Are you committed to creating a great user experience?
Do you believe in data-driven product development?
Are you motivated to create products that your customers love?
I’m guessing most of you answered yes to all three of those questions.
Let me ask you a different set of questions.
How many engineers does your company have?
What about product managers?
User experience designers and user researchers?
How about data analysts?
At most companies, there aren’t enough product managers, user experience designers, user researchers, or data analysts to go around.
Engineering to product management ratios are often 20 to 1.
Product managers support several teams across different platforms, regions, or product lines.
User experience designer and user researcher ratios are often much worse.
Data analysts tend to be even more scarce.
Engineering teams have to share resources.
This leads to technology-first solutions that underperform because they aren’t useful or usable.
What does this say about our values?
If we value user experiences design, why are our UX teams under-resourced? – Tweet This
If we value products that customers love, why don’t we hire more product managers so they can spend more time with our customers?
If we value data-driven product decisions, why don’t we hire more data analysts?
The Ideal Product Development Team
My dream product team includes 3-5 engineers, 1 product manager, 1 user experience designer, 1 visual designer, 1 user researcher, and 1 data analyst.
That’s 8-10 people which is a little large.
The ideal product team values product discovery, user experience design, research, and data analysis as much as it values engineering. – Tweet This
It can vary somewhat from product to product. But it’s a good starting point.
If the product doesn’t involve a traditional user interface (say a search crawler or an API), then I can do without a user experience designer or a visual designer.
However, I still want a product manager, a user researcher, and a data analyst.
Or if you have a well-designed visual style guide that your team knows how to implement, you might be able to get away with a part-time visual designer.
But treat each of these decisions like the shortcuts that they are.
It’s About Roles Not Job Titles
A senior person might play more than one role.
A designer might be able to cover user experience and visual design.
A product manager might be able to do user research.
This helps bring down the headcount.
But you need to be smart about how and when you double up roles.
First, I wouldn’t want someone with fewer than 8-10 years of experience playing multiple roles.
I’ve never been of the mindset that you need to do your time or work your way up. But I developed this rule of thumb from experience.
Eight to ten years allows you to develop the depth needed in each role and the maturity to know how and when to context-shift between the two.
Before that, most people compromise one or the other. I know I did. You don’t want that.
Second, you have to be honest about how much of each type of work your product requires.
If you are entering a new market with a brand new product, you want a full-time, dedicated user researcher. Even if your product manager has excellent user research skills.
There is simply too much work for one person to do.
If you are an early-stage startup pre-product launch, an engineer can play the role of data analyst as there won’t be much data in the beginning.
Be strategic about where you double up roles. Match the investment to what the task requires. – Tweet This
A Final Word
I’m sure this reads like I’m an unreasonable idealist. And maybe I am.
But take a minute and consider that it might read that way because product management and user experience are nascent fields.
We’ve underinvested in both for decades.
Our norm is to have engineering-heavy companies.
But just because we’ve always done it that way, doesn’t mean it’s the best way to do it.
It’s easy to say we are user-centered and data-driven. Take a minute and look around.
What does the makeup of your product team say about what your company values? – Tweet This
Do you agree that we should move toward more balanced product development teams?
Help spread the word. Email this article to someone who needs to read it. Tweet it. Share it on Facebook or Linkedin.