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Ask the Expert :The Designers I Work with Keep Asking Me to Bring Them in Earlier. Should I?

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  • Paul Young oversees the strategic development of Pragmatic Institute’s portfolio of products and leads the executive team in the evaluation of new product opportunities. He also manages the instructor team. Paul began his career as a software developer and has worked in startups and large companies across B2B and B2C industries, including telecommunications and networking, IT and professional services, consumer electronics and enterprise software. He has managed P&L lines for products with hundreds of millions in revenue, and faced difficult choices about which products in the portfolio to retain and which to kill. Reach him at pyoung@pragmaticmarketing.com.

product management and designer relationship

At Pragmatic Institute, we’ve worked with tens of thousands of product managers, product marketers, and product owners, and we’ve consistently heard questions about how and when they should interact with their counterparts in design. Like many product questions, the answer is: “It depends.” The first step is understanding and empathizing with the designer’s world, which will inform your interactions.

 

Like product managers, designers crave early involvement. Both product and design are outside-in disciplines by nature and have created their own terminologies and frameworks to that end. For product, we have the Pragmatic Framework, for design, there are practices like design thinking. Thankfully, these approaches are highly compatible and even complementary.

 

There are benefits for product managers who integrate designers early in their processes. First, designers with research skills make excellent interview partners. Just as Pragmatic Institute trains product teams in NIHITO-style qualitative research, many designers are trained in ethnographic research methodologies. When you pair up, this potent combination of business and user understanding helps detect and validate problems that are highly urgent, pervasive, and for which the market is willing to pay to have solved.

 

“While these roles may trade off who takes the lead at different points on that journey, their efforts serve the same goal: building solutions that resonate in the market and meet business objectives.”

Second, designers with an early understanding of users and their problems are excellent assets for product managers in framing and reframing problems and ideating solutions. Often, designers see how problems connect in unexpected ways, sparking more creative ideas for solving them.

 

Finally, involving design early helps the product team create a stronger strategy. When you develop a deeper understanding of user problems and envision more innovative solutions, you identify risks and costs faster and focus on the most important areas for your market and personas.

 

Ultimately, both product managers and designers work toward bringing a product to market. While these roles may trade-off who takes the lead at different points on that journey, their efforts serve the same goal: building solutions that resonate in the market and meet business objectives. The best way to accomplish this is to take advantage of each other’s strengths. So, look at your design peers as some of the strongest assets available to you ― collaborate early and often!


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  • Paul Young oversees the strategic development of Pragmatic Institute’s portfolio of products and leads the executive team in the evaluation of new product opportunities. He also manages the instructor team. Paul began his career as a software developer and has worked in startups and large companies across B2B and B2C industries, including telecommunications and networking, IT and professional services, consumer electronics and enterprise software. He has managed P&L lines for products with hundreds of millions in revenue, and faced difficult choices about which products in the portfolio to retain and which to kill. Reach him at pyoung@pragmaticmarketing.com.

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