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Chapter 3
How to build & manage a UX team to maximize performance
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Chapter 3

How to build & manage a UX team to maximize performance

“Teamwork makes the dream work.”

You’ve likely heard this one before; it’s a frequently-used slogan for motivating a team. You’re less likely to have heard the end of the famous quote, however:
“Teamwork makes the dream work, but a vision becomes a nightmare when the leader has a big dream and a bad team.”

Put simply, teamwork makes the dream work—yes—but only if the team in question is effective and well-organized.

In this chapter, you’ll learn about how UX managers can build and manage UX teams to maximize performance by understanding, tracking, and improving team performance.

Let’s find out how exactly you can make that dream work, shall we?


Understanding UX team structures

UX teams come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and different team structures work in different organizations. You’ve got three main UX team structures to consider—each with its own pros and cons. Let’s take a look.

Centralized UX team

In a centralized UX team, all UX team members report to a UX manager. Depending on the size of the organization, there could be multiple layers of UX management—leading up to a VP of UX, CUXO, or whatever the organization wants to call them.

A centralized UX team is sometimes referred to as an ‘internal agency model’, and it’s not hard to understand why. In these teams, the UX manager works with other team leads to discuss department-specific UX issues and solutions. They then assign a UX team member to that team or project for a set period of time—depending on the project and designer.The UX member then returns to the pool of available UX team members to await their next project, and the cycle repeats.


Decentralized UX team

The concept of a decentralized UX team is misleading from the get-go; there’s no real UX team. Instead, UX professionals are embedded in different teams across the organization. They work on specific features, products, and lines of business.

Individual UX professionals work consistently with the same team and report to the same manager as the rest of that team—Ux professionals are spread out.


Matrix UX team

A matrix UX team is a hybrid of the centralized and decentralized UX teams—people report to a centralized UX manager and to an individual team manager. It’s an opportunity for organizations to take advantage of the benefits of centralized and decentralized UX teams.

Matrix UX teams can be structured as works best but typically day-to-day management comes from the individual team leader and professional development management comes from the UX leader.


Defining your team’s roles and responsibilities

There’s an art to creating and managing a UX design team. It requires understanding the different roles and responsibilities of UX professionals, as well as how to motivate them and measure the impact of their work on design team goals.

Let’s start with the many roles that you can find on a design team.

Understanding design team roles

Within a UX team, UX professionals will have different roles and responsibilities. Understanding these roles and how they fit into the organization is key for UX team success and coordination.

  • UX researchers: conduct user research in order to gain the deepest possible understanding of users
  • UX designers: generalist UX professionals working on all design phases
  • Product designers: UX designers focusing specifically on product UX
  • Visual/UI designers: designers involved in the later stages of the design process, focused on graphic design
  • UX engineers: UX designers who also code, meaning they can handle front-end development of designs

Let’s take a closer look at each of these roles and the specific tasks and deliverables associated with the roles:


Now, not every team will have each of these roles—and nor do they need to. Bigger organizations will likely have a larger UX team with a number of different roles, but smaller teams may not be able to maintain such a large team. In this instance, it’s about identifying organizational UX needs—and existing resources—to decide who to hire. It's important to keep in mind that hiring for a UX design team can be costly and challenging.

Working as a team to establish team goals and objectives

A key responsibility when managing a UX team is to set team goals and objectives that align with business goals. A popular way to do this—and not only in UX teams—is to establish team OKRs.

UX OKRs—objectives (O) and key results (KRs)—are measurable goals that you can set and track during a specific time frame, typically a quarter. Objectives should be qualitative and aspirational, and key results should be quantitative and measurable. Put simply, your key results are the results you want to achieve in order to consider your team to be successfully working towards the overarching objective.

It’s never a bad plan to consider the SMART framework when establishing key results. This consists in setting goals that are:

  • Specific: answer the 5Ws with your goals: who, what, when, where, and why
  • Measurable: make sure you can track progress
  • Achievable: ensure they’re realistic and attainable
  • Relevant: you need goals to align with your overarching objectives
  • Time-bound: a target to work towards

Measuring team performance

Having a structured way to measure performance makes UX team management a lot easier. It gives you a simple way of evaluating your UX team outputs in order to assess whether your team is performing effectively.

Assessing design impact is a tricky one—it’s not as clear-cut as measuring sales or marketing efforts. Nonetheless, UX managers have a number of metrics that help track the efficacy of UX design projects.

These KPIs can be behavioral—those that relate to product usability—or attitudinal—what users say about the product. Here’s a breakdown:


These KPIs give UX managers an idea of whether UX research and design projects have had the desired effect. For example, if you’re looking to reduce friction, time-on-task is a useful metric to track.

It’s not just about measuring the performance of your team in the context of your organization—you also want to measure the performance of the UX professionals on your team. This requires you to evaluate each member of your team in order to identify strengths and weaknesses.

On smaller teams—this is doable. On larger teams, it’s near impossible—without support, at least. Uxcel’s Team Learning platform gives UX managers the tools they need to accurately and efficiently test UX team performance with skill assessments and challenges.

The online UX platform makes tracking employee performance simple. Your team members take skill assessments that gauge their understanding of a specific UX concept — interaction design or accessibility, for example — in order to identify designer-specific weaknesses.

Managing & empowering your UX team

Empowering your team—as we previously heard from Churnkey CPO, Scott Hurff — is the best way to manage them. Let’s quickly revisit what Scott had to say about his approach to UX team management:

“I treat my team like adults. They have the authority to solve problems their own way and the autonomy to organize how they want to work.”
Scott Hurff, Co-Founder and CPO at Churnkey

Scott then goes on to say that this is only possible because of the democratized approach to UX research and goals. 

“It's made possible because they know who our customer is, they know the vision for our product, and I give them the space to do the work, not sit in meetings or get micro-managed.”
Scott Hurff, Co-Founder and CPO at Churnkey

This sentiment is echoed by Founder at Myth Digital, James Nesbitt:

“It's made possible because they know who our customer is, they know the vision for our product, and I give them the space to do the work, not sit in meetings or get micro-managed.”
James Nesbitt, Founder at Myth Digital

Remember: people do well when they can, not when they want to. Establish a user-centered culture and a strong design process and your team will have a clear what and how.

James also highlights an important point worth considering as a UX manager. It’s not just what you do that influences your team—it’s who you are and the culture you create. Your UX team spends a lot of time with you—their manager—and they pick up on more than just what you say.

Some of the key attributes discovered to be associated with good managers include:

  • Treating people well, regardless of role or rank
  • Listening to others, even when you don’t need to
  • Respecting all team members

It seems the trick to being a decent manager is to be a decent human being. That being said, there are also some key skills to develop as a manager, such as:

  • Leadership skills
  • Strategic thinking
  • Problem-solving
  • Communication Empathy
  • Problem-solving

We’ve got a full breakdown of each of these points in Chapter One—check it out to find out more.

Tools and resources to enhance the development of your UX team

Keeping designers on their toes is a must for good management—you want a team that’s constantly developing, not one that remains static in a dynamic industry. Here are some of the ways you can help push your team out of their comfort zone and towards being better UX professionals.

1. Test and develop UX skills

The first step to improvement is knowing what to improve. You want your team to test and improve their skills regularly. There are a number of ways you can do this, but the most efficient is with an online UX learning platform like Uxcel Teams.

Uxcel offers lessons, courses, assessments and more to help UX professionals of all levels to develop and improve their UX skills and knowledge. Through completing the various lessons, courses, assessments, and challenges on the Uxcel platform, your designers build a UX Skill Graph. This graph is a visual representation of the strengths and weaknesses of each UX professional on your team.


As the UX manager, you can view the performance of each team member via these skills graphs—making identifying strengths and weaknesses simple and easy. You can then assign lessons and courses to help develop a certain skill—all from one platform.

2. Stay up-to-date with the industry

Another way you can enhance the development of your team is by ensuring they’re staying up-to-date with the industry. Encourage them to engage with the communities and resources discussing the future of UX—and make sure they know there’s space to be experimental in their work. In fact, that’s Daniel Chabert, CEO of PurpleFire, top tip for building a user-centered team:

“UX leaders should focus on creating an environment where people feel safe to take risks, experiment, and learn from their mistakes.”
Daniel Chabert, CEO of PurpleFire

There are plenty of communities that can help your designers stay on top of the industry, such as:

Of course, there are plenty more UX communities and Slack/Discord channels to get stuck into. Remember: you can take a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. All you can do is encourage your team to stay on top of the industry—you can’t force them to engage if they don’t want to. Your management style impacts this decision, so make sure you lead with enthusiasm and curiosity. 

3. Attend workshops and conferences

As well as connecting with the industry and other designers online, you can also organize team outings to connect with other UX professionals in person. This not only provides a learning opportunity for your team but also helps them connect and network with others in the industry and fosters team building.

UX Conferences are held across the world, from Minnesota to Lisbon to Beijing and beyond. Wherever you’re located, there’s likely a UX Conference or Workshop nearby. Check out your options and take your team on an exciting—and educational—day out. Conferences are also a great place to find a mentor, offering another effective option for growing UX design skills.

4. Take UX challenges

Finally, it’s important to challenge your team. This could be small weekly or monthly challenges you set your team to help them to push their understanding of UX. For example, you can find lots of great examples on the UX Tools website. The only caveat with these challenges is that you’re left to assess and mark them—adding more to your already hefty workload.

If you’d prefer that somebody else do the marking, consider setting your team Uxcel challenges. These challenges provide the same—if not better—experience to your team without landing you with mountains of extra work. Designers are given a design scenario and task, as well as resources to help guide and educate them. It’s a great way to engage and educate your team with interesting design prompts and challenges.

Final thoughts on managing UX teams

An effective UX team is crucial for a user-centered design culture that prioritizes user satisfaction and ease. Every great team needs an equally amazing manager—and this article (and the entire guide it belongs to) is a great resource for optimizing your team's performance.

In fact, Uxcel is the place to be for all designers—novice or experienced.

Uxcel was built by UX designers, for UX designers. The ample lessons, courses, assessments and more help build designers’ confidence and develop skills and knowledge—all while being engaging and fun.
Sign up for your 14-day free trial today to start using Uxcel to test, train, and develop the UX professionals on your team.

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