Succeeding Together: How 3 UX Design Teams Collaborate with Product and Engineering

Design, product and engineering may have unique strengths, but they share a common goal.

Published on May. 26, 2023
Succeeding Together: How 3 UX Design Teams Collaborate with Product and Engineering
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Every exceptional user experience is the result of effective collaboration. 

UX designers, product managers and engineers rely on each other to bring their individual skill sets to the table each time they bring a product to market. Succeed or fail, they do so together. 

This interdependent relationship is often described using the metaphor of the three-legged stool: Only when all three legs are balanced and aligned can there be a strong and cohesive product development process. Keeping the stool from wobbling takes communication, understanding and a willingness to adapt as new issues arise and circumstances change. 

Without product managers’ planning and prioritization efforts and developers’ knowledge of technical requirements and feasibility, designs may never make it off the storyboard.

Every organization approaches collaboration differently, so Built In Chicago asked three UX design leaders to share their strategies for leveraging the collective expertise of product and engineering teams to create exceptional user experiences and drive successful product outcomes. 

All pointed to the need for regular cross-functional meetings, collaborative brainstorming and joint problem-solving, and emphasized the importance of creating comfortable spaces for everyone to express ideas, voice concerns and contribute to the collective success.

“Regardless of how you approach incorporating opportunities for collaboration, be intentional and involve all team members in the process that takes you from ideation to implementation,” said Jonathan Speh, associate director of product strategy and design at Productive Edge.

Read on for more insights from Speh, Adage Technologies and Grainger on developing and maintaining a sense of unity and shared purpose across design, product and engineering.

 

Four Adage Technologies workers in a meeting
ADAGE TECHNOLOGIES

 

Jacob Perry
Senior UI/UX Designer • Adage Technologies

Adage Technologies builds innovative and effective digital solutions to help clients enhance user experiences and achieve their business goals.

 

How do you collaborate with product and engineering on a daily basis? Why is that collaboration necessary?

Collaborating with project owners and developers is essential on any project, especially for larger clients. Many times, we have tight deadlines with conflicting priorities and a lot of requirements to keep track of. 

Before starting a new feature, I check in with the project owner to make sure I’m working in accordance with the needs of both the dev team and the client. The project owners (POs) at Adage in particular are fantastic at helping the design team keep track of iterations, prioritize deliverables and ensure all client requests are heard and accounted for. There is a lot to organize, but keeping in constant contact with the POs and scrum leaders makes everything easier.

 

How do you advance the needs of UX design while also respecting the priorities and considerations of product and engineering?

For the most part, I don't think the needs of UX and the needs of POs and development have to conflict. Often as a designer, there is not just one road or set of steps I need to take to reach the final product. There may be many features I hope to design, not all of which are possible or realistic within a set budget and timeline, but I collaborate with POs and developers to ensure I am prioritizing the right features or designs. 

As a team, we make note of anything that needs to be deprioritized or moved to a second phase, ensuring we focus on UX and UI designs that benefit all members of the team, including developers in particular.

The easiest way to strengthen collaboration with POs and developers is to be clear and vocal about what you need as a designer.”

 

What tips would you share with fellow UX design leaders to strengthen their collaborative relationship with product and engineering teams? 

The easiest way to strengthen collaboration with POs and developers is to be clear and vocal about what you need as a designer. Working as closely as we all do, it is not always obvious who is responsible for what parts of the process. Being open and honest about the help you need ensures everyone has the tools necessary for success. 

Sometimes when responsibilities are unclear, it can be easy to sit and wait for someone higher up than you to resolve them and give direction. I encourage any designer to work closely with the PO and developers during all steps of the process, from sprint planning and story-writing to taking notes on feedback. Being an active participant from the beginning of any project helps ensure nothing falls through the cracks.

 

 

Reena Patel
User Experience Leader • Grainger

Grainger supplies maintenance, repair and operating products and services to over 4.5 million businesses worldwide.

 

How do you collaborate with product and engineering on a daily basis? Why is that collaboration necessary?

At Grainger, user experience is embedded within product teams; together with product management and engineering, we are defining, designing and developing solutions. We are in regular contact and collaborate through Slack, in syncs where we share designs and in recurring meetings like story refinement. This way of working has proven successful for us. 

Collaboration helps us ensure we deliver solutions that meet user and business needs and helps drive engagement and create a sense of pride in teams.

 

How do you advance the needs of UX design while also respecting the priorities and considerations of product and engineering?

UX, product and engineering are all marching towards the same goal, which is starting with the customer. In the UX role, we consistently balance what is best for users, what makes sense for the business and what is technically feasible. 

When we communicate our design rationale, we advance what is important to us as designers because we take what’s practical into consideration, leading to more collaboration across the team. We are actively participating, building trust and respect across functions. Advancing user experience really means advancing what it means for a product to be successful. Our needs should be the needs of users and customers.
 

Successful collaboration requires clarity and alignment on roles, accountabilities and expectations.

 

What tips would you share with fellow UX design leaders to strengthen their collaborative relationship with product and engineering teams?

Successful collaboration requires clarity and alignment on roles, accountabilities and expectations that UX, product and engineering have of each other. When you have these in place, you can more easily solve the hard stuff together, which in turn helps you build stronger relationships. 

It’s important to lead by example and prioritize these relationships. Your teams will experience the value of the relationships you have built with product and engineering, and it will encourage them to do the same.

 

 

Jonathan Speh
Associate Director of Product Strategy and Design • Productive Edge

Productive Edge is a digital transformation consultancy with clients in healthcare, insurance and beyond. 

 

How do you collaborate with product and engineering on a daily basis? Why is that collaboration necessary?

Communication is the biggest driver for successful collaboration. As a team, creating plenty of opportunities for open communication is essential. We rely on daily stand-ups and ideation sessions to review requirements, designs and business goals. These daily rituals also serve as sanity checks; they allow us to explore feature requirements and give the entire team a forum to collaborate, provide feedback, ask questions and think of ways to improve the work.

The more time you spend collaborating, the more comfortable the team becomes with each other. It’s important to think about the structure of the activities and rituals team members are participating in each day. There are times for shorter check-ins with fewer team members and longer sessions that need to be planned and incorporated into a team's daily activities. 
 

You can build consensus across disciplines by clearly understanding the user journey and effectively communicating that journey.

 

How do you advance the needs of UX design while also respecting the priorities and considerations of product and engineering?

The question of advancing the needs of UX speaks to a time when UX was still pushing for a seat at the table. Product and design are functions at the highest levels of many organizations today, which means there is less need for advancing the needs of any single discipline. 

Many teams and organizations may be less mature in how they think about the role of UX and product design. Still, the struggle is often about how to center the team’s effort around delivering a solution that provides the most value for the end user with the least friction. While UX design focuses more on understanding and defining an experience that solves a particular user need, all disciplines must clearly understand the broader user journey. 

You can build consensus across disciplines by clearly understanding the user journey and effectively communicating that journey. Consensus allows teams to operate with a unified vision that will enable them to more efficiently prioritize tasks and negotiate priorities based on the user's needs and where the user is in their journey.

 

What positive impacts do you see your strong collaborative relationship with product and engineering having on your work?

Our team recently released a minimum viable product application for a healthcare client. We were on a tight timeline, so we focused on delivering core functionality that allowed people to begin using the product. Following our first release, we had an extensive backlog of features that would be prioritized for future releases. However, before considering what to prioritize for our next release, we needed to revisit the ideas and requirements discussed before our first release. 

Regardless of how well you define project goals, they need to be reviewed against the evolution of the product, new requirements and user feedback. We did a design spike during our sprint, bringing product owners, designers and engineers together for whiteboarding sessions to review product strategy and goals. Our sessions helped us align around the problems we were trying to solve, and we produced a few prototypes and storyboards. 

By taking an iterative approach to product design, we balance early requirements with feedback and user validation while reinforcing the need to be focused on the user. We celebrate collaboration and lean into cross-disciplinary thinking to ensure that we are aligned as a team.

 

Responses have been edited for length and clarity. Images via listed companies and Shutterstock.

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