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Resurrected Assassins And The Men Who Killed Them Teach Us Something About The Relationship Between UX And Product Management

And you thought office politics were tough in your organization.

In the anime series Gungrave, Brandon Heat — driven by the need for revenge — returns from the grave to destroy Harry MacDowell — Brandon’s former best friend, former employer, and murderer.

And you thought your office politics were tough.

< SPOILER WARNING >

We’re going to discuss key plot points of this animated series as we explore the “right” relationship between usability and product management. You have been warned!

< /SPOILER WARNING >

“The dead are notoriously unproductive.”

Gungrave opens 13 years after Brandon Heat is betrayed and murdered by his best friend Harry MacDowell. Reborn as the technologically-enhanced super assassin Beyond The Grave, he begins to exact revenge on Harry’s criminal syndicate.

The series then rewinds to Brandon and Harry’s younger days, when they were punks on the street trying to make a living. A job goes wrong. Friends are killed. Harry gets the chance to join a shadowy mafia organization called Millenion. Loyal to Harry, Brandon follows Harry’s lead and joins Millenion, too.

The two friends end up on different tracks, with Harry pursuing power in his quest for “true freedom” and Brandon becoming a mafia debt collector. Harry’s quest drives him to extreme paranoia and homicidal behavior, ultimately leading him to shoot Brandon point-blank in the face when Brandon refuses to join Harry’s insurrection against Millenion’s boss.

That’s when science, mafia zombies, and all kinds of guns enter the picture. Plus, Brandon and Harry say each other’s names approximately 1,500 times, Akira-style.

“We are all equal in the presence of death.”

After they join Millenion, Harry and Brandon essentially go their separate ways. Things happen to each of them. When they’re finally reunited, they both speak of allegiance to the Millenion family — but only one of them actually “gets” that concept.

In a healthy PM/UX relationship, neither team should work in a bubble. Both teams should work together, under a clear product definition, with the common goal of creating the best product they can.

Sometimes, Product and Usability jockey for position. Often, this stems from frustrated UX people dealing with Product people who think design and UX aren’t that hard.

Who should control the process and the relationship? Harry wanted to control everything, and murdered anyone who stood in his way.

Helpful tip: Murder does not lead to a better product.

Realistically speaking, we don’t need to bump anybody off — but we do need a clear delineation of responsibilities:

  • Product is responsible for delivering the final product to the market within the established guidelines and schedule.
  • Usability must build the best product experience they can within those conditions.
  • Product drives, but Usability will inform the product design and often help shape product strategy.

Rather than starting en media res like Gungrave, the product will be much better off if UX is brought into the project as early as possible, so the PM and UX teams can collaborate and iterate under the product definition made available to all at the very beginning of the project.

Does this sound like the right balance to you?

If not, how do you think Product Management and Usability should interact for maximum impact?

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Bonus Content

Watch the official trailer for Gungrave:



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