The Program Manager is Your Secret Weapon in UX Design

Everyone can agree that a good user experience (UX) is a positive thing. But convincing colleagues and decision-makers on the “what and how” to go about it is a totally different story. Yet any company that wants to lead the way in UX, absolutely has to make the effort.

It is rarely the case that a single visionary executive – think Steve Jobs – is able to get the entire team on board with a set of design principles and spend the time and energy necessary to implement them.

More often, organizations implement UX from the bottom-up. This means that UX designers need a champion, starting with a pilot project that can display concrete results and prove its value, this is what the champion can take to evangelize to other teams across the organization. Choosing the right liaison can mean the difference between UX design workflow success and failure.
 

Program Manager: The Liaison You Need

In most cases, the individual responsible for acquiring UX design on the company’s behalf isn’t the same person best-suited to implement it. The latter is almost always the program manager.

Note that this is not to be confused with the project manager, which is a different role entirely. Whereas project managers oversee the implementation of specific, one-time groups of processes, program managers oversee the long-term achievement of strategic goals. Projects are essentially groups of processes, while programs are groups of projects.

This small difference is of major importance for UX design professionals because the UX inherently involves strategic goals. The way people use products and services and the outcomes they achieve form the foundation of every company’s overall business strategy.

Program managers are uniquely empowered to push strategic design goals inside a company hierarchy. They should have visibility into and across the entire initiative, allowing them to pivot between design and business goals. Without the support of a visionary executive, the best liaison between the UX designer and the rest of the teams is the program manager.

Even if you are lucky enough to have executive support at the top of the organizational structure, much of the legwork will still be delegated to the program manager level. UX designers and their advocates throughout the company are best-advised to get the program manager on board first and foremost.

Something else to keep in mind – even though you might have the best program manager possible on your team, that person can face pushback from various departments. This can come from internal politics, different ideas, emotional investments, or numerous other factors. Choosing to outsource your program manager for such a situation is an excellent solution. As it will provide someone who is unbiased, has an outside-in perspective, and can paint a bigger picture.
 

Role of the Program Manager as UX Design Advocate

A program manager is not unlike an architectural draftsperson. Neither architects nor their drafts-people are responsible for physically installing plumbing or drywall, yet they are accountable for every design element of the building in question.

If the executive board can be thought of as the lead architect, the program manager is responsible for drafting the blueprints and its adjustments. This puts them in direct contact with many different departments within the company and gives them oversight over a broad range of user touch points.

These user touch points represent the best opportunity to implement UX design principles, products, and solutions. They are tacitly connected to individual projects – like the layout of a bathroom or a kitchen – which present unique, circumstance-specific challenges to the UX.

In contrast, business executives and lead architects are less likely to bog themselves down with these kinds of details. They implicitly entrust their drafts-people and program managers with making UX decisions at the functional level. But this isn’t the only reason why program managers make such excellent liaisons for UX designers.

Remember, their job also includes keeping multiple departments on track towards meeting business goals. UX designers often find that while one department is completely sold on the merit of their design principles, they may need to convince another or give a better explanation.

In most business scenarios, the responsibility for delivering the convincing argument or a comprehensive presentation for a new strategic objective falls on the program manager. This is the individual that department heads are going to be looking to for guidance in meeting strategic goals. This makes them the ideal candidate to push UX design initiatives.
 

Focus on Collaborative Context

Program managers are able to keep track of every asset, update, and request over a large surface area within the company they work for. UX designers who successfully sell their initiatives to these particular employees benefit from an empowering collaborative context.

If all design communication goes through the program manager, then individual design decisions and overarching design strategies are all helpfully located in the same documentation. This makes them immediately available and easy to reference whenever a decision or approach is questioned. This strategy takes the friction, frustration and guesswork out of UX design implementation and streamlines designers’ work.
 

In Conclusion

Program managers are bred to be highly organized, superior communicators, and finessing diplomats. In addition, they have visibility into company-wide business goals and initiatives which gives them a tactical advantage.

Embedding them within a UX team gives the designers the business context they need and allows them to focus on their work. The program manager will remove blockers, filter the noise, negotiate when needed, and be their main advocate. Successful companies realize this and utilize this to their advantage.

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