Selling design isn’t an easy task. Convincing colleagues and decision-makers to buy design isn’t either. Yet any company that wants to lead the way in terms of the user experience (UX) it offers absolutely has to make the effort.
The nature of UX design makes this proposition a little more complex than it sounds. It is rarely the case that a single visionary executive – think Steve Jobs – is able to get the entire team on board with a set of design principles and spend the time and energy necessary to implement them.
More often, organizations implement UX design services and products from the bottom-up. This means that UX designers need to win over every single department, one-by-one. For both buyers and sellers, choosing the right interdepartmental liaison can mean the difference between UX design implementation success and failure.
Program Manager: The Liaison You Need
In most cases, the individual responsible for acquiring UX design on the company’s behalf isn’t the same person best-suited to implement it. The latter is almost always the program manager.
This is not to be confused with the project manager, which is a different role entirely.
Whereas project managers oversee the implementation of specific, one-time groups of processes, program managers oversee the long-term achievement of strategic goals. Projects are essentially groups of processes, while programs are groups of projects.
This small difference is of major importance for UX design professionals because the UX inherently involves strategic goals. The way people use products and services and the outcomes they achieve form the foundation of every organization’s overall business strategy.
Program managers are uniquely empowered to push strategic design goals inside a typical company hierarchy. Without the support of a visionary executive, the program manager is your best bet for acting as a liaison between the UX designer and the rest of the team.
Even if you are lucky enough to have executive support at the top of the organizational structure, much of the legwork will still be delegated to the program manager level. UX designers and their advocates throughout the organization are best-advised to get the program manager on board first and foremost.
Something else to keep in mind – even though you might have the best program manager possible on your team, that person can be met with much pushback from various departments, especially when they get defensive about their contribution to the product. Choosing to outsource your program manager for such a situation is an excellent solution, as it will provide someone who is unbiased and can paint a bigger picture.
Role of the Program Manager as UX Design Advocate
A program manager is not unlike an architectural draftsperson. Neither architects nor their draftspeople are responsible for physically installing plumbing or drywall, yet they are accountable for every design element of the building in question.
If the executive board can be thought of as the lead architect of a business’s operations, the program manager is responsible for drafting the blueprints. This puts them in direct contact with many different departments within the organization and gives them oversight over a broad range of user touch points.
These user touch points represent the best opportunity to implement UX design principles, products, and solutions. They are tacitly connected to individual projects – like the layout of a bathroom or a kitchen – which present unique, circumstance-specific challenges to the UX.
In contrast, business executives and lead architects are less likely to bog themselves down with these kinds of details. They implicitly entrust their draftspeople and program managers with making UX decisions at the functional level. But this isn’t the only reason why program managers make such excellent liaisons for UX designers.
Their job also includes keeping multiple departments on track towards meeting business goals. UX designers often find that while one department is completely sold on the merit of their design principles, another may need convincing or a better explanation.
In most business scenarios, the responsibility for delivering the convincing argument or a comprehensive presentation for a new strategic objective falls on the program manager. This is the individual that department heads are going to ask for guidance towards meeting strategic goals, which makes them the perfect person to push UX design initiatives.
Focus on Collaborative Context
Program managers are able to keep track of every asset, update, and request over a large surface area within the organization they work for. UX designers who successfully sell their initiatives to these particular employees benefit from an empowering collaborative context.
If all design communication goes through the program manager, then individual design decisions and overarching design strategies are all helpfully located in the same thread, making them immediately available and easy to reference whenever needed. This approach takes much of the frustration and guesswork out of UX design implementation and streamlines designers’ work.