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Paul McAvinchey
Co-founder of Product Collective
Asked a question last year

How are UX/UI designers and Product Managers connected? Do their duties overlap, if so how do you resolve conflicts?

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In my situation, UX reports up to me. My relationship with the UX team is a very collaborative one. I generally come in with the problem defined and an opinion as to the solution.  My role in these collaboration session is mostly providing thought leadership, asking thought provoking questions, and making decisions as needed to keep us moving forward. Sometimes during these sessions we pin down the experience we want to deliver and other times UX comes back to me at another time with some ideas based on what we had discussed. 

In terms of resolving conflicts, the PM is the decision maker and ultimately owns the solution.

Kent J McDonald
Product Manager & Writer

There is certainly some overlap in the responsibilities of designers and product managers, but that overlap occurs in the form of specifics (designer) compared to bigger picture (product manager).

Product managers want to ensure that product teams have a shared understanding of the outcome they’re trying to realize and any constraints on possible solutions. Designers take that understanding and design solution options that should meet the outcome and fit those constraints.

Designers and product managers also collaborate to understand their user’s context and to make design decisions about solutions. Designers provide expertise; product managers reflect back on how the designs achieve the overall outcome.

Ant Murphy
Product Coach and Consultant | Occasional Cat Herder 🐈

Yes their roles overlap, but for good reason. 

Melissa Perri did a brilliant write up and illustration98 of UX vs PM below.

Credit: Melissa Perri98

As Melissa Perri states in her article "It’s not about roles, it’s about skills." 

Highly collaborative teams have Product Managers and UX Designers who assign each other tasks based off what they need for the project. Whoever is best suited in that moment to do it, does it. They agree on this. Sometimes the UX Designer might be doing research, other times the PM, and hopefully, more often than not, they’ll both work on it together. Everyone can move forward without feeling territorial.

....If we change the conversation to skill coverage instead of role definition, it becomes clearer. Do we have all the skills we need on this team to validate and execute a product idea? If we have a Product Manager who cannot wireframe, let’s hire a UX Designer. If we have a Product Manager who does UX Design, let’s hire a Visual Designer

A Product team should be much more like a partnership where roles overlap rather than a battlefield84 where you hear "that's not my job!" all the time.

I've seen this happen many times in my experience. As a team matures and become more higher-performing the greater the lines between roles blur - I call this ‘Role Atrophy’.

Just as Melissa stated, this is because high-performing teams collaborate, help each other out and jump in where necessary no matter what their job title states - it's not about "who's role it's supposed to be", rather it's about the skills you have and what the team needs at that time.

Further when you clearly separate roles to have zero-to-no overlaps, you form gaps between roles in the team. These gaps must be filled and if often done with inefficient handovers which result in a loss of knowledge and information.

Clearly separated roles lead to gaps and inefficiencies. Pic from
Clearly separated roles lead to gaps and inefficiencies. Pic from 'Product vs Design vs Tech’: A Partnership, not a Battlefield'84

So rather than worrying too much about defining each role. You're far better of trying to understand the skills of each person in your team and how your team/org wants to operate.

For this I typically run one of the following R&R exercises as a team (and this can be beneficial to do not just with UX and PM but with engineering and other roles too):

  1. Role Expectation Matrix91. My #1 go-to for defining how a team wants to operate and resolve any conflicts between roles and people in a team. Warning, this can be a long exercise if you have more than 3-4 roles in the team. I once did one that had 7 different roles and it took us in the vicinity of 6 hours to complete. But that clarity that we got from it as a team was well worth the investment.
  2. DACI91. More geared towards decision making this exercise can help resolve who is deciding vs approving vs contributing to different decisions or aspects of the product development process.
  3. Delegation Poker91. Similar to DACI this Management 3.0 technique is geared towards the tasks that the team need to perform and who are the ones leading it, vs making decisions vs contributing, etc.
  4. Roles and Responsibilities Matrix148. Like this miro template by Thomas Gläser81 you can simply write out all the tasks/responsibilities that the team need to perform and then take turns mapping each responsibility out - i.e. with who do we believe "creating wireframes" sit? Don't be afraid to put the responsibilities between roles, I often like to do this exercise as a venn diagram so you have overlapping sections to show 'Role Atrophy'.