How much UX is too much?

I'm a Product Manager, but looking for a UXers perspective on this.

I've recently (<6 months) brought onboard a UX Lead to my team. I’m starting to get to a point where I feel that there’s an excessive amount of UX process and UX-related activities being introduced to the way we work. And I'm starting to question if all of the UX processes are worth the time and budget, and really going to be making a positive impact to the user.

We do have KPIs set, but sometimes product changes take a long time to impact KPIs, so it's hard to tell if our process is really making an impact to users.

Before the UX Lead Joined

There was a Researcher + 2x Designers in the team, and I would fill the role of team lead for them. About 10 years ago I used to call myself a UX practitioner and "graphic designer", so I felt comfortable talking about design and UX, and guiding the team.

My process to was to brief the team by going through the problem and goals of the thing we’re working on. Plus I’d also go through what my own (or stakeholder’s) ideas were for potential solutions.

I’d sometimes also make wireframes myself and share these with the designers to help articulate what I thought would be a suitable solution.
The designers would then work on design solutions, and the research would collect additional user data or do research we needed.

  • We’d then pick specific actives as and when needed, for example
  • We’d run surveys when we felt we lacked insights from the user
  • We’d do brainstorming workshops when we were stuck for ideas
  • We’d create new/update user personas when we felt we needed to understand our user’s needs, behaviours and goals
  • We'd make workflows when we we're working on a particularly large area of the product

I felt we we're doing "just enough UX" and "the right research at the right time"
For most projects, the entire UX and design process could be completed in 2 weeks, expect when we did usability testing which would usually take a little longer.

After the UX Lead has Joined

Now the average of 2 weeks is starting to become 8 weeks and a lot more additional UX activities are being introduced as “mandatory steps” otherwise:

  • “We just don’t know if we’re solving the right thing”
  • “We’re just working on hunches or your own guesses”
  • “We don’t have evidence of how X will impact the user experience”
  • “Designers will not be happy or creative if we skip this step”
  • “If we don’t do this step we will be imposing a mental constraint into the team’s minds”
  • and generally I get told I'm undermining the UX Lead's role and going out of my scope as Product Manager

The UX Lead is adamant that I remain only in the “problem space”, and do not cross over into the “solution space”. As the Product Manager I have a lot of knowledge about the product, it's industry, the market we're in and it's users. And a lot of the problems we’re solving have “common sense” solutions, or obvious and sensible solutions, which I don’t think need a large amount of detailed UX work to come to a satisfactory solution. There are safe risks to take for a lot of things.

I also enjoy working on the solution for the product of which I’m the Product Manager of. I personally feel invested in the product and want to be part of the solution. There’s demos and “share results to stakeholder sessions”, but if I do not accept the proposed solution then its considered a “change request” and we have to go back to step one. Or we get stuck in a debate where I'm asked to "show my own research and data to backup my feedback". Which would be time consuming to go and collect, plus I have a lot of the knowledge inside my head, without it being ready in a formate to present and defend.

So my only other option is to accept the solution that’s given to me because the UX process has been followed and we don’t know for sure if its right or wrong until the developers build it and its in the hands of the users.

Anyway, this post is getting a bit long now, but I hope this paints a picture of my situation. Happy to answer any specific questions.

  1. 2

    I can tell you my developers reaction to your post. I work at mega scale currently with multiple product teams, ux, design, developers. All working in squads and cross functional teams.

    It sounds like the UX person you're working with has that sort of mentality. Very high end, very process driven. Provided that you're working within a larger - say 4-10 development teams -organization, this ux person is likely doing exactly what they should be doing.

    In my experience, the vast majority of product owners are deeply unfamiliar with providing solid foundation for thier choices. The trade-offs they make aren't documented well. PMs have a strong bias towards getting things done quickly, not documenting, planning and organizing work. Generally, they're poor communicators who think short term. Most of the developers I've worked with feel similarly about PMs.

    Based on your bullets and my experience, and please keep in mind that all I have to go on is reading your post I could easily be wrong, you're work needs to improve and your communication needs to step way up. Engineering roles are expected to deliver, robust, testable, tested, secure, maintainable applications. Your product and story requirements should meet that level.

    If that's the case, that's actually great news. You can step up your game and deliver a better product. If not, please take no offense. I am only reacting to your post and my experience.

    Best of luck!

  2. 2

    Sounds like your UX Lead isn't the right fit. Either lack of experience and thus dogmatic in what the person was "taught" or comes from Enterprise where everything is driven by process and hasn't worked in a startup environment.

    I've always put designers in 2 categories... one that is UX driven and they only think in terms of the experience, processes, and methodology — or one that is product driven and they think about what aligns business value with user problems in the form of opportunities and added delighters to the experience with the given data and resources / constraints.

    True "product designers" and product design leaders are worth their weight in gold.. especially in a startup. They are pragmatic about when research is needed, what is the right type of research, and can make a judgement call if the resolution of data and insights is just enough to mitigate enough risk to go ahead and execute to go to market fast. They can prioritize what are simple optimizations that we can go ahead and push live (even if not perfect) because revealing "truths" faster is better than months testing a bunch of hypotheses in a lab VS product changes that warrant process and research because the impact of getting those type of changes wrong can be catastrophic or opportunities too big to not get right the first time.

    Any design that tells product or engineering to "stay in their lane" is also a sign of a inexperienced designer that is dogmatic in process. Designers should always be the advocates of bringing engineering and business stakeholders to the table early and often.

    When I hire product designers, especially senior level product designers, I often look for a 40-60% overlap with their peers in product.

  3. 1

    How do you see your role as Product Manager? It's surprising to me the UX lead wants you to focus on the "problem space". I always saw product management as translating problems into products, and keeping things on track (but I have no idea :) ). How can you do that if UX is not your concern?

    It kind of sounds like you're unhappy with the new processes, and having less responsibility?

  4. 1

    A lot of PM work is guesswork and gutwork when no data is available - experience sometimes beats everything else!

  5. 1

    We are trying to hire our first ux designer. But we are finding the process of veting them difficult

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