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There are many traits in a UXer that everybody talks about—they are typically creative, curious, collaborative, empathetic, analytical, and fast learners.

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UXers know human-centered design very well, and it is not difficult to understand why “people-centered” is the foundation of it all.

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However, “humans” or “people” do not only refer to our users. The fact is that User Experience is a people business at the core. As UXers in the UX world, we not only have to bear users’ needs in mind, but also deal with many other people: stakeholders, product managers, product owners, teammates, engineers, and everybody else. Establishing and maintaining good relationships is one of the most important aspects that defines the success of your products. Since UXers are facing different audiences daily, there are many relationships within the UX realm; but in this post, we will focus on the relationship between product owners and user researchers.

Combing through some types of partners that we work with as user researchers, the one partner that really defines the make-it-or-break-it factor is the product owner. That’s why I say that product owners and researchers really should be BFFs; they should be there for each other, learn from each other, challenge each other, and share with each other.

In brief, product owners and user researchers should work ever so closely and establish a solid relationship throughout a product cycle.

You may wonder exactly why product owners and researchers should be BFFs.

Creating products that users would love to use is the goal for both product owners and user researchers.

Product owners are, admittedly, more business-oriented. They are responsible for the bigger picture: what the business goals are, what the roadmap may look like, what the priorities are, when to involve different teams and personnel, and overseeing the entire product cycle; and in some cases, determining how the product performs iteration after iteration. Sounds like a lot, right? But their success is eventually based on whether users love to use the products that they delivered.

UX researchers are, on the other hand, one of many important links to the entire UX process. They partner with different teams—product, design, development, marketing—to understand business needs, explore opportunities, and synthesize with users to help drive product and design decisions. UX researchers’ work supports business objectives—and, almost identical to product owners—their success is eventually based on whether users love to use the products that they help build.

UX researchers help product owners discover users’ behaviors, needs, and goals; product owners help UX researchers fill in knowledge gaps and get deeper insights.

Product owners and UX researchers can both bring reliable insights to the table that can eventually guide product decisions. They are like two pieces of a jigsaw that complete each other.

UX researchers work on a range of projects. More often than not, they’re not experts in those fields their projects are related to. If you are an in-house researcher, the range of your projects may be the same, but you may still not have a very deep understanding of them, especially during the early stages of a product cycle. If you are a researcher at a design agency, every single one of your projects may be in a different industry. UX researchers are, without a doubt, super-fast learners; they can quickly gauge the scope of work and the objectives of it all. However, your life will be much easier if you work more closely with your product owners. Treat your product owners as your personal Google and Wikipedia and ask them all the questions you have to better understand the project and business objectives, because your product owners are the best assets to help you fill in your knowledge gaps. Product owners’ knowledge will ultimately make researchers’ lives easier when they are decoding data and generating test reports that convey much deeper insights.

Product owners should also utilize UX researchers’ talents and resources to the fullest. Product owners can get help on many things from UX researchers—like users’ behaviors, needs, and pain points. In addition, most experienced UX researchers don’t only come with research tools and methodologies—they bring strategies, as well. They can help provide insights on what matters the most during any stage of a product cycle, come up with generative research ideas to define your objectives, help discover goals by understanding users, and act as a team facilitator. So, be aware, product owners: your researchers are not only your allies, but also your strategists—bring them along on your product journey, and they will ensure a much easier and smoother process.

When to start calling each other BFFs and working together? The short answer: the earlier UX researchers and product owners start collaborating during a product cycle, the higher the chances are to create better products.

The design process is hardly ever a linear process.

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If you are a product owner, you may now wonder exactly when—and with what—UX researchers can help you. In short, UX researchers can help with many things across all stages of a product cycle.

  • Researchers can help understand and uncover all the possibilities and ideas with generative research methods, and answer what the problem is to be solved. For example, stakeholder interviews are important for the team to get project-related information and bring out stakeholder reactions and suggestions; user interviews can be done to develop a deeper understanding of users to find opportunities for solutions and innovation.
  • Researchers can help articulate the problem you are trying to solve. Without clearly defining the problem, you will stumble in the dark and come up with solutions that may not work. The most important thing that researchers are focused on during the early stages of a product cycle is to pinpoint who the users are, what their needs are, and the insights that come from observations made.
  • Researchers can help evaluate whether the directions align with project goals and objectives, as well as whether the design caters to user needs and addresses pain points. Design without validation will not be successful. Your researcher can quickly put rough concepts in front of users to test them out. You may already have everything designed; test it out and iterate with new insights.

This all sounds great, you may think: they all sound like they could take a long time, or your timeline just doesn’t allow all this research. However, research doesn’t have to be so serious and rigid; it can be “quick and dirty”—UX researchers can get user insights fast and on a budget. This is the one thing that I have to emphasize here: getting insights never has to be time-consuming and costly. For example, quick user interviews can be done on a very tight timeline, recruiting users isn’t necessarily expensive, and there are many online platforms that can accommodate your budget.

Product owners and researchers, I hope you find yourselves a new UX BFF. Remember to always be there for each other, ask all the questions you have, and make working closely with each other a habit.

We can all roadmap as a team, align as a team, research as a team, and succeed as team.

Senior UX Researcher Benny Sun believes that User Experience thrives on being a “people business,” as we are dealing with different audiences every day.

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