Avoid The Bermuda Triangle - Try a Design Triangle by Paul Weismantel
As with any multi-functional effort in organizations, the design process is a challenging one, particularly when creating innovative products or services. As with many efforts, the product manager must effectively manage many cross-functional relationships. There is a special cross-functional team made up of a designer, a product manager, and an engineer. This Design Triangle Team must act in unity to successfully advance any idea through the realization process - up to a successful market introduction. I have successfully leveraged this kind of team, and I'd like to share this with you.
First, there are some Critical Keys to Consider for Leveraging the Designer. From my experience, every designer needs a solid foundation.
This starts with the applicable Design Language.
If none exists, task the Design Triangle Team, especially the designer with deriving this important context as their first step, or risk having to toss all of the initial design ideas. One of the ways to achieve this is to focus the design targets through user personas.
There is a helpful Blog Post on Personas you can visit to learn more.
I have had design teams conduct the market research - either as a total research program, or, as a supplement to existing research. They need to be contextually immersed so that the users challenges or issues can become clear to them. This has been an effective technique to help validate our own models and conclusions.
Another factor is that we agreed to keep it simple. The benefit here is to avoid the common trap of incrementally adding complexity. (I'm sure most of us have seen this before!). Oh, and make sure to allow some time to test ideas with market participants (customers) early & often. Listen carefully to their responses & be prepared at ANY point to hit the reset button. I've learned that a designer will work to fulfill any parameters set by the client (product manager, marketer, et. al.) but the results from the process are usually proportional to the time invested. (you put in more time and effort and oversight, you increase the odds of getting a better outcome).
Finally, make it safe for the designer to be bold - to experiment. Working through a wide assortment of ideas in the early stages may offer some interesting surprises, and working through why others do not work is invaluable for the designer to narrow the path. For a great example of how NOT to leverage designers check out this fun
video about designing a stop sign to highlight this point.
Engineers are Great Partners. Yes, they are! The are wonderful partners in managing risk, and in overall project management. They help to make sure projects are carried out on-time and within budget (well, most of the time!). These represent some of the KPIs upon which success may be defined (in addition to the neat design). Also, to explore new ideas, you can include your engineer as trusted advisor. Sometimes, you can challenge them to step out of the box and find new solutions - and sometimes, they will inspire others on the team! One way to bring about this participation through their observation of the early stages of the design process. When they are encouraged to provide their thoughts and opinions (and they know they won't be judged, because you're making it OK to be open) they'll stick with the program as the design matures.
Here is What I Learned:
This is a wonderful area for product managers to work as a collaborator and team builder.
When you leverage the skills of this Design Triangle Team, you increase the probability that you'll inspire the designer in coming up with creative ideas.
Design work tends to be emotional because of the level of commitment. Therefore, constant communication is vital. The product manager should assume the role of orchestra leader as the team conducts its work in evaluating and approving the best designs.
Design will test your skills like no other activity. Make sure to keep your partners in the boat with you and rowing in the same direction.