I thought becoming a manager meant I’d lose my skills as a UX researcher. Instead, it’s made me intentionally question my work in a way I’ve never been challenged to before. 

But just because my day-to-day work may have shifted, it didn’t mean that my skills and experience diminished. When thinking about the day-to-day research skills I might lose as a manager, I hadn’t considered the new understanding and perspective I would gain. Here are the two most impactful lessons I’ve learned in my first two months as a people manager that have helped me become a better researcher, all without speaking with a single research participant.

There is no better way to learn than to teach 

One of my first challenges as a manager has been to define our ways of working so that as a team we are all aligned on how we create quality, influential research. I recently had a Senior and an Associate Researcher join my team, and found they both asked great questions about how we decide what research projects to take on. The Associate UX Researchers saw their peers constantly making decisions “on the fly” of what work is important and acknowledging the tradeoffs of prioritizing one project over another. How could they be sure to make the right decisions when they start managing their own project load?

In classic UX fashion, my immediate response was “it depends.” But I challenged myself on that answer. Thinking back to my own work, I’ve had projects that I prioritized that sat gathering dust in the Google Drive, and I’ve had projects that delivered insights right as the team was ready to brainstorm and plan an entirely new initiative. Over time, I learned from these experiences to recognize the signs of the right project for the right time.

But for the most part, I didn’t have a clear process I could point to for how I prioritized research. Thinking back, I often had varying answers for why I took on one project over another. 

Sometimes it was because the work needed to be done quickly. Other times, it was because the work had a wider reach and would benefit a number of teams. This question from my new team member forced me to deepen my understanding of my process and turn it into something repeatable. I took some time to map out all the questions I ask myself when deciding on my research priorities and organized my thoughts into a framework.

I would start with the question “Have more than one potential research projects and trying to decide which to prioritize?” and then answer the following questions with a path for next steps on each:

  • Does each project provide valuable, new insights?
  • Does each project require a UX researcher?
  • Is one project more urgent?
  • Does one project better support a business priority?
  • Does one project have a larger scope of influence?

Looking at my draft framework helped me gain a wider understanding of my role as a researcher. I socialized the work with my UX research team and other peers across the company and realized the components I was missing or the contexts in which this framework didn’t apply. This question helped me create a standard process for our product group to follow, but it also taught me how to effectively prioritize research. As a manager, I’ve found that when I’m asked to explain or teach a concept, I learn much more than if I was simply applying that concept in my own work.

Managers get exposure to a wider range of work

As a manager, I’m absolutely spoiled by the amount of research work I see. I’m constantly meeting with my team and seeing their progress on a range of work.  In one week, I might attend a team member’s readout and learn all about how they applied the technology acceptance model to organize their findings. Then later that week, I’ll chat with another researcher who is whittling down an incredibly broad research prompt into something testable in a survey. I’ve even had the luxury of seeing a team member put together research training materials for someone they are mentoring, which meant I got to see how they break down a concept into something they can teach –  an impactful combination of my two findings in this post.

Through all this work, I’m learning how my team approaches research work and adding these examples to my own toolkit. As an Individual Contributor researcher, my focus was often on one or two projects I had on my plate. I didn’t always prioritize getting input from other researchers. Now, I find myself constantly learning from my team. I see their skills in writing survey questions or their thought-provoking questions about project scope. While I may not apply these ideas to my own work, as a manager I can connect them with someone else on the team who can.

As I’ve grown to appreciate how much we can learn as researchers from our peers, I’ve adapted my team’s working model to encourage this collaboration even more. As a team, we now hold feedback syncs as part of our regular operating system, constantly tag each other in planning artifacts for input, and are even planning paired research projects. 

Gaining new understanding as a Researcher

When I first entered the management path, I worried that I would miss running my own research too much. I love research, and it was hard to imagine what it would be like working with researchers and not getting to contribute to my own projects. But as I’ve stepped into the role, I’ve found I’m growing as a researcher in ways that I hadn’t on my own. Sure, I may be a little rusty on my moderating skills and I might be a little slower to put together an affinity map, but by coaching others on research craft and getting exposure to a wider range of research projects on a regular basis, I’ve challenged myself to become a better and more intentional researcher. 

If you're interested in joining the UX team as a Researcher at HubSpot, check out the job description and apply today!

Originally published May 17, 2022 12:37:27 PM, updated May 17 2022