4 Reasons Product Managers are Designers - Product Mindset

4 Reasons Product Managers are Designers

Product Managers play a key role in companies and teams. The need for Product Managers to wear multiple hats is something that’s widely talked about. In this article I want to throw some light on a specific aspect of being a Product Manager – the element of design. I believe that as Product Managers, you are Designers first.

I’m not attempting to disrupt your role or responsibilities. I hope to bring about a change in the way you think about yourself and your job as a Product Manager. Striking a connection with design, I hope this article will offer you fresh perspectives to think of yourself as a Product Manager.

We’re Designers First

Who is a designer? We humans are designers first. Thinking is a fundamental human skill, and it just so happens that most of us lose a good bunch of these skills as we grow up. Here’s a quick sketchnote.

In spite of losing some of these design skills as we grow up, we continue to serve and exist as designers in everything we do in daily life. Some classic examples of activities we do everyday as designers are:

  • telling bedtime stories to our kids (or pitching our products to customers)
  • traveling from one place to another
  • doing domestic chores (or at work)
  • buy groceries (or working with teams, negotiating and more)
  • selling something on Craig’s list, and much more complicated ones too.

Does that make you wonder?

Designer in You

Design and thinking is systemic. In other words, design doesn’t happen in vacuum, but happens and exists in an environment comprised of other designed systems. Designers too are always interacting with the world around. It’s a Yin-Yang relationship that a designer shares with his / her clients and other stakeholders. So how does this make us a designer?

Simply put, we all exist in a system – we have relationships (spouse, sibling, children, clients, bosses, colleagues, etc.) and we live, work, play, shop and more in different places. We are continuously designing our experiences and that of others.

Broadly speaking, designers play four different kinds of roles –

  1. Artist
  2. Facilitator
  3. Expert
  4. Enabler

Product Managers are Designers

As Product Managers, we don all the above 4 roles. These 4 roles are the reasons why I believe Product Managers are Designers. Let’s dive a little deeper into each of these roles from what you do every day as a Product Manager.

Artist Product Manager

As an artist, a designer is the creative person who has the most influence on the design process. The designer in this case is more like an artist who expresses himself / herself based on self-made judgements and understanding for a satisfactory solution. This is a case with a some product management roles where the product manager is specialized on a certain artistic activity. Good example of this is in companies where there are product managers for innovation or new technologies.

Facilitator Product Manager

As a facilitator, a designer simply listens to the client and does what the client wants to be done. There is no creative input, unlike that of an artist. Facilitation is a key factor in design, but not when done without creativity. As product managers, we often find ourselves as facilitators as we are in the middle of the ecosystem of our product. Facilitating discussions between stakeholders is one good example.

Expert Product Manager

As an expert, a designer plays a role similar to an artist, but is more accommodative to the clients’ feedback. It’s more in places where the client is presented what the designer thinks is the right solution, and the designer takes feedback to fine-tune the solution.

As product managers, we often find ourselves in this spot. While it’s tempting to think of ourselves as experts of the product, but in reality the expertise here is in your ability to receive feedback, make decisions, maintain relationships and prevent the system from getting stuck.

Enabler Product Manager

As enablers, designers play the role of an empowered facilitator. The designer here tries to answer questions and respond to requests from clients who has the intentions right, essentially as an agent. As product managers you play this role every day when you are asked for your opinions for someone to make a decision.

This could be helping your engineers decide on a technology stack or sales decide on their quarterly sales plans. Though you may respond with your opinion, you may not have clearly understood their larger motive or intent.

Embrace the Designer in You

Very often we tend to mix the role of a designer to the real meaning of design. I hope this article helps clarify this and more importantly has got you thinking about your role as a Product Manager more closely than ever before.

It’s not just the skills like knowing your market, segmentation, backlogs and the like that make you a Product Manager. It’s your ability to double-down on your strengths and thinking of your role as an extension of our innate ability to design. Let me know what you think – leave a comment, hit me up on Twitter.

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