Should Project Managers understand the Design Process?

Author's profile picture
Lydia Chamberlain
July 16, 2019

Very often, a team will be lead by a PM that helps oversee the general project management and timeline. PMs will have a variety of tasks and responsibilities. Their biggest goal is to bring a project to success!

So, what if you’re a designer in a team or company that doesn’t emphasize design as much as it should. Wouldn’t it be beneficial to have a PM that understands the design process? In fact, wouldn’t it be extremely helpful?

You wouldn’t have to explain the design process every step of the way (and its value) but your manager can dive right into the design issues at hand.

But, not every PM in the world is trained to understand design. They could, theoretically, come from any kind of vertical, which may not always use design.

Today, we are exploring why a PM SHOULD understand design. If you find your PM doesn’t understand design, then we’ll list out some ways to introduce them to the design process.

Before we begin, I’d like to address the titles “Product Manager” and “Project Manager”. Undoubtedly, whether you address yourself by one of these titles or are a designer working alongside them, you may have gotten confused about what the role actually entails.

They get thrown around a lot but could have different meanings on a company by company basis.

Project Manager vs. Product Manager

For the sake of understanding, let’s do some clarification. (Now, this may NOT be what you actually do, PMs out there – my thoughts are only one perspective on the matter!)

Project Managers

Oversees a team of people working towards a goal. Handles client communication, timelines, work distribution, and even budget. A general term that applies to a plethora of industries, and is tailored specifically for the project at hand.

Product Managers

Oversees a team of people building a product. Can be a product of any kind – digital or tangible. Could potentially handle the same sort of matters – client communication, timelines, work distribution – in addition to product overhead and overall direction. And in a lot of cases, works closely with the design process.

Now there is a big chance you’re either one of these titles and you do the SAME THING. That’s entirely possible! So, our big question today is pointed at all the managers in the room, regardless of duties:

Should a PM understand design?

Let’s take it one step further and more specific:

Should a PM understand the Design Process?

Let’s talk through it.

Why a PM Should Understand the Design Process

There are a couple of strong reasons why you, as a PM, should learn the design process.

It gets everyone on the same page without all the educational work.

It can be tiring trying to explain WHY you’re making personas, WHY you need to diagram this user flow, on and on.

When everyone can understand the same lingo and reasoning, it will make your process that much more efficient.

However, if you’re at this stage, keep trucking ahead! If you can onboard and willing to intake all this information, in the long run, it will make everything easier.

Your voice is more powerful than you think.

PM’s may have more influence with executives and stakeholders in terms of spreading the concept of design. It’s very easy and predictable to hear how useful it is from a designer – and, unfortunately, you may need an open mind to start.

But if your higher-ups hear it straight from the manager – who they are entrusting the very product to – it can create change where you may need it.

For example, I have a product manager who wholly backs up our design process. They pitch it to the executives, the stakeholders, and anyone else who is listening. This is VERY crucial because it’s another voice that helps solidify the absolute value of design.

Having that voice to back you up (someone who isn’t a designer) will help you gain momentum in keeping the design process rolling in your workplace.

Thirdly, it will only HELP the development of your product.

Understanding design means you have a TON of resources at your disposal to better your product.

Design IS the entirety of creating something new. Utilizing these new skills and backing up your designer is crucial

We all know or have seen products that have obviously been developed from a crew that placed little emphasis on design – user research OR visual design. You certainly don’t want your product ending up in front of a user who is thinking the same thing.

If you’re a PM and reading this – do your teammates a favor and start now to understand the design process! It not only benefits your day to day workflow but helps create a stronger design environment. Not to mention, your product will surely improve!

How to Help your PM Understand the Design Process

Now, if you are a designer who has a PM who is open-minded and ready to intake some info, there are some methods you can follow.

Even if you find resistance, these are some best practices that will benefit yourself and your team regardless!

Craft all your UX deliverables and Keep Them Organized

Maybe your specific assignment doesn’t require any tangible deliverables. Even so, MAKE THEM. There’s no better way to summarize data than sorting it visually for everyone to take in easily. If you can prove that your deliverables are purposeful and efficient, you’ll find more willingness to keep the practice.

In addition to that, make sure you make them easily accessible!

We use Google Drive, so I make sure all UX goods are quick to locate and organized accordingly. We want them in view and quick to grab.

Design a “Design Process Deck”

This is a useful practice but may require extra work on your end.

One suggestion is to summarize everything useful about the design process to show your team, or even just your PM. You could organize 30 minutes and prepare a slide deck detailing important aspects of the design process, and how it could benefit your specific project.

You don’t have to include EVERYTHING. We know as designers that sometimes, steps have to get left behind. If you know your team doesn’t have the resources for a specific step, just leave it out for now.

Once you have a design deck, it will be an easy resource to pass on to other teams, say, sales!

For our company, we have a specific slide deck to show interested clients. It details our specific design process and many examples of deliverables. Most importantly, it talks about WHY this is a useful practice for our clients.

Lastly… Be Patient, and Don’t Be Patronizing!

Understanding your process won’t come overnight. After all, designers know full well how long it took to learn it ourselves. So, don’t pressure your PM for instant adoption!

PMs likely can understand the concept of a certain practice easily. They may simply not know such a thing existed, or when to use it. So play to those strengths when you can.

Whenever you can slip in UX practices, do so. Know when to back down and let something slide due to major resistance or worse, complete denial of your process.

But never give up! Sometimes we have to do your jobs silently without the major support of PM (whether lacking or misunderstanding) so hang in there when the ride is rough. After all, you’re the expert!

let's talk

Have an idea? Need some design expertise?
Let us help.
Send a Message