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When does a PM really need a UX Specialist?

Project Management

Nov 7, 2019 - 4 minutes read

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Urszula Adamska
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Building a team in the initial stage of a project is our Project Managers’ (PMs) – responsibility. Usually, we know perfectly well who we need in a team – but then come budget limitations…

User Experience (UX) is usually one of the first things that customers (and very often Project Managers) want to make savings on. While in some projects it does indeed make sense to invest more in areas other than User Experience, UX Specialist’s involvement is quite often crucial for the project success.

As PMs, we are focused on the practical – delivery side of a project. We are not interested in gold plating – we want to deliver a desired solution within the specified time and budget.

In which situations can a UX Specialist help us achieve that goal? When should we really fight for having a UX Specialist in the team?

When User Interface plays a key role in a project

‘It just needs to look good’ says the client.

In some projects, User Interface plays a crucial role, e.g. retail applications aimed at our customers’ clients. They are supposed to be user-friendly and attractive as not to discourage clients from using them. The profitability of our customer’s business is in that case highly dependent on the application’s usability.

When there are high expectations towards the visual side of an application, it is very important to receive frequent feedback and to immediately validate the solution. In such a case, it makes sense to involve a UX Specialist throughout the whole project – not only in its initial stage. It is much more cost-effective if the development is driven by a regularly updated visual prototype prepared by a UX Specialist. Changes resulting from the feedback received during a sprint demo session are much more costly, let alone the customer’s or team’s frustration.

When a Product Owner is non-technical

PM: ‘Would you like to have that feature’?

PO: What is a ‘feature’?

PM: This thing… said the PM pointing at the screen.

PO: Oh yes, I would like to have it…

That’s a real-life conversation between a Project Manager and a Product Owner. Not always do Product Owners or stakeholders have a technical background. In such a case, the team may find it challenging to describe a solution. Even if both sides agree, there is no guarantee that they are on the same page.  By visualizing the system using mock-ups and allowing the customer to test it, communication with a PO will be made much easier.  In fact, we will save time by avoiding unnecessary discussions and we will get straight to the point.

When the requirements are constantly changing

A UX Specialist can help us control the ever-changing requirements. In case there are many stakeholders willing to influence the scope, or if a Product Owner tends to change the requirements too often, a UX Specialist can play a significant role in helping to control it.

Having done the research, a UX Specialist is familiar with the user’s perspective. When the backlog is built with a user-centric approach, it is less prone to changes. Usually, the argument ‘The research has shown that users need this functionality to be that way’ is very convincing to the Product Owners.

When a project is preceded by a discovery phase

In the discovery phase of the project we can benefit from UX Specialist’s involvement most. That phase is extremally important as it is very often ‘to be or not to be’ of the project. Usually, we do not have much time for a discovery phase – it is therefore very important to make the most of our time.

A UX Specialist can support this phase with workshops facilitation and many other useful techniques. A Customer Journey Map can be used to understand customer behaviors and needs as well as to identify their pain points. A ‘Business Model Canvas’ – an exercise in which we invested 1h – saved the discovery phase in one of my projects. We found out that business assumptions based on which we initially planned to build the architecture of the system were wrong. Since it was discovered in the very early stage, we could still change it and meet the deadline.

When the client wants to introduce an innovative solution

When there is no clear vision of the product, or if the customer is not certain whether their idea makes sense to their end users. Before even building the Proof of Concept (PoC), we should involve a UX Specialist. He/she will conduct research in order to understand the user needs and create an application prototype to validate and test the innovative idea before a single line of code is written.

It will help our customer minimize the amount of money spent on the initial phase of the project and will allow them to invest more in the delivery phase.

Conclusion

In one of my previous projects, I initially hesitated if involving a UX Specialist in a project was a good idea as the cost was quite high. In the end, I’ve learned that apart from having a highly skilled team, it was a key to the project’s success.

The UX Specialist facilitated the workshops during the discovery phase and brought the end user perspective when discussing potential solutions. She also created a visual prototype of the application, that in fact sold the project and made the implementation progress faster.

Let’s not be afraid of dedicating a part of the project budget to the User Experience aspect when it is necessary. It will increase the chances of the project success and simply make our – PMs’ – job a bit easier.

Urszula Adamska
See all Urszula's posts

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