Notes for (Sharing the Journey: How a UX Team Can Contribute to PM Success)

Presenter(s):  Rob Houser

Date-Time:  August 15, 2019 @ 1:40 PM

Key Takeaways

Developing a relationship with your product market team is critical for UX teams. Establish shared goals and create a system of UX services you can provide, such as contextual inquiry, heuristic evaluation, and inclusive brainstorming sessions. Decide what services you can give and how to sell it to your PM’s.


Before the session began Rob Houser did a small poll of the crowd to find out what people’s roles were in their organizations. In response to a previous talk for the conference by Dan Olsen where Olsen made a reference to the Wonder Twins, Houser admitted he almost changed the title of his session to “What To Do If Your Wonder Twin Doesn’t Want to Activate Your Superpowers?”

Houser was a consultant for 11 years and contrary to popular thinking did have to deal with power structures and maintaining relationships with coworkers, albeit in a different way. When he took a full time job at a company his team was already formed. The structure was very traditional where UX was valuable but only after everything else and the PM and UX teams were not close. Houser paid attention to the trainings that the PM’s had taken, namely a pragmatic marketing course which Houser then enrolled in. Through the course he was provided with a “pragmatic framework chart” that explained how the process for creating and marketing a product should go. It showed PM’s roles, business manager roles, and how to distribute to product market but did not show roles for UX. In response to this, Houser then came up with a service model to give support within that same chart, highlighting parts of it such as market problems, product roadmap, and innovation. Not all of the highlighted sections were traditional UX roles but showed where UX can contribute anyway.

While working with PM’s Houser found that strategic research was happening at the same time as development, which makes little sense timeline wise. Some advice for beginning a secure relationship with PM’s as a separate UX team is that the interaction has to happen face to face, not in a report. Debriefing and notes are also important to communication. Product management loved usability testing but asked for huge projects to be done in short time frames, leading Houser to work with his team to come up with quicker and more concise testing program and to train a few PM’s and all UX people in that program. This testing program allowed for a usability based quantitative scoring system that gave a guideline on whether or not to work with or acquire other organizations. They found a way to meet PM needs with UX services. For example, as listed earlier, a PM need is market problems so the responding UX service is contextual inquiry, with the 3 diamond stage being discover. A PM need for a competitive landscape buy, build, or partner is met with the UX service of heuristic evaluation with the 3 diamond also being discover.

Houser recommends figuring out deciding what these UX services are and how to sell them. For example Contextual Inquiry, a UX team can frame this as asking the PM team to join them as the UX team is already doing this, allowing UX to take on the burden of the exploratory research, and that watching how people actually work can uncover many feature/product needs. This also shows the tactical tip of always debriefing the PM’s afterwards. Heuristic Evaluation can give the PM comparable usability feedback, and for tactical tips can create a formalized list of questions and score them consistently while training people to perform the reviews. A Brainstorming Session can help UX facilitate feedback gathered from other groups like sales, support, professional services, and R&D while also facilitating feedback from customers and partners. Group voting is an important part of this process and initial sessions can be confrontational if people feel they haven’t been listened to in the past, but after the first time brainstorming can really be useful in getting different perspectives. Houser implemented Concept Testing in this way: while PM’s are brainstorming, UX joins them and creates literal sketches to show their ideas. These sketches, usually 2-3 per idea, are taken to customers for scoring, which is followed up with a conjoint analysis survey with more quantitative data to take to higher ups. In this way Houser ended up managing the PM team. A Design Jam can be sold as a quick way to get PM’s out of not exploring their options using an interdisciplinary team. This can be a quick way to identify design requirements and build consensus with other groups. PM’s are part of the process so they are more likely to accept design elements, and it’s also useful to take lots of pictures and maintain an environment of fun and creativity.

Houser found it very useful to support and then combine efforts with PM’s as his team received so much more support as PM’s started advocating for UX more often based on their efforts. It’s important to establish shared goals between groups, even though the performance objectives won’t match up perfectly there are likely similar activities, measurements, or impossible tasks to help out with.

To review the strategies discussed in this session, market your UX services in context of PM goals using the same language they use. Understand the stakeholders and demonstrate your expertise. Build relationships and trust through understanding and finally, deliver value. Be opportunistic, genuine, and humble.

The session concluded with a short Q&A session with this advice: to implement the above strategies start small, take risks, and reallocate resources as needed to achieve success.