Photo by Oliur Rahman, courtesy of Unsplash

Which UX Skills should Product Owners and Product Managers have?

Published on 20th January 2015

Providing a great user experience is a must for many digital products, and user experience (UX) design has consequently become prominent in recent years. Does this mean that product owners and product managers should become UX experts? Who should design the UX and which UX skills should product owners and product managers have? Read on to find out my recommendations.

I often get asked how much product owners and product manager should know about user experience (UX) design and who should do the UX work on an agile team. To answer this question, we have to consider what you are responsible for as the product owner or the product manager: to ensure that your product creates the desired value for its customers and users and for the business. Your job is not to design a great user experience. Does this mean that product owners and product managers should not care about the user experience? Of course not!

Many digital products must provide a great user experience to achieve product success. Take for example Monument Valley, a beautifully designed computer game. If the user interaction, the graphics, the animations, and the music of the game were not right, then it would not be enjoyable to play it. As a consequence, not many people would make in-app purchases, and the product would not generate enough revenue for Ustwo, the company that develops the game. For some products, creating a great user experience is the main differentiator, the quality that sets it apart form the competition and that helps it become a success.

If the user experience design is important but if it’s not a core responsibility of the product owner or product manager, whose job is it? I prefer having one or more qualified user experience designers on the agile team, the cross-functional team that designs, builds, and tests the product. In a Scrum context, that’s the development team in the picture below.

UX Design and Scrum Team

As the picture above shows, I view it as the job of the development team to create a great product in the right way, a product with the right user experience and the right quality. Its members should collaborate to build the best possible product within the timeframe and the budget available.

As the product owner or product manager, you should know enough about the determining the right user experience and characterising it so that you can guide the team and effectively collaborate with its members. You should be able to figure out who the product is for, why people (would) buy and use it, and what the desired business benefits are. You should also be able to help describe the desired user experience, to validate it, and to enhance it, as the list of UX-related skills below shows.

Area Skills Techniques
User models You should be able to write realistic, helpful personas that contain a name, a picture, the relevant characteristics, and goals; determine the primary persona, the character who the product is mainly created for. Personas
User interaction You can describe the users’ end-to-end interactions with the product and the steps required to achieve a specific goal.
Functionality You are able to characterise the product’s functionality in form of stories including progressively decomposing bigger into smaller stories and writing acceptance criteria; you know how to write constraint stories to capture non-functional properties such as performance or interoperability.
Product backlog You address key UX risks early on and you use a backlog tool that allows you to effectively describe and test the desired user experience, for instance, my Product Canvas.
User research and product validation You are able to choose the right research or validation technique to learn about the desired use experience, to test UX assumptions, and to address UX risks; apply the method effectively.

The table above is not intended to be a complete or definitive list. It simply wants to help you understand which skills are likely to benefit you to create a product with a great user experience, and to help you spot the ones which you might be lacking. Don’t get hung up about the techniques stated. The point is not to use a specific method but to be able to do the necessary work effectively. If, for instance, personas don’t work well for you as you manage a technical product like a platform, then actors may be more helpful for you. Similarly, don’t rely on a single technique that you always use. Mix and match different ones instead, particularly for the user research and the product validation work.

Post a Comment or Ask a Question


  • Erik says:

    Hi Roman,

    Totally agree on the above. Addtional to “As the product owner or product manager, you should know enough about the determining the right user experience and characterising it so that you can guide the team and effectively collaborate with its members.” I think that it will also help in writing the acceptance criteria of user stories and in refinement sessions to help the team understand the story and acceptance criteria. What are your thoughts?


    • Roman Pichler Roman Pichler says:

      Thanks for sharing your feedback and question. I find that the best way to facilitate effective product backlog and user story work is to allow the development team to get to know the users and understand their needs. You might do this by asking team members to help you observe or interview users, or by jointly presenting product increments to the users. Hope this helps!

    • Roman Pichler Roman Pichler says:

      Hi Erik,

      Thanks for sharing your feedback and thoughts on acceptance criteria. I fully agree that user stories should have acceptance criteria. But I would suggest that you co-create stories with the dev team and jointly determine the acceptance criteria. For more information, please see my articles “10 Tips for Writing Good User Stories” and “Product Leadership in Scrum“.

      Hope this helps!

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