Two women talking about UX design

During the software development lifecycle, any conflict or misunderstandings between teams results in delayed production and difficult work environments, so it's vital to establish seamless collaboration to generate better business outcomes.

User experience (UX) designers and product owners (POs) are two roles that often clash during the SDLC, usually due to a lack of clearly defined project scope and responsibilities. However, they are much more similar than they might appear, both holding a responsibility to deliver apps that meet business goals and user expectations.

To understand why these two teams sometimes battle it out, as well as how to tone down that conflict, we need to start by breaking down the main responsibilities of each role.

What Does a Product Owner Do? 

The PO's primary task is to understand how and why the product should be achieving business objectives, which often revolves around problem-solving. They might also be in charge of product management, performing market research, and managing project collaboration. On top of that, POs should be comfortable sharing the vision for the app and explaining its value to stakeholders, c-suite executives, and employees within the organization.

Product owner primary responsibilities:

  • Managing the product backlog
  • Prioritizing needs
  • Anticipating client needs
  • Evaluating product progress at each iteration

Contrary to some beliefs, POs are not responsible for building wireframes, comps, and prototypes or doing user testing—that's for UX to handle. The ultimate goal of the PO is to deliver an app that meets business and user needs on time and within budget, so they should only be concerned with the design of the app in a strategic sense and defining its requirements and managing the development process.

What Does a UX Designer Do?  

While the PO aims to deliver functionality and value by managing the project appropriately, the UX designer is looking at meeting the user's needs. This goes far beyond UI layout and using corporate colors in the app's color scheme; it includes things like user journeys, how content is worded, icon design, and a thousand other details that, when combined, make for an app that is easy to learn and use.

UX designers focus on the quality of the user experience. They need to ask questions like, what makes this app a pleasure to use? How exactly is the user interacting with it? What can we do to improve that experience? In a nutshell, they must have the drive to add value to the product by creating the best possible user experience.

UX designer primary responsibilities:

  • Building wireframes, comps, and prototypes
  • User research and usability testing
  • User feedback analysis to iterate
  • Developing information architecture
  • Creating interaction design
  • Designing information display
  • Managing overall look and feel
  • Benchmarking

When researching, UX designers spend time interviewing end-users to develop an understanding of how they use technology and what they expect from the app. They can then move on to the design phase to build lo-fi or hi-fi wireframes and interaction prototypes, before collaborating with development to produce an iterative user interface (UI).

At that stage, the app goes to user testing, allowing UX designers to analyze how users interact with the app, uncovering where they get lost, confused, or frustrated. This information helps the UX designer make changes to the app to improve its usability.

Now that each role's primary responsibilities are cleared up, what are some of the ways we can bring PO and UX together in harmonious collaboration?

Inclusion, Clarity, and Bulletproof Communication  

The number one priority to avoid any PO-UX conflict is to include the UX team in the project from the very beginning. That means bringing them in on Sprint Zero or even earlier. If UX has a say from day one, they can recognize many of the issues associated with user experience at an earlier stage, reducing the need to

If the goal is to eliminate or reduce existing conflict, make sure they clearly understand the above responsibilities, along with the limits that come with the role. This level of understanding requires bulletproof communication practices, which should remain that way throughout the SDLC.

We cannot stress enough how important it is that each team is clear on their roles and responsibilities, while also maintaining a solid channel of communication. Only with those building blocks in place can the business bear the fruits of successful PO-UX collaboration. 

Establish and Follow Chain of Command 

A clear chain of command is paramount to prevent problems during project development—the PO ultimately has ownership over the project, so the UX designers answer to them and should discuss any changes or additions with the PO before adding them.

This chain of command goes both ways. Sometimes, the PO might need reminding that she is responsible for managing the process of app development, not the color of the splash screen or the wording used on a button.

If a chain of command is too difficult for the PO and UX teams to adhere to, simply let user testing determine the best resolution to a conflict. Use informal testing, formal testing, and A/B testing to see what users prefer. In the end, whatever works best for the user is best for the end product. 

[TRENDS IN OUTSOURCING | Foster Innovation in Outsourcing Relationships]

Spend A Day in the Other's Shoes  

It can be helpful if each person takes the time to fully understand each other's roles, giving them an opportunity to see what the other's job actually entails.

The UX designer could show the PO how their role was impacted when the PO decided to create a wireframe. Likewise, the PO can show the UX designer the work involved to rectify a feature added by UX without prior authorization.

Once each team sees the amount of extra work they are placing on each other, they can start to collaborate much more easily with newfound mutual respect. 

What It All Means

At the end of the day, the best apps will be those produced through close collaboration between the PO and the UX designer. This means taking the time to get the PO and the UX designer on the same page with shared goals and clearly defined project scopes.

Through respectful collaboration, communication, inclusion, and clarity over roles, there's no reason why the PO and the UX designers cannot work together to achieve the main objective: to produce an app that generates valuable impacts for the business and its customers.

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