Focusing on the End User: Product Management and User Experience: From Actuation Consulting’s ProdBOK® Series. This is part one of a two part interview.

By Greg Geracie

As Editor-in-Chief for The Product Management and Marketing Body of Knowledge (ProdBOK) I have the privilege to work closely with many of the leading minds within product management and across the adjoining disciplines.

Today I want to share a recent conversation I had with Rich Gunther, president of the User Experience Professionals Association (UXPA) and Sean Van Tyne, author of the Customer Experience Revolution. Sean and Rich were kind enough to share their thoughts on ProdBOK, optimizing the product manager and user experience relationship, and their view of where things stand today. This is the first part of a two part interview.

Rich and Sean, thanks for joining me today.

Have either of you worked closely with product managers in your current role or in past organizations? If so, what worked and what could have been improved?

(Rich Gunther) Throughout my career I’ve been lucky to work with many very well-qualified product managers. At Rockwell Software at the beginning of my career, the product managers were often former customers who had become subject matter experts in a particular domain or vertical market. Their attention to the “voice of the customer” was integral in requirements definition, market strategy, and honing eventual product design. When I got into consulting years later, our product managers tended to be more in the vein of “solutions architects”, that is, they had a deep knowledge of a set of technologies and could help clients envision how to piece them together towards a cohesive whole. Finally, at Oracle, we have an extensive inbound and outbound product management organization. These managers are involved in all aspects of product development: envisioning, technical decisions, documentation and training, and go-to-market strategy.

In all of these cases, I have found that the most successful engagements are those where product managers and user experience practitioners do not engage in a turf war over who represents the user’s needs and requirements, but rather cooperate towards the notion of making a “useful” product. A useful product is one that meets the needs of the market, is of high quality, and is usable. The goal of developing usable products requires consideration and collaboration from product management, UX, development, QA, and the executive suite.

(Sean Van Tyne) I have been a product manager in the past as well as in my current organization. As a “product designer,” I work very closely with product management – in fact, as the User Experience Director, I report into our VP of Product Management. I see experience design as an elaboration of the requirements. I’m an advocate of conducting experience research as early as possible to inform the requirements and iterative design reviews to validate concepts before development.

Studies have shown that there is a huge return on investment in terms of ensuring customers’ needs are understood, clearly communicated early in the process and that development, quality, and training time is reduced. Things don’t work well when experience design is brought in late in the process – you lose that return on investment – customers’ needs are not fully understood or communicated; development and related downstream activities take longer and don’t meet the customers’ need; and you may lose customers and revenue.

From your industry vantage, do you see a need for a product management and marketing body of knowledge?

(Sean Van Tyne) Absolutely! Product management and marketing is still so misunderstood. And it can mean different things for what you’re doing – for example, product management for building airplanes is much different than for a social media application or for developing a hospital lobby or an entertainment attraction. If you’re at a social gathering and tell someone you’re an attorney or doctor or “in Marketing” – most people get what you do… but you have to explain product management and marketing unless they’re geeks, too.

(Rich Gunther) I think it’s important for any profession to develop a foundation model for the key aspects of their work. This is essential for professional development purposes, for defining who’s qualified to practice, and for communicating the value of one’s profession to the world.

As it relates specifically to product management and marketing, one criticism I’ve heard in the public conscious is that defining product management, and what product management professionals do, is somewhat elusive and mysterious. Those of us who work in product development are less likely to take this stance. In any case, defining the profession, as well as the tools, methods, and theoretical underpinnings of that profession, will only serve to solidify the discipline as being empirical, teachable, and worthwhile.

This concludes part one. Join us next week for the conclusion of my interview with Rich and Sean.

Greg Geracie is the Editor-in-Chief of The Guide to the Product Management and Marketing Body of Knowledge (ProdBOK) and the leader of this initiative. ProdBOK is an industry-wide effort to standardize the practice of product management sponsored by the Association of International Product Management and Marketing (AIPMM).