• So What is a UX Manager Now?

    Four years ago I strove to answer ‘Just What is a UX Manager?’ But times have changed and so has the role. So ahead of this year’s MX Conference, let’s talk about the role today.

    Yes, there’s plenty who have the title, but UX Manager isn’t always a discrete title or clear role. But it is still one of the most critical roles in businesses today. Why? Because having a customer is paramount to having a business, and the UX manager is the role where today’s everyday decisions about the fate of the customer and the business are made.

    What’s got customers most aggravated? Ask the UX Manager. Where is the business stubbornly rubbing against the grain of the customer? Ask the UX Manager. What will noticeably improve or worsen for the customer’s experience in the next week, month, or year? You know it: ask the UX Manager.

    These insights and responsibilities means the UX Manager is a role of actively remaking the interface between business and customer. They steadily shape the relationship between the two like a river shapes a valley. The UX Manager is where forces come together, harmony is either found or tradeoffs are made between customer and business, between current state and future, between strategy and tactics.

    jwisuxmn - 6

    So just who is a UX Manager?

    This sounds like a pivotal role and an insightful person you’d like to find, yes? But you may or may not be able to easily find the UX Managers in an organization. As I said, it’s often not a title as much as it is a mentality.

    You might say the UX Manager is the manager of a User Experience team. But that simple answer is complicated by the numerous ways that UX designers are integrated into their organization: sometimes embedded in a Agile developer team, sometimes led by project management, sometimes integrated into marketing, and yes, sometimes standing alone.

    But as software eats the world, as every business becomes more digital, and as more and more experiences truly become the products that customers buy, user experience is becoming the job of everyone in the organization and so you could say every manager, could in some way, be impacting the customer experience.

    That means that the org chart doesn’t matter as much as the responsibility and mindset do. You might not know a UX Manager by their title—maybe Design Director, Project Lead, VP of Customer Experience, or even Product Manager or Scrum Master—but you’ll know it by why they work, who they work with, and how they work to make experiences great.

    A UX Manager defines what good experience is

    They set the values of what a good experience is and what the values of their team are. And those values are rooted in a deep respect for the customers that the business serves. Did last week’s work meet the bar? Is the backlog of work to be done the right work? Are the partners in the work good ones? A UX Manager shapes the expectations and sets the bar for what the team and the business strive for and what simply can’t be tolerated, whether it’s explicit in the form of standards or implicit in how they behave, make decisions, and spend their time and resources.

    So, they set the bar so others can figure out how to reach it.

    They select the right level of zoom for good experience. Sometimes quality in the experience is all about honing the details and giving attention and love to what really matters. Sometimes quality is about the big ideas that will take the experience to the next level. The UX Manager can help a team find the right level of zoom from which great design can happen: the micro-interaction, screen, touchpoint, or journey.

    So, they size the opportunity so others can seize it.

    They establish what good experience will be, tomorrow and in the future. A good design sprint better solve a few of the most acute customer problems. But it also better move the experience towards the future. A UX Manager can create a compelling vision of where the experience must be in the future, plus define the path and pace from where the work is today.

    So, they set the destination so others can chart the way to it.

    People follow their lead on experience

    They are champions for the customer. They bring the perspective of the customer into the business, and they can do it at scale. Let’s step back to consider that in a pre-digital world, there was often a front line that sat in front of the customer every day, in the customer’s context, hearing about their needs and tailoring what the business offers to fit the customer’s situation, one by one. Today, the UX Manager is a front-line manager for thousands or millions of customers, and it’s their passion and responsibility—explicitly or self-assigned—to bring the needs and problems of that far-away customer into the decisions the business makes everyday. The UX Manager knows what success looks like for a customer and can infuse that into the business.

    So, they stoke the passion for the customer so others can spread it.

    They are a champion for their team. The UX Manager shapes opportunities for them to be great. They grow and evolve it, shaping the structure to meeting the opportunities and career growth of the people within it. They advocate for and escalate their team’s issues so that they can do their best work and thrive. The UX Manager generously thanks and recognizes the efforts of team members. They create a figurative and literal space for them to work with each other, work with others, try and fail, learn, grow, and be effective. After all, a happy UX team just might be a great predictor of future business success.

    So, they create the space so a strong culture can form by the team within it.

    They are a partner for the organization. They understand the strategy of the organization and evolve the experience strategy and capabilities to work in harmony with it. They advise, speak candidly, genuinely about what works and what won’t align to customer and business needs. They invest in forming productive relationships of common objectives and shared values. Their advocacy for focusing on the user experience matures the practice of UX within their team and across the organization.

    So, they own the expertise in experience, but not the entire experience.

    They shape how experiences are made

    They crave efficacy and impact. The UX Manager is obsessed with what works for the customer and how to prove it, not what’s trending on dribble. Measurement and feedback is treasured and learning is prized. They make tradeoffs and bets, because attempting to make every experience the best means none of the experiences will be.

    So, they help everyone value substance and strategy over style.

    They optimize for speed and scale. They care about Getting Sh-t Done (GSD) and the speed at which meaningful results can happen. They find where experiences can scale the fastest and where insights, ideas, and work can be best reused. They maximize design-time by reducing interference and interruptions.

    So, they get the most out of their team doing their best.

    They connect the right efforts. Organizations rarely focus on one thing at a time, and highly matrixed organizations hardly find the overlaps. The UX Manager sees the relationships and gaps that the customer would and connects the dots between efforts. These often have cumulative impact to the value of the experience and efficiencies in the work.

    So, they connect the organization by connecting the experience.

    What works best for the UX Manager? Beats me.

    The effective UX manager doesn’t practice a labor of love for succeeding for themselves or on their own. Instead, they naturally focus on others—the team, the user, the participants in the delivery of the experience, and the insatiable belief in the idea that a better experience is quite possible. At this year’s MX Conference we’ll be exploring how the role of the UX Manager is really not about the UX Manager. As we design not just interfaces and processes but work across fields to design systems, beliefs, and the organizations that make up great experiences, we need to talk about how we beats me.

    Special thanks to Kristin Skinner and Peter Merholz for sharing their numerous ideas and experiences for this post. Tickets for MX (March 29-30 in San Francisco) are on sale now, get yours before we sell out! 

    There are 4 thoughts on this idea

    1. Zef Fugaz

      Thank you Brandon! I’ve recently been trying to explain to prospective employers what I do for a job and you’ve summed it up beautifully. I don’t directly create the CX nor design interfaces. I ‘design’ the team and ecosystem that makes the magic happen. I’ve sometimes likened myself to a band manager – the person behind the scenes making sure the (UX) stars can shine, the audience is happy, and the band is turning a profit.

    2. Christian P. Rohrer

      Thank you, Brandon, for providing such provocative questions on the critical issues leaders in the UX space will need to grapple with, if we are to fulfill our potential to improve the user experiences of the people of the world. Your characterization of the UX Manager here sounds a lot like a super hero, because what they do is quite amazing, yet we haven’t yet offered up a way that mere mortals can do the same. One primary challenge I see is in the definition of what we’re all centrally focused on: the User Experience. If you consider the definitions offered up by industry leaders in the past, they include all-encompassing phrases like “all aspects” (Nielsen Norman, Alben, UX Matters) or “overall” (Shedroff, Goto) experience or perception, and they attempt to span all touch points a user has with a given brand. With these definitions in mind, the job of the UX Manager becomes infinitely harder, especially if they are, as you rightly suggest, to define what a good experience is and to shape what the experience should be. How will they do that, in an applied, corporate setting, where high-level, inspirational descriptions clash with more valuable and tangible currency, such as business metrics, big data and measurable results?

      My thought is that we have to greatly simplify what user experience is, how to determine if it is good or not, and how to improve it. This endeavor would not be designed for those of us steeped in UX, but rather for for our colleagues in business, product management, engineering and project management, who spend most of their time focused on business needs, engineering schedules and project status reports, and who tend to value the ability to measure progress and impact with numbers. That is not to say that I believe numbers are most helpful to us who do UX – qualitative insights and creative inspiration will always be our most important tools – but we have to find ways to translate our language and insights into something our counterparts can understand and get behind more easily. Asking them to understand and speak our language is like asking a monolingual Chinese speaker to blend seamlessly into, say French culture without the aid of translation or interpretation. It might sound cool to learn and speak French a little, but it won’t come naturally, and will only be useful for fraction of their lives.

      So unless UX Leaders are running companies, we need better ways to better translate and operationalize our work in terms that executives, product managers, engineering leaders and project managers can understand and make progress against. Even if the translation isn’t exactly correct, it will help us move in the right direction to do right by the customer.

    3. Nur Ahmad Furlong

      Isn’t this just another name for the Product Owner?

    4. Rob

      I believe there are two distinct roles a UX Manager may perform – 1. managing the experience of external users (ie the general public accessing their company’s websites) – where a good experience is necessary to increase footfall, drive sales etc. 2. managing the experience of internal users (ie fellow employees) who largely have no choice which applications and tools they use to carry out their day job, and where a good experience is more around improving the employees efficiency, accuracy and overall job satisfaction

    Add a Thought

    Slide to Submit

  • Close
    Team Profile