Terry Wang

Dynamics of the PM & Designer Partnership


I’ve worked at several large tech companies from China and the US. Many people asked me about how PM and Designer work together in local companies v.s. US companies.

The biggest difference is the dynamics of the partnership. PM and Designer are usually responsible for defining the why, what and how for the R&D team. It’s impossible to draw a clear line to divide the work between them. It’s not necessary. It’s even preferred to have some blurry area. PM and Designer can then figure out the best way for them, as long as they ensure high-quality output.

In US companies, PM focuses more on the why and what. (Amazon’s Working Backwards approach is a good example.) Designer focuses more on the what and how. This is ideal from Designer’s perspective.

In local companies, PM focuses more on the what and how. Designer focuses on the how. PM often includes wireframes in the product spec. It leaves very little room to Designers. And in reality, many Designers accept that and only work on the visual part. It turns into a vicious cycle. People rarely think of Design’s exploration role. Design’s value suffers.

There are many reasons. To name one, pursuing speed forces teams to emphasize execution.

The question is how to break this cycle. Designers need to show their willingness and capability to think big and deep. Use every chance to improve the dynamics between oneself and PM.

Start changing the macro environment by changing the partner’s bias first.