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A Product Manager’s Guide To Collaborating With Design Teams


If the functions of product managers and UX designers are not distinct, tensions can escalate quickly inside the business.

This is not ideal because they have a common objective and complementary skills. They both understand the user, design experiences that meet their needs, and refine their work based on analysis.

For the success of a product, PMs and design teams need to collaborate seamlessly. Both are expected to take the initiative, play to their strengths, and work together to achieve the greatest possible result. 

It goes without saying that the product manager and the UX design team have the same objective: to develop a solution that satisfies user needs while balancing them with business objectives.

This article will take you through

  • The roles of a product manager,

  • Why a healthy PM-Design relationship is important,

  • What PMs can do to better collaborate with design,

  • How PMs and design teams can settle design disputes effectively, and so much more.

With that said, let’s get started.

A product manager’s role

A product manager defines success, sets targets, and inspires teams to create products that flourish. They determine the market or customer need that a product will satisfy and supervise its planning and development to accomplish its desired vision.

PMs work at the nexus of UX, technology, and business, and are in charge of controlling these teams’ outputs in order to be successful.

By ensuring that team members are aware of the roadmap’s priorities, stakeholders are in agreement on the shared vision, and user stories are written to satisfy the demands of the user, they optimize the value the team produces.


Why is a healthy PM-Design relationship important?

One of the most significant cross-functional partnerships in any organization is between product managers and design teams. You will inevitably spend a significant amount of time collaborating with designers as a PM.

This connection is sacred. And it’s no secret that the level of perfection you can offer to your product will depend on how well you interact.

Delivering goods with enjoyable user experiences is a proven strategy for a successful business. Although a badly designed product may appear to technically solve a user’s needs, the user could find the experience annoying and look for other options.

Positive user feedback and ratings, improved customer retention, and industry acceptance are all results of good design. There is no doubt that successful product management and design collaboration is essential for competing and succeeding in a cutthroat market environment.

In short, product managers and design teams can be thought of as the two parts of yin and yang. Both are essential.


The foundation of a healthy PM-Design relationship

There are two key elements that form the foundation of a healthy PM-Design relationship in our experience.


Some product managers may find it difficult to strike the right balance while collaborating with a designer for the first time. 

On the one hand, you must convey extremely precise customer needs that must be satisfied and give ample context for the customers’ problems. On the other hand, you must give designers the room and freedom to excel at what they do.

Extremely rigid approaches run the danger of restricting creativity, which could not only demotivate designers but also keep you from receiving the greatest results. It is therefore advisable to practice talking to designers about the problem rather than the solution.

The most crucial action the product manager can take is to identify the problem. They should be aware of the task at hand and how you intend to assist the customer.

It’s not unusual to have a few ideas that you want to share with designers, but these should only serve to make the issue you’re trying to solve clearer.

Be on the same page

It helps if you and your designer agree on what success looks like in addition to having a detailed conversation about the issue you’re trying to solve. Discuss how you’ll be able to tell if a design is effective in a group setting.

Putting a design in front of users and observing how they interact with it is sometimes the best method to determine whether it works. 

In other instances, typical usability metrics like discoverability or time to completion could be used to gauge success.

The key is that the PM and design team must agree on what these metrics are. Although they don’t have to come from one person, the metrics must agree on what success looks like.


9 things product managers can do to better collaborate with design teams

Here are 9 action items you can follow as a product manager to ensure seamless collaboration with design teams.

1. Understand what makes a good design team

It goes without saying that without the right design team, you cannot accomplish much. What actually distinguishes a strong UX design team, before even considering how to collaborate with one? A strong design team typically consists of at least four skill sets: 

  • Research – to compile a catalog of user insights and explain the experience, conduct research.

  • Interaction Design – used to create the experience’s framework.

  • Visual design – to give the experience its flavor.

  • Prototyping – bringing the experience to life and serving as research stimuli.

Encourage yourself to advocate for their representation in your company.

2. Understand your team’s individual strengths and weaknesses

The design includes a variety of elements. 

Your designer might therefore possess greater expertise in one area than another. For instance, someone could excel at interaction design yet fall short when it comes to visual design in terms of aesthetic flare.

Anyone with a multi-note job will experience the same issue, and that’s okay!

When speaking to your designer, it’s critical to comprehend this. It doesn’t necessarily indicate a designer is poor if one component of their work isn’t quite up to your standards on the first try. It simply means that you’ll have to account for their strengths and weaknesses.

Additionally, you should try to learn how they live their daily lives. It will also make you more sympathetic and understanding of their concerns, and you might discover new ways to make the most of their time.

3. Involve design teams right from the beginning

Design as a function is on the rise right now, and the success of design thinking in products depends on its early acceptance.

The quality of your product is significantly improved by involving design teams early on as opposed to manufacturing something and handing it off to be spruced up later.

Users desire products that not only function but function flawlessly.

Including your designers early on not only gains you their respect and trust but also directs the development of your product in the appropriate direction.

4. Communicate the intent, not the solution

Never express disapproval without providing justification. A design will never be liked by everyone if there are enough people in the room. 

It doesn’t matter if a design satisfies the aesthetic tastes of every person in the room; what counts is whether it resolves the current business issue.

The strongest feedback is about problems rather than solutions.

Give the design team your requirements and let them work in the context of the desired user outcome

Avoid prescribing rules for their UI. The design team can focus on what they do best, design, by effectively communicating the intent.

The next tip will help you understand what we mean here.

5. Speak the language of designers

Although shipping exceptional products is a shared concern across product and design teams, their information processing methods differ.

Compared to engineers, designers often have a lower concern for statistics and numbers. They are interested in learning more about user issues from a human perspective.

The same rule that applies to PMs and design teams also applies to all successful collaborations: effective communication is essential. Being the link between the needs of the product and the designers can appear difficult to new PMs.

PMs are in charge of explaining user needs to designers in the setting of their problems. They must also guarantee that the design team has sufficient freedom to do its job.

PMs must therefore be able to communicate with designers effectively and avoid miscommunication, which occurs frequently in interactions between PMs and design teams.

Here are a few examples of how you can term problems to designers as a PM.

6. Give the right kind of feedback at the right time

Different sorts of feedback are needed at various design stages.

Early feedback should concentrate on ensuring that the right problems are solved, all pertinent system components are recorded, and system movement is logical and effective.

Later in the design process, feedback should focus on perfecting the appearance and feel.

You run the danger of having a lot of churn if input that is expected in earlier stages is provided later on.

And when we say ‘right feedback’, here’s what we mean.

Let’s take workflow feedback, for instance. Instead of “There is too much in this workflow”, try “According to our user research findings, users thought it was too difficult to complete this booking process. How can we make this simpler?”

7. Lay down metrics in an understandable format

Metrics are important to both project managers and designers. Nonetheless, it’s crucial to make sure that everyone agrees on how the product will succeed before moving further. 

To do this, the PM must sit at the table with the design team as the design metrics are organized. This accomplishes the task of outlining what must be done to obtain the desired result.

Success indicators like task satisfaction or time on task rates offer information about users’ actual versus perceived experiences. Moreover, PMs can rely on the designers to produce an output that satisfies the metric’s objective when they are informed of it.

8. Join the design process

You should be involved in the design process because you can offer insightful market research, just as designers collaborate with UX researchers to learn more about consumers.

Product managers have access to client feedback, competitive research, and executive stakeholder input. To provide designers with a business context and project managers with the knowledge to guide future designs, all of this data should be provided.

Designers can use their experience to assist PMs in the discovery phase by synthesizing research, visualizing their findings, and facilitating brainstorming sessions. Designers can consider multiple design strategies and trade-offs to assist PMs to make crucial product decisions.

Use collaboration spaces—whether physical or virtual—to generate ideas, envision the future, and decide on a course of action.

9. Do not micromanage

The last point to remember is applicable to everyone in management – don’t micromanage your team.

Keep in mind that the design team handles the on-the-ground work, while the PM is in charge of overseeing progress on the product from a bird’s eye view.

The most popular and effective PMs are those who leave the actual design process in the hands of their design team, adding to it with their sharp product insight and vision.

Instead of controlling the design process, a product manager should make sure that designers have access to all relevant customer demands, user stories, and research findings.


How to settle design disputes

Any relationship will inevitably experience friction. While conflicts are totally normal, how you resolve them can either strengthen or harm your relationship.

This holds true for both interpersonal conflicts and design-related ones.

In order to prevent early conflicts, have a chat with your designers early on to clarify:

  • Deliverables – what do they need in the near future?
  • Product vision – how deliverables fit into the product picture
  • Timeline – when delivery is expected
  • Other design aspects – research, revisions to the design system, etc.

In any regard, resolving design conflicts can be pretty simple and unbiased.

Get the disputed design in front of customers in most situations to settle design conflicts.

After all, your perspective and that of the designers you collaborate with are rarely the same as that of your end customers. So, when it comes to design, it can be wise to defer to them.

Let’s examine another, less frequent, area of conflict you could run across while dealing with designers.

What should you do if a designer creates something that is entirely incorrect?

If you ever encounter something similar, take a step back and look for the cause.

Was the problem clearly defined enough? Was it misunderstood in any way? Was there a lack of context?

Instead of concentrating on the fact that there was a misalignment in the first place, pay attention to why and how it occurred. The former is modifiable in the future, but the latter is not.

How does a PM develop a gut instinct for design?

This method typically involves 2 steps:

Step 1 – Look for something you know is well-designed (visually, at least).

Step 2 – Understand why.

It’s awesome that anyone can perform this method. Even if you are completely unable to tell what looks good and what doesn’t, you can still progress as long as you can tell what you like and don’t like.

Step 1 could be anything – an e-commerce website, an email, a packaging – your choice!

In step 2, speak out and describe what was done well. Due to the fact that you don’t really have the terminology for these things, this may seem awkward at first, but give it a shot.

What you’re trying to do is create a foundation for these fresh ideas.

Why does this design appear to be “important”? What are the other designs that captivate you to feel the same way? When are “important” designs suitable to use?

Always noticing and constantly analyzing, you’ll start to recognize patterns, gain a stronger feel of what you instinctively appreciate, and create a language for discussing these things.


How Cubyts can help

Although it may occasionally appear that product managers are in charge, design teams, and PMs should be viewed as partners, and like any relationship, requires constant nurturing.

The way design works today, design processes are generally a blackbox. They seem to be cut off from other departments in terms of measuring the impact of outcomes. 

Cubyts as a leading DesignOps platform helps quantify design outcomes, activities, and processes for everyone to see, giving the product manager a complete, transparent view of what design teams are doing and going through, allowing them to make better decisions that benefit the outcome of the product.

Contact us to learn more.