The Functional Product Designer: It Makes Everything Click

Product usability is the new currency for differentiation. That makes the role of the functional product designer, a.k.a. business analyst, subject matter expert (SME) or agile product owner more critical than it has ever been. Yet many organizations still insist on combining it with the product manager role.  If you want high-value products with superior usability, here are three good reasons for making the functional product designer a separate role. 

Three Reasons the Functional Product Designer is a Must-Have 

Think of functional product designers as your surrogate users. They are process and workflow experts who understand what users do, why they do it and most importantly, how they do it.  They are the glue between product management and engineering that translate market needs into product solutions. Their knowledge of the user domain is the lynchpin to great product usability.

If your products have a high degree of user interaction, here are three reasons the functional product designer role should not be combined with the product manger role. No matter how large or small your organization, this role has to stand on its own.

1. Functional Product Designers Keep Product Managers Focused on the Market 

The product manager is the “problem finder” responsible for identifying what target customers are trying to accomplish and why, from a business  perspective and the market value of solving problems. The functional product designer is the “problem solver” that determines how those customer business needs become product solutions. Successful products require both roles because people who are good at “what & why” are not typically good at “how” and vice-versa, not to mention the time constraints required to fill both roles successfully. If you’re going to combine these roles, expect one or both of the following:

  • A product that has the right features with poor usability.
  • Great product usability for features the market doesn’t value.

2. Functional Product Designers Accelerate Product Development

There’s easy to use and there’s easy to build.  Rarely do the two go hand in hand. Functional product designers are the middlemen that produce detailed product/user requirements that make people’s job tasks easier with your products than without. They accelerate product development in two ways:

  • Their work allows engineers to utilize their technical ingenuity to the fullest with crystal clear definitions of user job tasks, goals for each, and the obstacles that make each of those job tasks challenging.
  • They improve product quality by making sure users can perform their job tasks with the product and get the desired outcomes and benefits.

For those who think the functional product designer role is unnecessary, remind them how you never take the time to do it right the first time, but you always take 10x the time to do it over, and over and over!

3. Functional Designers Improve the Quality of Product Rollouts.

A key objective of every product rollout is the self sufficiency of marketing, sales, client services and support teams.  A low self-sufficiency quotient translates into poor sales, lack of customer references and slower time to market for the next products because product management and engineering have to do everyone’s job but their own.

The functional product designer is critical in raising self sufficiency of the client services and support teams.  They possess the domain expertise and product knowledge required for a successful knowledge transfer at the end of each development cycle.  Product management then has the bandwidth to focus on improving self sufficiency across the sales and marketing teams while ushering the next set of product priorities through development.

In summary, the functional product designer is your ticket to product differentiation. They make the product development and delivery process click by giving product managers more time to focus on uncovering the next big market need while setting the engineers up for success with clear user needs.  Their combination of user domain and product expertise improves product usability, quality and self sufficiency across client services and technical support teams. If you want high-value products that sell and deliver measurable outcomes for customers, no other role has a bigger impact. The functional product designer is the lynchpin to making the product delivery process click.

If your product management team needs a better balance of problem-finders and problem-solvers, contact Proficientz to learn how our Product Portfolio Management Framework and B2B training programs help you structure a team that uncovers bigger problems and delivers higher-value solutions with usability that customers love.


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