The other day I was looking through the Practical Service Design Slack community when a question from Caroline Cox-Orrell caught my eye.

She asked:

Does anyone have a model (or just examples from your own teams) about how service design and product mgmt/design might collaborate?

It’s a good question! When I’ve worked with service designers, we’ve always laughed at how similar our roles can be. I think this stems from product managers needing to be generalists – or multi-hyphenates – filling in gaps on a team when a specialist isn’t available. And because so many materials and frameworks for product management focus on the huge as-a-service sector, product managers will often be doing service thinking.

But how might service designers and product managers best collaborate?

Whenever I’ve worked with service designers we’ve established areas of responsibility together to make sure that we’re not overlapping too much and duplicating effort. It’s really important to do this, as a study showed that overlap negatively affects job satisfaction and could lead to poorer products and services.1

In essence I think the product manager is more responsible for managing the team when working with a service designer, yet the service designer definitely takes the lead on facilitating the team. The product manager can also deal with all the stakeholders, leaving the service designer with much-needed thinking time.

It’s helpful for product managers and service designers to have twice weekly catch-ups, talking about how the projects or tasks at hand are progressing, and to align on knowns and unknowns.

Remember that service designers are great at going deep and wide, so a product manager can best complement that skill by shaving scope and leading the strategic thinking. As always though, no two pairings will be alike, so alter the areas of responsibility based on people’s strengths and weaknesses.

That’s what worked for me in the past anyway. It’s best not to look at it as stepping on each other’s toes, more like dancing a foxtrot together.

Further reading