Aligning with Product Management & Making a Business Case for UX

3 core functions in Lean UX
If you’re working for an org which has high UX maturity, that’s outstanding.
For the rest of us, many orgs are in transition from low UX maturity as confusion & misplacement/misuse of talent can be prevalent. It’s quite a strange thing to work in a field where very few people at your organization know what it is – even the person who had hired you. For UX this is a harsh reality as in my personal experience I’ve even come across designer colleagues who thought what they were doing was UX but it turns out it wasn’t.
Defining the target outcomes & assessing the game plan in context to business is a must first step for UXers (UX practitioners or designers) as it clears the path for the work ahead with minimum fuss.

Credit: Freelance Designers

UX is NOT UI – Let’s start there
Both are design but are quite different– the first is a behavioral scientist while the latter is more the craftsman. We need both to focus on each discipline as they are both demanding. For example, the UXer eliminates the assumptions from facts with research, crafts abstract ideas to filter down to one which actually works from tests & experiments. The Visual designer (UI) has the fine eye for detail to solve complex visual problems near the end of the design process, and is responsible for consistency in patterns & artifacts to be ready to be handed off to dev. When addressing or presenting to business collegues, it’s not a bad thing to start with this type of graphic in a ppt slide, set off on the right direction by being clear on what roles UX plays.
Show a timeline of product cycle/risk & costs of UX implementation
Speak the business language with business folks – meeting business needs, costs & time, and mitigating risks. It’s far easier for us to meet them at their level/domain than to expect them to meet us at ours (as you can be waiting quite sometime for that to happen, if ever). UX is a process and has its own set of risks & rewards, explain this in a professional manner using visuals and charts, timelines. 
Tip: Keywords are: increased revenue , decrease costs, risk mitigation by experimenting and failing early and cheaply.
Stats on why new products fail by non-adoption by end-Users
You’d be amazed how 1-2 slides of facts can totally shift the mind-set of the most stalwart colleague. You can’t argue with facts, and where UX can best be facilitating business’ bottom line. It makes sense to anyone’s logic, if Users fail to adopt a product then it’s a failure to the business. Majority of softwares fail due to this sole reason – the user is left out of the equation when he/she needs to be at the center. It’s not having the most amount of features, it’s not marketing, it’s not the shininess of the product.
Seek & co-opt a sponsor/champion
UX is a group affair and the support from the rest of the org is critical for UX to take traction. Be it a business executive or the CTO, it’s likely you’ll come across someone who buys-in the ‘Design Thinking’ & Human-centered design movement, and gets the value UX brings to an org. Having him/her officially sponsor the UX activities helps you win– mainly due to it legitimises time/energy required from your colleagues as well as yourself. On the flip side, if your colleagues sense that any UX activity they get asked to participate is not part of their objectives & responsibilities (for their performance appraisals), you will find yourself in the “lone wolf’ scenario. UX “champions” or cross-functional colleagues are key allies required of the journey of UX maturity ahead. 
Make it “Lean” & share the results
Demystify the common misunderstandings – that UX takes months to do or costly. Lean UX practices & devices allows quick turn-arounds in hypotheses and cuts the excess “fat” in the process when time & resources are a challenge. All of the UX findings should lead to mitigating risks & validating assumptions which resonates well with business colleagues (once the facts are framed well enough). Sharing those results in reasonable turn-around time with consistent frequency should send the right messages to the org that these facts are fundamental in guiding us in the right direction for product/service design. 
Include non-UXers into the process and facilitate the learning process with patience
Workshops consisting of cross-functional colleagues should be UX-led & facilitated. Making it as a group affair on key points in the design process helps greatly on 2 important fronts:
  • Speed & quality in addressing assumptions & tech/business parameters from key stakeholders: the discussion are brought up early and UXers can focus on what to test & run experiments on
  • Minimises written documentation as the shared understanding (from the workshop) enables everyone to get started without delay
Common traps for orgs with low UX maturity
Many PMs who’ve done market research previously and has engagement with select group of customers and may feel threatened (or feel UX is redundant) as the work is being done by them. This is a prevalent obstacle UXers faced within a low UX-maturity org. PMs are correct in thinking that the work they are doing with customers are indeed important but what gets failed to be seen is that UX is distinct from that level of market research. User research is behavioural science and a sharp deep focus on scenarios while the research work with PM are closer to demographic / market research (and highly generalised in many respects). 
This confusion of market research vs. User research can be a sore point between designers & Product Management. Both types of research are needed (and one does not negate the other) and serve different needs. Best to communicate clearly the difference to our colleagues– one is focused on what the market wants based on trends vs. the other is focused on what the behaviour patterns are in specific scenarios, drilled in deeper. 
Partnering with PM and getting on the same page at the very start sets the path for less turbulent journey in product design. Articulating top business goals and aligning them target User goals/needs (in a workshop collaboration) should provide a shared vision on what feature ideas to explore and invest in for production. PMs can benefit  greatly on getting some facts behind their feature ideas to weed out good ones from the poor, thus mitigating wasted time & costs.

The facts being discovered by UXers with small rapid learning experiments are indeed what this discipline can best serve its organisation. Of course UXers can benefit greatly knowing that the work they’ve contributed are indeed being adopted by Users finally.

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