The power of one: Success strategies for UX research teams of one

Jack Holmes
February 29, 2024
The power of one: Success strategies for UX research teams of one

Your first UX research team-of-one role can be daunting, especially if your previous company had mature research leadership and operations. The idea that all of this now sits at your door is equal parts terrifying and exciting.

It’s a common myth that UXR teams of one are exclusive to startups and small companies. My first team-of-one role was actually at a much larger company than the one I was leaving, which had an established research practice. 

I went from being a cog in the research machine, to being the entire research machine.

As a career step, being a team of one is a rite of passage. It’s when you hang up your armbands and dive head-first into the deep end of UX research. But I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it as a first job. Your opportunities to learn from other researchers are severely limited, and it’s helpful to have experienced a few different ways of approaching research to know where you can be flexible and what you shouldn’t compromise on. 

With this in mind and a little help from some seasoned UXR pros from across the globe, here are three practical tips to set yourself up for success as a UXR team of one.

Hit the ground running with tactical insights

When starting as a team of one, it can be tempting to begin with a lot of strategic work to set yourself up for the future. Examples include extensive literature reviews of previous research to build an understanding of existing knowledge and initiating research operations processes around tooling, recruitment, and prioritisation. 

The list of things you could do is endless, but ask yourself: How does this work deliver tangible value right now? 

When starting as a team of one, you’re most likely also the first researcher the organisation has ever had. It’s important to be visible and demonstrate the value of research. That’s difficult to do if you’re deep in a literature review or UXR operations hole.

Be visible, meet people, and chat about what they’re working on. Learn about what questions they have and start identifying quick, small pieces of research you can do to add value. One of the easiest ways to do this is by listening to team conversations. Whenever a question or debate pops up, just chime in with, “Should I go ask a few users? We could get an answer to this by next week.” I’m usually met with surprise when I do this: “Can we actually do that?” “Yes, that’s what I’m here for.”

It’s so much more powerful than writing a presentation about UX research and preaching about the value you can add. Don’t get me wrong, there is a place for that, but starting with suggesting little bits of research and solving short-term problems can be much more effective as an introduction.


Your quick wins must be just that — quick. It’s tempting to get lost in orchestrating the most rigorous research study you can think of, especially when you're new to a company. Of course, your work should be reliable, and if there are limitations to your methodology, you should be sharing these. Focus on getting answers fast and, where possible, combine research requests.

Find efficiency hacks to maximise your time

Your time and energy are finite. Finding efficiencies in how you get your work done is critical to delivering value and, just as importantly, not burning yourself out.

Finding these efficiencies is a fine line to tread. Each researcher, organisation, culture, and situation will be different, and so will be where you choose your efficiencies. It will likely be a trial-and-error process to establish what works best for you.

A few efficiency hacks to help get more research done

Find UXR advocates & empower them

Look out for UXR advocates and empower them to support you. These people come in all roles, but most often will be designers, product people, writers, and anyone else who generally has an interest in the people that use the product you're working on. 

You’ll spot them because they’ll ask research questions; maybe they’ve even supported or conducted research before. If so, fantastic, encourage them to continue. Just because there’s now a dedicated researcher doesn’t mean you’re the only person allowed to do research. Make sure people know this!

Consider setting up templates or using a tool with ready-made templates for people to use. If your product managers want to better understand customer satisfaction, encourage them to set up and run a survey. With the proper tooling, you can empower people to gather their own insights. This can also empower you as a researcher to focus on the more significant problem areas.

Pro tip: Great Question has a library of 40+ free UX research templates you can use for running surveys, interviews, and tests with customers.

Build (or use) participant panels 

Your research results will only ever be as reliable as your research participants. Recruitment is not an area you should be cutting corners on; however, there are ways to reduce the pain and hassle of managing recruitment yourself.

External research panels can be an excellent resource for quickly gaining access to millions of people who actually want to participate in research. They allow you to zero in on your target audience with a variety of recruitment criteria, like industry, job title, and experience level for B2B participants, and age, location, income, and marital status for B2C consumers. This can make them a fabulous time and energy saver.

Pro tip: Whether you’re looking to recruit from an external panel of verified B2B and B2C research participants, or build your own research panel with existing customers, Great Question makes it easy to find the right people to talk to for every study. Learn more here and get started for free.

Building your own participant panel may be worth the time and effort if your recruitment criteria are more niche. In these scenarios, you often have to get creative with finding people, but once you do find them, try to convince them to join your research panel rather than just participating in a single research project. In the future, you can contact them again for follow-up studies. Make sure you don’t re-use the same participants too often though.

At the same time, don't write off your existing customers and users for research. After all, they're the ones who have already bought and used your product, so there's a good chance they have some ideas on how it could be better. They have a lot of domain knowledge, but likely some biases, too. You can still generate valuable insights if you manage these limitations.


Automate everything you trust to be automated

Be careful with automation and artificial intelligence. These tools can often be a double-edged sword. It’s easy and tempting to join the “automate everything” brigade without considering the consequences or time it takes to do this.

On one hand, what might look like a time-saving hack could end up being a colossal waste of time. Or it could be a huge efficiency win, and you’ll never look back; the only way to find out is to experiment. Unfortunately, experimentation itself takes time.

It feels like there’s an AI solution to everything we do as researchers, and if I comment too much about that today, this article will be out of date by tomorrow. So, automate all the things you trust to be automated. For everything else, if you can experiment, then go for it. But if you don’t have that luxury, tried-and-tested methods will always be waiting.

As a UXR team of one, research operations is a great place to start your experimentation journey with automation. Start small and work up. Little things like automating thank you emails to participants, managing consent forms, and booking session slots are all easy to start handing over to automation. 

You can also start experimenting with generative AI to help develop research objectives and question sets, research new industries, or generate ideas for workshop activities. As you become more adventurous, AI can support you with transcribing and analysing voice interactions or survey data sets. The sky is the limit.

The challenge for a UXR team of one is distinguishing between what is worth investing your time in to experiment with automation and what you’re better off doing yourself manually. There is no one-size-fits-all answer to that.

A great way to start is by automating the bits of UXR you enjoy the least so you can focus on the work you love. 

Prioritise your research backlog & practice saying "no"

When you start as a UXR team of one, it can feel like you’re hunting for work. You’re popping up in meetings asking if you can do research, and spending your time convincing people research will be valuable to them.

This period won’t last long; you’ll have a considerable backlog of requests before you know it. At this point, you need to start employing a prioritisation framework because you won’t be able to support everyone.

Align research with organisational strategy

The easiest way to prioritise your research backlog is to link each piece to the organisational strategy. Ask yourself how this research will help the organisation meet its goals. An even better approach is to ask the people requesting research how it aligns with strategy. Your business stakeholders will likely have a clear idea of how their work moves the organisation forward. Don’t be afraid to ask why they think it’s important, and articulate the risks of not doing it.


Publicise your research backlog

Theoretically, everyone in the organisation is playing for the same team and shooting for the same goal. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case in reality; different stakeholders will have different ideas about what’s important.

Being public about how you prioritise work and what else is in the backlog can help facilitate challenging conversations. This can also help stakeholders determine what’s most vital among themselves. Make prioritisation a collaborative process involving everyone, and you have a greater chance of reaching an amicable conclusion.

A publicly visible backlog openly shares what’s being worked on now, what’s up next in the queue, and what’s already been completed. Not only is this a great resource to communicate prioritisation, but it also helps you as a researcher establish real accountability and focus on adding the most value to the organisation.

It’s easy to keep this information hidden unintentionally, leading to research becoming a black box that people don’t understand. Imagine if the product team didn’t share their roadmap or leadership didn’t communicate their vision. Bring everyone to the table and involve all your stakeholders in prioritisation. 

Communicate the "why" behind the "no"

As your research backlog grows, sometimes the answer simply must be "no." No, because there are significantly more impactful projects that take priority. No, because the investment to conduct this study outweighs the benefits. No, because we don’t have time to do more work right now.

Don’t underestimate the effort involved in evaluating research requests and prioritising them. Sometimes, it’s necessary to pull down the metaphorical shutters on your research practice and focus on what’s in hand.

As a research team of one, you will become more confident telling people "no" with practice. The trick is explaining why "no" is the answer. If you have a transparent method behind prioritising work and a publicly accessible backlog, "no" is an easier-to-deliver message. 

Just because you don’t have capacity doesn’t necessarily mean the research shouldn’t happen. Discuss opportunities for teams to conduct research themselves or explore bringing in external support, such as freelancers or agencies.


Is it time to become a UXR team of 2 or more?

If you find yourself declining more research requests than you accept or relying heavily on agencies or freelancers, congratulations — you’ve come a long way from the early days of convincing people to do research. Your next challenge is convincing people it’s time to grow your UXR team.

Thanks to the contributors to this article 


Jack Holmes is an independent UX researcher and designer from Bristol, UK. For 10 years he's supported the biggest corporations and tiniest startups to understand people and build better products. He's chaired several UXPA International conferences and enjoys sharing insights and stories at events around the world.

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