I transitioned into my first UX research role in 2012, and became a UX research manager for the first time in 2014. I’ve scaled and managed a few teams of various sizes since then, and I created a short video for Learners about the ideal number of direct reports a UX research manager should have. Below I expand on what I shared in the video.
Me talking about the ideal number of direct reports for a ux research manager (screenshot only—click here to watch!)
My short answer is that a manager who is also doing research projects should have no more than two to three direct reports. However, if your sole duty is to manage (meaning you’re not also conducting your own studies), then five to seven direct reports is sensible. Here’s how I landed on those numbers…
A manager’s schedule
The bread and butter of competent management requires a great deal of time and attention. There’s no way around it. At a minimum, here’s where you can expect to spend your time as a manager:
- Weekly 1-1s with your direct reports
- Dedicated hours to review or talk through the work of your direct reports
- Daily or weekly stand-ups with your team of direct reports
- Meetings with your fellow managers
- Meetings with your cross-functional partners
- 1-1s with your own manager
That list doesn’t include the time you spend on tasks related to people management (time-off requests, goal setting, performance reviews), enablement (procurement, vendor calls, and budgeting), and culture building (team rituals and org events).
A manager’s capabilities
The business management term for the number of direct reports per manager is called the span of control. And there are a number of variables that impact the ideal span of control:
- The complexity of the work each individual contributor (IC) you manage is doing
- The maturity or experience level of your ICs, and how much guidance they’ll need from you as their manager
- Your experience as a manager, and how ready you are to manage multiple people
- Your scope of responsibilities. If you’re a manager who is a player coach—that is, you manage while you also embed on projects and conduct research—you should have a narrow span of control. If your only duty is to manage, you’re capable of a wider span of control.
The realities of UX research management
The work of UX research is complex, and oversight of that work is a commitment. As a research manager, you must afford time and space to talk through project plans with your directs, and you must also dedicate time to review the evolving plans and documentation created by everyone on your team. There’s no shortcut: the buck stops with you. You’re there to ensure sound methods, timelines, and deliverables.
What’s more, your direct reports are working cross-functionally with designers, product managers, and engineers, which requires that you pave the way for those cross-functional relationships to thrive. And you still have your own manager and peers to think about—the work your team prioritizes is an output of close collaboration with your fellow managers and your own manager. That close collaboration is a further investment of time on your part.
Those are just the table stakes. There are plenty of good resources on what constitutes competent management, but a good manager does everything above while also performing the emotional labor of creating a safe, inclusive, and thoughtful environment for their team.
Putting it all together
With all that said, if you are doing both IC work and research management, two to three direct reports is sensible. You’ll be able to attend to your team and do your own work. More than that and you’re going to be context switching all the time, which serves neither you nor your team well.
If you are a full time manager, five to seven direct reports should allow you enough time to fully invest in your team and their work while leaving time for the many other tasks on your plate.
Management is a privilege. There’s no better feeling than mentoring your team and being party to their excellent work. Be sensible about what you’re capable of and what you can reasonably offer to your team. They—and your organization—need you at your best.