ARTICLE: Kyle Bentle

A working relationship: How to stabilize the push-pull between UX and product management

In EdTech, it’s not uncommon for UX and product teams to struggle to collaborate as effectively as they should. After all, while both teams have the same overarching goal — making the best product possible — they sometimes disagree on how to get there. Both teams share similar objectives, but prioritize them differently.  Your product management (PM) team is focused on meeting your company’s business objectives. And while your UX team has some of these same objectives top of mind, their role writ large is really to advocate for your users. 

These teams aren’t necessarily in conflict.  More often, they work with their heads down, and by the time teams get together, projects end up stymied by:

  • Mismatched expectations
  • Poor communication
  • Devaluation of each other’s perspective

And you can guess how the story ends. Unfortunately, the breakdown between UX and PM thwarts valuable products. You’re left with mediocre EdTech that doesn’t stand out in the market.

In a dynamic UX and product relationship, the two teams have the potential to create valuable, memorable experiences. Here’s how to cultivate the best-case scenario — and avoid the worst-case.

The Ideal Relationship Between UX and Product Management

Both teams see the value in each other’s perspective

Product and UX have the same goal, but different responsibilities. To put it simply: user experience designers and researchers are advocates for the user, while product managers are advocates for the business. These definitions come with a big caveat, however: There’s more crossover between the teams than you may think. And ideal relationships acknowledge and work toward this common ground.

In truth, PMs aren’t opposed to incorporating user needs. After all, if a product fails to meet user needs, it will tank as a business. It’s just that they have more than user needs to juggle, including business, budget, competition, and tech constraints. On the other side, UX does consider business cases in addition to the user experience. That’s because those business goals directly impact which parts of the product they focus on developing or improving for users.

Despite some differing obligations, your UX and PM teams ultimately want to create the best product and experience for users. In an ideal UX and product partnership, each perspective is valuedd and appropriately represented. There’s constant communication between the departments, with teams breaking down silos and uncovering each other’s blind spots. 

UX and PM ultimately answer to the user

One of the most obvious harbingers of a UX/PM communication breakdown is a mismatch in priorities and expectations. 

Project managers often set the agenda for discovery efforts and prioritize which projects to work on. However, PMs can become laser-focused on the business needs of a product to the detriment of the user experience. Keeping business objectives in mind isn’t always a hindrance, but when PM starts chasing elements like feature parity or hitting adoption metrics, it can throw the project off balance. For example, they might add features when they should be re-examining the core functionality of their product.


User insight informs hypotheses 

In some cases, the PM could be chasing the right goal, but for the wrong reasons. For example, your goal may be to increase conversions. However, without proper user research, you’re more likely to jump to conclusions about why your conversion rate is low. Or perhaps your goal is to improve the onboarding experience. But because you have the wrong hypothesis about gaps in the experience, your efforts to improve it won’t move the needle for the user.

This is where UX can help. UX research is baked into the development process, so you never have to wonder why a product or feature is or isn’t working. UX research also curbs your organization from feature parity chasing (i.e., creating a product with features similar to your competition’s products). UX sees the entire product as part of a holistic user experience and has done the legwork to know if proposed features actually meet user goals. 

PM holds the line

But that isn’t to say that UX doesn’t have its own issues. Sometimes UX goals simply aren’t practical or are limited by tech and engineering capabilities. Another common blind spot is budget. Product managers always have budget top of mind, but all too often UX isn’t looking at the numbers. The right internal and/or external UX partner will also have their finger on the pulse of the budget to help maximize the overall success of the product team within the limitations of its means. 

If PM doesn’t listen to user needs, their product won’t survive. But PMs are often necessary realists. Occasionally they’re required to put the kibosh on lofty UX plans to meet business objectives and stay within the scope of engineering.

How Your UX and PM Teams Can Avoid Communication Breakdowns

Everyone wants to contribute their skills to create memorable EdTech. They don’t want to feel sidelined from important conversations or included only after it’s too late to meaningfully contribute. Here’s how to avoid lapses in communication between UX and PM.

Include everyone in stakeholder meetings

To keep your UX and product teams aligned, keep them in conversation with each other from the outset. Having each stakeholder included in major decisions from the start can reduce your chances of conflict later. 

During these conversations, UX can act as an objective advocate for the user and contribute to business needs. Once everyone is aligned, the entire team can work toward a shared idea of success, as well as a shared understanding of how to get there.

Make user needs a priority over market-based needs

Ultimately, you want the partnership to steer toward user-based needs. If your user isn’t in the driver’s seat, your EdTech won’t provide them with any utility. However, market-based needs have their place in the conversation. Consider how other tools might meet those demands to save your company time and resources.

What a Successful Partnership Means for Your EdTech

A functional relationship means a better product. While UX informs the roadmap, PM can guide designs toward a long-term strategy that meets business needs. The result is essential EdTech that delivers more value to users while also meeting your company goals.

When you hire a UX agency, you’re hiring a team that helps your organization meet UX and business goals from the jump. Curious whether your EdTech can benefit from an outsider’s perspective? Reach out.

  • Photo of Kyle Bentle
    Kyle Bentle

    Kyle’s journey to the world of UX is an uncommon one. After earning a journalism degree from Ball State University with a concentration in graphic design, he spent the next decade working in news organizations in Jacksonville and Chicago. In his previous role as designer and journalist at the Chicago Tribune, Kyle juggled the needs of many stakeholders while collaborating on multidisciplinary teams under immense deadline pressure. As a data visualization expert, he brings a rare ability to analyze and translate complex information and concepts into engaging and understandable stories. Outside of work, he enjoys time with his wife, Lee Ann, and their dog, Scooter. Among his hobbies are biking, spending time outdoors, and painting poorly (his words).

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