Building A Research Team

Building a Research team

...with no experience.

My research team started as just one other coworker, Aide Gutierrez, and me. We were both designers turned full-time researchers and our team had never done research or testing before. We had to teach ourselves what the methods were, how to ask non-leading questions, and how to craft a research plan. We learned a lot from mistakes. We also had the giant task of convincing our team that research is important (!), which is still an ongoing challenge.


We focused on the easier fight first: user testing. We had to push our Offering Managers to include us in meetings and include testing in the project schedules. After lots of persistence and a couple of user testing sessions, they began to see the value in research. There was less failure, and less failure means spending less money. We had to earn trust. Soon they were the ones asking us for the usability testing.


Aide and me at a General Assembly class, April 2016.

Aide and me at a General Assembly class, April 2016.

We were lucky to get InVision, SurveyGizmo, and Lookback as research tools but had to be creative for finding users given our limited financial resources. We used our friends and family, posted on social media, and Reddit. I came up with the idea to post flyers in our building to use IBMers as users. We posted them in the elevators and lobbies and people actually emailed us wanting to help out! As we got more momentum, we got access to, which helped us get a variety of users. I also created a Slack channel called #usability-testers where researchers could post upcoming testing sessions and IBMers who were interested in helping out could sign up. It was a big hit.


Our team got re-org'ed and merged with a larger team. This meant more research. For 18 months, it was just the two of us but our workload was getting too crazy for two. We added a third researcher and I had the responsibility of on-boarding her. It was great to have three heads instead of two, but a team of three runs differently than a team of two. We had a couple bumps in the road adjusting to dividing the work but making sure we all communicated, but we figured a way to make it work with check-in scrums twice a week and sitting near each other so we could constantly be in touch. We shared bigger projects but split up the smaller ones and supported each other if we needed help.

Conducting a user testing session, August 2017

Conducting a user testing session, August 2017

As of January 2018, Aide moved to another team within IBM and I am now leading the research team on the Cloud Developer Experience team. I am currently leading a team of two and driving the research efforts in our organization.


As a researcher, I am constantly trying to improve and learning to lead. In February 2016, I attended New Design Leads Bootcamp at the IBM Design Studio in Austin to learn how to be a great leader, which was immensely helpful. The biggest takeaway was to talk less and listen more, which is directly related to user research.


Honestly, I think there will always be a fight for research and a push for trust. Research will always be the first thing cut (ahead of design and development). But I do hope it gets easier and quicker to gain that trust and for execs to see the value of research.