Showing PM at the intersection of technology, data, business, and UX

From UX Director to Product Manager

I recently gave a talk for UX Akron on the similarities and differences between being a UX director at an agency vs a client-side product manager. I made that switch mid-year 2020, after more than 6 years as a UX director.

I covered:

  • A brief definition of what a digital product manager is
  • The differences in terms of where I spend my time as a UX director vs a product manager within a given project
  • The skills needed for a product manager vs a UX director
  • Resources to learn more about becoming a product manager

You can watch a video of the presentation, look at the presentation itself, or check out my summary below.

At a very high level, a digital product manager is responsible for the product’s strategy (figuring out what the product should do), execution (making sure that happens), and measurement (how successful was that).

Showing PM at the intersection of technology, data, business, and UX

I also emphasized that a product manager role is a very intersectional role.

People sometimes come to the role from one of the surrounding circles shown here, or come from another role in the domain of the product manager.

Looking at the standard process of ‘discover > define > design & iterate > develop & deliver > measure’, I compared my time spent per project between when I was a UX director at an agency versus now, as a product manager. Note that these numbers are SUPER rough, but I think the charts get the idea across.

Process focus per project, a comparison between my time as a UX director (mostly) vs as a product manager (heavier on the discover, develop, and measure).

Product management skills

Project PhaseSkillUX DirectorProduct Manager
AllSoft skills
AllTime & Project Management✓ (across the full team)
AllBroad goal setting / strategic planning? (some role)✓ (own the goal/plan)
AllClient/stakeholder management
DiscoverQualitative discovery research✓ (per project)✓ (ongoing)
DiscoverQuantitative discovery research
DiscoverMarket & technology
DiscoverIdea generation / brainstorm facilitation
DefineIdea measurement / comparison
DefineProject success definition?
DefineProject scope definition?
DesignDesign input
DesignUsability testing
DesignDesign feasibility
Develop & deliverDesign / development hand-off, including requirements?
Develop & deliverOngoing development support?
Develop & deliverCoordinated delivery with training, support, marketing, etc.
MeasureMeasure metrics and share outcomes

Broad expertise comparison chart

UX DirectorProduct Manager
Able to complete competitive assessmentsOngoing competitor tracking
Basic understanding of technology & marketStay on top of relevant technology & market trends
Domain understandingDomain expert
Minimal quant data expertise neededData tagging & reporting competency
Interface design expert Basic understanding of design
User research expertBasic understanding of customer research; expert in their customers
Manage designersDoes not ‘manage’ careers (other than possibly of more junior product manager)

Resources

Cracking the PM Interview, by Gayle Laakmann McDowell and Jackie Bavaro

Inspired: How to Create Tech Products Customers Love, by Marty Cagan

How to Win Friends & Influence People, by Dale Carnegie

Becoming a Product Manager: LinkedIn course

Product School: courses, online resources, and events

Product Collective: newsletter & online resources (including Top Product Marketing Podcast recommendations). Cleveland-based!

Q&A

We had a brief Q&A during and after the presentation. A few items that I wanted to share:

  • Q: What drew you to the role of product manager?
  • A: I liked the idea of a broader role, and one where I hopefully got to have more of a say in the decision-making of what actually ended up in the product
  • Q: What was the hardest part of making the switch?
  • A: Learning the domain. I’m a product manager for Accounting software, and I had no background in accounting!
  • Q: What were some of the new skills you had to learn?
  • A: In addition to accounting, the quantitative skills have been the biggest learning aspect for me. I really enjoy writing SQL queries! In addition to writing queries and using data apps, I also have to say in advance what my devs need to tag so I can measure success later.

2 thoughts on “From UX Director to Product Manager

  1. Anita says:

    Wow – thanks for writing this post! It included an easy to read and understand overview of the differences between the two roles. And belated congrats on making the career transition!

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