony that internal cultures sometimes impose AND skip the politics and tired fights as well. People were just much more open with each other about what drives them crazy and then they rolled their sleeves up to figure out how to move forward.

2. Shared priorities are one thing – it’s shared urgency that really matters

One insight that came out of the Council members talking to each other: shared priorities are great but shared urgency is even more important – and often missing.

We talked about how one source of the tension is that UX wants rightly to spend real time with the customer up front while Product understandably has deadlines and agile schedules to meet to get sh*t done.

3. And related to #2 – UX and Product operate in different timezones

In fact, we agreed it’s like UX and Product operate in different timezones.

That is both a humorous and helpful insight.

Acknowledging the timezone difference seemed to relieve some tension and give people a new way to think about each other’s worldview.

4. Product and UX Empathy Day

One solution we discussed was to create a Product and UX empathy day.

Half of the day would be spent observing customers *together* and allowing that emotional experience to help shape shared urgency (after all – working together to create great stuff is not just cognitive but emotional and collaborative).

And then half of the day would be spent discussing the business, competitive realities and pressures that Product people typically face more (as well as pressures internally from other departments and functions).

The goal is to trigger empathy and that sense of shared urgency through some good experience design – not just for the customer – but for each other.

5. Risk/uncertainty framework

One of our Council members presented a risk framework that allows Product and UX leaders to agree on when there’s enough risk that customer discovery is absolutely warranted. And when smaller or less risky changes are being made that discovery can be skipped and UX can relax a bit and support moving faster. More on this as we play with it.

6. Trust and empathy through honesty and a timeout

A lot more was said – and a great deal of trust and empathy in the conversation was created through honesty and simply getting time away from the day to day.

And it was fun.

Next Steps?

In a few weeks, we are bringing together another group of Product and UX leaders from our various Product and UX Councils here at Collaborative Gain to do the same thing – talk honestly about these and other possible approaches to transcending the Product UX smackdown.

I’ll report back.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you: how do you manage the tensions between Product and UX? What do you think of the above?

Want to participate in a Product UX smackdown or other kinds of conversations? Then find out more about the Collaborative Gain Community.

Schedule time with us for a quick call. We’ll tell you more about our Product, UX, GM, COO, CEO, and other councils and help you determine if this is private leadership community is for you.

Phil Terry is Founder and CEO of Collaborative Gain, author of Customers Included, and a widely respected speaker and experience designer. He designs experiences for customers, for leaders, and for the art world (through his Slow Art Day initiative). If you want to invite Phil to speak, get in touch.

About the Author

Phyl Terry

Phyl Terry, Founder and CEO of Collaborative Gain, Inc., launched the company’s flagship leadership program – The Councils – in 2002 with a fellow group of Internet pioneers from Amazon, Google, and others. Thousands of leaders from the Internet world have come together in the last 15 years to learn the art of asking for help and to support each other to build better, more customer-centric products, services, and companies.

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