Over the past decade, we have seen the operationalization of software development and IT teams with DevOps, design teams with DesignOps, and sales teams with SalesOps. It was only a matter of time before the trend of operationalizing disciplines reached user experience research and market research.
As organizations have realized the importance of practicing research, particularly user and customer experience research, so has the need for processes, systems, and strategies to support the user and customer experience research function.
What is ResearchOps?
Well, ResearchOps is exactly what it sounds like, it’s the operationalization of research. More specifically, it’s the standardization and optimization of people, tools, and processes in efforts to conduct better research and build better products and services.
In 2018, the ResearchOps community facilitated several workshops and surveys to help define the emerging practice of ResearchOps. I like their definition more than mine.
“ResearchOps is the people, mechanisms, and strategies that set user research in motion. It provides the roles, tools, and processes needed to support researchers in delivering and scaling the impact of the craft across an organization.”
Now let’s get into how this actually all works. Depending on who you ask, ResearchOps is broken up into 5 – 8 focuses/core components. Quite frankly, we at HubUx really like the way that Nielsen Normal Group breaks everything down, so use their model when helping some of the world’s largest organizations operationalize their research.
The crux of ResearchOps and research in general because without a participant to distill insights from, there is no such thing as primary research. Participant management includes recruiting, screening, scheduling, and compensating research participants.
Governance is super important to ethical research. ResearchOps supports research that is safe, legal, and ethical by creating processes and guidelines for consent, privacy, and asset/information storage.
Running parallel with governance, knowledge management involves the processes and platforms responsible for collecting, interpreting, and sharing research insights. This is key to the research hub that we will talk about later.
“An artist is only as good as their tools.” Well, this is only partially true but you get the picture. ResearchOps is responsible for the strategic procurement and management of the tools and platforms that will help the organization conduct more scalable, effective, and ethical research.
This encompasses enabling, educating, and empowering individuals within your organization (even those across various functions) to perform research through guides, templates, training, and onboarding.
Communication and advocacy
Lastly, Research Ops plays a role in sharing, socializing, and evangelizing the value of user research throughout an organization. Follow our good friends at the ResearchOps community to see how you can get involved!
Why is ResearchOps Important?
The simple answer is because the world is realizing how important research is and research as a discipline itself is growing super fast. Jakob Nielsen of NN/g predicts that by 2050, there will be 100 million UX professionals worldwide (aka 1% of the population).
As organizations are growing the number of researchers they hire daily, coupled with the fact that most organizations are democratizing research internally and allowing designers and developers to conduct research on their own, it’s super important to have a ResearchOps framework developed within your organization. Here are some of the benefits of developing such a framework.
Increase productivity and save time
So you’re running a new UX test. But before you can hit the ground running you’ve got a checklist of things to remember — like participant recruitment, scheduling interviews, and getting design teams to implement the changes. Sounds like a lot right?
No worries, this is exactly what ResearchOps is designed to do. Having a ResearchOps program in place significantly cuts the time you spend on administrative tasks. Imagine having a roadmap with all of these tasks lined up in a row for easy execution. You have a repeatable, efficient process to guide you through each step — with some even being automated and taken off your plate altogether.
As mentioned earlier, a popular trend we are seeing in the industry is to democratize research within your organization. This is definitely a positive trend in the right direction as it’s getting stakeholders closer to the customer, thus helping them build better products.
However, although this is a positive trend, it doesn’t come without complications or headaches. Most of these designers and developers participating in executing research aren’t classically trained in research the way usability or market researchers are. Thus leading to not-so-great research practices being administered to users.
With a ResearchOps program, you’ll have a central knowledge hub for all of your data, and within there, your design team can discover that the breadcrumbs are there for a reason and not duplicate the research, and waste time and resources.
Manage UX budgets effectively
Let’s face it, user research can be expensive.
A structured ResearchOps program gives an individual responsibility for a research budget. It’s a research operations manager’s job to give the thumbs up to whether an expense is worth it — or find alternatives to bring the price down (and improve your UX ROI). Operationalizing your research allows you to create a more systematic and budget-appropriate method for approaching user experience research.
How to implement a ResearchOps program
Although creating a ResearchOps may seem like a formidable task, one could be stood up by following the below task.
Choose a ResearchOps Manager
Creating a ResearchOps program is a team effort, however, from previous experience, it’s best to designate someone with spearheading the initiative. This is the individual who has control over the UX budgets, workflows, and data. A big part of their responsibility is to make sure your new guidelines are properly implemented across the organization.
The ideal ReseachOps manager is a senior researcher with experience in setting up processes for UX research, budget control, and working with leaders from other departments.
Create a framework
The first step to operationalizing any business discipline is to create a framework to follow. This is imperative to the effectiveness of your research as a whole.
Like in research, the best approach to building a framework is starting with exploration. You should first start by exploring how your team approaches to research and product development now. Below are some helpful questions to ask yourself.
- What research does my team already do?
- Are there internal or external deadlines that could affect the way they view research?
- Why does my team do research?
- What are the logistics of my research as it stands today?
Answering these questions will be fundamental to building out your framework as they will help establish what your ResearchOps team will be responsible for vs. what your researchers will cover. It’s important when building out your framework to keep in mind all of the logistical considerations of research and have them clearly outlined in your framework.
For some great examples of what a ResearchOps framework looks like, be sure to check out #WhatIsResearchOps framework, Siva Sabaretnam’s Designing a Better Career Path for Designers, or Clearleft’s professional development framework,
Create a ResearchHub
An important part of creating your ResearchOps program is to build a single place of truth that not only your team can access, but also parallel departments that would like to get involved in research. A ResearchHub includes keeping a knowledge base of your framework and processes but even more importantly, it’s a hub where you store all of your research and findings.
As mentioned earlier, having a central ResearchHub prevents you from repeating UX activities (and draining budgets). When data is stored in one library, you’ll also have a streamlined way for researchers to share their data with people who can act on the insights.
You can build a ResearchHub using Google Sheets/Drive, AirTable or we are quite fond of our own solution, HubUX. No matter what you choose, it’s important to keep a single place of truth with all of your research.
Choose the Tools that work
Not to repeat ourselves too much, but there is a saying an artist is only as good as their tools. Although we believe this is definitely an over-exaggeration, having the proper tools does definitely help improve a team member’s chances of achieving success.
There are definitely a variety of tools on the market you can use for all of the pieces of research (recruiting, video, self-administered test, scheduling, incentives, community building, etc.), and not one tool may fit everyone’s needs. We are pretty keen on our tool HubUX as it can handle about 90% of ResearchOps needs but with that being said, you’d still probably need one or two more tools to finish building our your ResearchOps stack. Long story short, there are a ton of great tools out there on the market and you will need to expect to incorporate at least a handful of them in your stack.
Get the whole team involved
A ReseachOps program is only as good as its adoption within an organization. Although it’s important to designate a ResearchOps manager, it’s important to get the team involved in the creation of your ResearchOps program, but even more importantly, have them involved in the day-to-day activities of the program.
Ways to share and socialize your research include:
- Regularly sharing insights with the wider team via newsletters, lunch-and-learns, workshops, etc.
- Creating case studies that showcase the impact of research on business metrics.
- Communicating research findings directly to stakeholders.
All of those ideas above take time and effort, which is why they’re easier with dedicated ResearchOps. But if your team isn’t ready for that hire, you can make owning the socialization of research responsibility for one or more of your existing team members.
Final thoughts on ResearchOps
Think of every template, process, or workflow as a experiment; it’s better to get the concepts out to the team, get feedback, and iterate than wait for the final version.
Don’t be worried about continual process improvement or needing multiple iterations; let’s be honest, there is no such thing as a perfect process; we should always improve based on experience. Also, remember that effective processes should not be cumbersome. If it slows researchers down, then it’s not a good process
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