Using Fractional UX Research Leadership to Boost your Product and Roadmaps

Erika Noll Webb
June 28, 2024
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Using Fractional UX Research Leadership to Boost your Product and Roadmaps

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I’m Erika Noll Webb and I’ve been a UX Research leader in a wide range of companies from Oracle, NetApp, Twilio, Docker and more.  I’ve been in huge Enterprise companies and very small start ups. I know from experience that it’s difficult for companies to really conduct effective and efficient user research without a dedicated user research leader.  

DIY Mentality

A full time UX researcher may be out of reach for a smaller company. Companies starting up are clear which skills they need to bring in because they can’t do it in house.  They know they need help with Finance or Marketing or Sales.  They may need a CTO or COO.  They may realize they could use Design help.  But when it comes to in-depth UX Research, they may still believe that they have the skills they need.

Many will start with a product manager conducting research.  I’ve known product managers who are good at gathering requirements and trying to understand users.  Other companies will bring in a designer or designers to build out the product look, feel and interactions and want them to also test those designs with users.  But in both of these cases there are a myriad of issues that companies aren’t considering that create problems an experienced UX researcher could solve faster and more efficiently.  

Today, there are more tools, more blogs, more sources of information about user research available.  A company may try to work without a dedicated user researcher or specific testing tools.  But at some point, they are missing out on the extra value from having a UX Research leader.  Fractional work is a way to bring in that expertise.

What a UX Research Leader can bring you that you can’t get in house

When I started at my last company, they knew they need more targeted UX Research.  They didn’t have the tool set, didn’t have access to the users they wanted to engage, and the design team was so swamped with work that they couldn’t test their designs or reach out to users when they needed.  PMs were talking to customers who were buyers, often passing on what they were hearing from their developers.  Everyone was frustrated.

Building a toolset 

My first approach was to build the tools necessary to do good UX Research.  The company was multi-national and remote, so the first step was to consider types of research that were too labor-intensive.  Interviewing users and usability testing across the North America and Europe meant the designers and PMs were working all hours.  So I brought in tools that would allow the teams to gather data from users without having to be in each session.  I brought in survey tools and remote usability testing tools.  I built a database of end users who were interested in talking to our team and added recruiting services to help get the right person to survey or test or interview.  Evaluating and onboarding the right tools is something that is not easy to do without understanding the marketplace and tools, which is why a Fractional UX Research Manager could jumpstart your company’s UX research capabilities.

Developing Training

The next step was training.  Although PMs and Designers might have conducted interviews or been in some testing, they didn’t necessarily understand how to collect, organize and report the data that they collected.  Interviews weren’t conducted in a structured manner.  Training helped PM and Design understand how to get consistent feedback to improve decision making and feed the product roadmap.  Many conversations with customers were only reported to a Slack channel and within that Slack channel, there was no attempt to aggregate findings to ensure that the team was focused on the most common use case or needs and not the single unique user.  I pulled together all of the customer and user testing and conversations into a single database, tagged so that anyone in the company could find any conversation or testing on features or product concepts.  Again, although PM and Design could do the interviews or testing, it took UX Research Management to train on good practice for conducting research and reporting findings, as well as making all of the research available to the whole company.  A Fractional UX Research leader could take your in-house PM and Design teams to the next level.

Proactive, not Reactive Research

Finally, as the team grew, it was clear that there was a need for less reactive research and more proactive research that would improve product decision making.  Designers and PMs were focused on the next feature and the need to quickly “Talk to 5 people” to define the work.  With a dedicated UX Research Manager, I was able to get the teams ahead of their needs so that when it was time to develop the next feature or plan the next release, the research was in place to make solid, well-informed decisions.  A Fractional UX Leader can help your company get to the point of being proactive, not just reactive.  And also freeing up your PM and Designers to do what they do best!

If you’re interested in hiring a fractional UX Research Manager, you can check us out at We can introduce you to a handful of pre-vetted fractionals that match your company's needs.

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