Government Product Managers Play a Key Role in UX

Government product managers sit at the intersection of three circles—business, design and technology. We play a key role in user experience (UX), because we are tasked with understanding users to build a product that is desirable and viable. This product could be a paper or online form, a website or a mobile app.

Three intersecting gears.

Product management is different from project management. Product managers are the defenders and voice of the product’s customers, while a project manager is more concerned with balancing costs, scope and schedule issues.

I recently completed a Product Development and Management class. Here are half a dozen things I learned and you need to know if you are a beginner to product management and its role in UX:

  1. Product managers understand user needs through interviews. For example, if the product is a website redesign, ask who will be using the new site? How and where do they access it now? Does the existing site meet their needs, in at least some ways? In what ways does it not? Interview questions should be open-ended as much as possible.
  2. Identifying user needs is important, but equally important is a product manager’s ability to translate those into features. Products are made up of little features, and product managers use user stories as they work with developers to build features. A user story is a sentence that describes the need and the benefit. It can generally be completed in one sprint and takes this form: As a _, I want _, so I can _. Notice that it doesn’t say HOW to build the feature. The developers may have a better idea than you, so let them be creative. Product managers work with developers to prioritize stories and features.
  3. A product manager can’t be afraid to ask “why?” If the product users are asking for a feature, ask why it is needed. Is it a “must have” item? Is it low in complexity? Or is it a complex, “nice to have?” Asking why will help you prioritize what features to build first and which ones to build later.
  4. A product manager will likely work with users to develop personas. A persona represents a group of users—their goals, needs, behaviors and pain points. It’s a good idea to print out personas and hang them in your office, so you keep your users in mind as you build and develop your product.
  5. An agile governance sprint.
    Agile software development values product managers who collaborate with customers throughout the lifecycle, not just when you are researching and conceiving the product. In agile, product managers go through many discover/design/develop/test cycles with customers.
  6. As you are developing the product, you can continue to collaborate with users in many ways. For example, you can show them wireframes (or rough drafts) of new websites or pages and see what they think. Storyboards show how one page on a website flows to others. See if your storyboards make sense to your future users.

Several federal agencies have product managers or teams (IRS, OPM for USAJOBS.gov). Some agencies, like Consumer Financial Protection Board, have a user experience (UX) department. Tell us what you have at the agency where you work!

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