Note: This article has been adapted from its first iteration on fullsteamlabs.com, originally published July 29, 2022.
If you work in any kind of professional small team you likely have a need for each member of the team to wear many hats. Who wears which combination of hats is a significant aspect of effective collaboration.
I’ve found that in an agile small team environment, a combination of UX (User Experience) design and project management throughout an app or web development project is essential for a smooth launch and happy stakeholders.
From Intuitive to Intentional Project Management
I was a solo web and UX designer for many years, so when I started with working with a small team of developers I had to figure out how to adjust to the teamwork. The level of complexity of our projects grew, and we continued to craft and refine our processes of working together. At one point I was working on a website redesign, speaking to the stakeholder about end-to-end design and development. I explained that, after mockups, I’d be testing the development and sending her deliverables along the way, making sure the project stayed on track. She piped up and said, “Oh, so you’re not just a designer, you’re a project manager too!” I realized she was right—I’d been intuitively taking on the responsibilities of that role without being fully aware of it, because I was accustomed to just making sure everything got done. I realized that this was critical and valuable work, and that our team needed to approach the role more intentionally.
The Intersection of UX Design and Project Management
One of the most important responsibilities of a UX Designer is to bridge empathy gaps between stakeholders, developers, and end users. We do that job through:
- collaborative design tools and processes;
- working to understand stakeholder needs, context, and business logic;
- and welcoming multiple voices and perspectives to identify challenges and concerns, unearth valuable insights, and allow for a broad pool of creative input.
A Project Manager’s responsibilities typically include:
- client communications
- ensuring that goals, scope, and product domain are clearly defined
- planning sprints
- removing impediments to progress
- managing project backlog
- ensuring that deliverables are inline with client goals and expectations
As we got serious about project management, we adopted project management software to create and track all the steps of the project. Having worked deep in the details of user workflows and interactions during the design process, I could help create detailed tasks for the developers with relevant notes from their various sources, as well as answer the developers’ questions as they got into the work of building out features. I could follow discussions to help ensure that development decisions made along the way aligned with our bigger picture goals and didn’t conflict with other aspects of the project. I could streamline testing of app features through clear processes with client and testers, filtering through helpful and not helpful feedback from the testers, delivering the relevant test results in an efficient way for the developers, and following the feature updates to see that see that they were finished as expected.
Ultimately, our team was much better able to prevent incorrect assumptions, keep small but significant details from getting lost in the shuffle, and give the developers more time to focus on development.
Sharing the Project Management Load with Software Developers
It’s not always the job of a Project Manager to know everything about the development process, so I enlist developers to carry the load for details that are outside my wheelhouse. For example, developers help scope the technical deliverables and their complexity, and build out the complex details in the project management board with relevant notes .
I’ve found that shorter, focused, frequent meetings—sprint planning, feature planning, retrospectives, and other communications—keep us all on the same page and prevent knowledge silos.
This close working relationship with developers means I can be certain that what they are building is what users need and that, even if we end up changing course on a particular feature, we are still producing an end product that achieves our goals. This relationship is also extremely helpful in my client-facing communications—I work with the developers to translate tech-heavy concepts in a way that is relevant and meaningful to the client, keeping the conversation focused on the business goals and user experiences we planned in the beginning of the project, thereby avoiding scope creep and misaligned expectations.
art credit: Joshua Coleman on Unsplash
If you’re interested in a more in-depth look at how UX Design and Project Management come together in the early stage of a mobile app development project, you might like Case Study: A Mobile App Technical Design Workshop.