Research Operations and How They Impact UX Design
User Research

Published on October 18, 2022

Research Operations and How They Impact UX Design

In this article, you will learn about ResearchOps, their origin, who carries out Research Operations in a team, as well as some best practices.

We all know how valuable UX research is when working on a new product or trying to release a feature. And even as valuable as UX research is, the process can be time-consuming and inefficient if not done right. Research Operations can therefore equip researchers with the right tools and frameworks to enable them to get valuable user insights and do their best work while at it.

ResearchOps plays an emerging role in UX Design, which is rapidly growing and has seen a lot of success in recent times. It’s important for us to understand primarily what the role of ResearchOps entails; however, we first need to learn what ResearchOps means.

What are Research Operations (ResearchOps)?

In simple terms, Research operations are the processes and frameworks that help customer and UX research teams work efficiently. According to the Nielsen Norman Group, ResearchOps is a specialized area of DesignOps focused specifically on components concerning user-research practices.

It’s a collective term for efforts aimed at supporting researchers in the planning, conducting, and application of quality user research, such as:

  • Standardizing research methods and supporting documentation (e.g., scripts, templates, and consent forms) to save time and enable consistent application across teams.
  • Recruiting and managing research participants across studies.
  • Ensuring research ethics are understood and upheld by individual researchers across studies.
  • Educating research-team partners and leadership about the value of user research.
  • Managing user-research insights and making data accessible throughout the team and organization.
  • Socializing success stories and ensuring that the overall impact of user research is known.

The role of ResearchOps can be viewed as an all-encompassing one that is tasked with the responsibility of taking care of the bureaucratic processes which slow down UX deadlines, thus making teams more efficient. Let’s take a look at the history of ResearchOps.

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The history of Research Operations

With the conversation of DesignOps gaining ground in the UX community, researchers began to deem it worthy for an existing process that would help increase efficiency in their workflow when carrying out UX research. The ResearchOps community was founded by a group of volunteers who began holding workshops in 2018 and has grown to about 8000 people.

The community researches the best practices of research operations, hosts workshops in town halls, maintains a Board, and offers a Slack community for ReOps pros. Additionally, the field of ReOps has turned into a high-demand career path. ResearchOps has helped to shape a lot of UXR teams by being a pillar and support to all research frameworks.

Let’s take a look at the roles and responsibilities of a ReOps manager.

The role and responsibilities of a ResearchOps manager

Research involves a lot of moving pieces, and therefore, a well-defined objective of a ReOps manager needs to come to play here.

There are six common focus areas (core components) of the Research Ops framework, and they include:

  • Participant management
  • Governance
  • Knowledge management
  • Tools
  • Competency
  • Communication and Advocacy

research operations

Participant management:

This includes recruiting, screening, scheduling, and the distribution of incentives to research participants. This is primarily what many people think of when they think of research operations.

Common ResearchOps activities and efforts within participant management include:

  • Building a database or panel of potential study participants, or researching and selecting external recruiting platforms.
  • Screening and approving participants.
  • Managing communication with participants.
  • Building frameworks for fair and consistent incentive levels based on participant expertise, including the required time investment.

Governance:

This involves the safety, legality, and ethics of research. Research Ops support governance by creating processes and guidelines for consent, data privacy, and asset/information storage.

ResearchOps governance tasks include:

  • Understanding data privacy regulations and applying relevant standard operating procedures to user research, communications, and data storage.
  • Establishing ethical standards for user research and communication.
  • Formulating consent forms in line with data privacy regulations.
  • Managing PII study materials’ storage, sharing, and disposal—interview scripts, audio, and video recordings

Knowledge management:

This is closely entwined with governance, since knowledge management involves the processes and platforms for collecting, interpreting, and sharing research insights. It is often managed with an insights repository.

Common ResearchOps activities and efforts within knowledge management include:

  • Developing standardized templates for data collection during studies.
  • Building a shared database of research insights (sometimes called a research repository) where findings from studies across the organization can be stored.
  • Developing regular meetings or other avenues for sharing and updating the organization about known user insights.
  • Coordinating with other teams that are conducting research (e.g.,  marketing or business intelligence) in order to create a comprehensive source of insights.

research operations

Tools:

Researchers use several tools. ResearchOps is responsible for the strategic procurement and management of tools and platforms to increase efficiencies and scale research.

Here is a breakdown of how ResearchOps manages tools:

  • Applications to handle and store PII.
  • Ensuring that research tools conform to data privacy regulations
  • Research tools for usability studies, surveys, and interviews (AV equipment, etc.)
  • Managing access and permissions.
  • Facilitating the onboarding and training of tools and processes.
  • Maintaining subscriptions and licenses of tools.

Competency:

This involves enabling and educating others (including those outside of the core research team, such as designers, product managers, or marketers) to perform research through guides, templates, training, and onboarding.

Common ResearchOps activities and efforts within competency include:

  • Developing standardized and consistent professional-development opportunities for researchers who want to grow deeply or broadly in their expertise.
  • Establishing mentorship programs to onboard new researchers and help them learn and develop new research skills.
  • Creating a playbook or database of research methods to onboard new researchers or educate others outside of the team.
  • Developing formalized training or curricula to train non-researchers and expose them to user-centered approaches and activities, so that basic research can be incorporated into work when researchers cannot scale to demand.

Communication and advocacy:

Finally, Research Ops play a role in sharing, socializing, and communicating the value of user research throughout an organization. ResearchOps’ internal communication might include:

  • Creating a UX research-team purpose to align with the organization’s mission statement.
  • Communicating research wins.
  • Generating case studies to showcase how user research contributed to solving product issues or increasing revenue/user sign-ups.
  • Sharing regular progress reports and research insights.

With a comprehensive detailing of the responsibilities of a ReOps manager, it is thus clear to us on how important this role in a UXR team is. The 6 components in this model are specialized areas that research practices must consider in order to create consistent, quality research efforts across teams;

however, there are other elements that must be considered and designed intentionally that are critical to the health of any research team or practice.

The value of ResearchOps and why it matters in User research

The field of user experience is growing exponentially; Jakob Nielsen of NN/g predicts that by 2050, there will be 100 million UX professionals worldwide (i.e., 1% of the population).

research operations

Source: Nielsen Norman Group

The most significant benefit of ResearchOps for any organization is efficiency. With the support of ResearchOps, UX teams can focus on the tasks that directly enhance the user experience. This efficiency helps organizations achieve their goals faster while maintaining high research standards and staying compliant.

For small teams, a dedicated ResearchOps team or individual might not be feasible; however, as a startup scales, the necessity for this department increases as well.

How to know if your organization needs a ResearchOps team

As mentioned, ResearchOps is a whole of many parts that are best considered holistically, because every component both affects and is affected by the other factors. However, when establishing a ResearchOps practice, not all aspects can be addressed at once.

The first step to figuring out where to start is understanding where the biggest pain points are. Are researchers overwhelmed with the logistics of recruiting and scheduling participants? Maybe participant management is the best starting point for the team. Is research data scattered and inaccessible to new team members, causing duplicative research efforts and poor research memory? Perhaps knowledge management is where the team should focus.

Begin by identifying the current problems that necessitate ResearchOps. Perform internal research to understand where the biggest pain points currently exist for research teams and research-team partners.

To understand fully if your organization needs a dedicated research team, you can begin asking questions like:

How large is your research team?

In large teams, things like participant recruitment, asset management, and budget management can be full-time jobs. Asking one person to address everything or trying to address everything while being a full-time researcher would be like asking someone to have twelve part-time jobs while starting a business. 

Typically, you should start looking into a research team once your team hits eight researchers, as confirmed by Kate Towsey, the founder of ResearchOps community. At this point, it’s time to start thinking about a ResearchOps function. It can start off small, with just one dedicated Ops person to help your researchers do better and more efficient research.

How much research are you doing?

As your research practice scales, either within the core Research team or with other teams taking on additional research, as is the case of any democratized research model, it too becomes increasingly difficult to process and facilitate research effectively. 

No matter who’s conducting them, higher volumes of research projects require more time, cross-team coordination, and strategic overview. A dedicated ResearchOps function can ensure that this overview and coordination happens effectively, efficiently, and without fail.

Finally, let’s take a look at some best practices for getting started in ResearchOps amongst small dedicated teams or even large enterprises.

Get started in ResearchOps with these best practices

Getting started with ResearchOps begins with identifying your researchers’ biggest pain points. What tasks and processes slow research progress? These tasks and processes will likely be administrative for most companies, which is the core function of a ResearchOps role.

The best practices seen below will help you get started with ResearchOps; whether you’re forming a team or just trying to make your own research processes more efficient with better operations.

research operations

1. Create a ResearchOps framework that works

You need to create a good research framework that works. A framework lays out what your research practice can and will accomplish. It can also help determine who will do what within your research practice, thereby clearing up misunderstandings before they happen.

Before you create your framework, it is important to think about how your team currently approaches their research and product development. Then, ask yourself questions like:

  • What research does my team do already?
  • 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?

Once you have answers to these questions, they can help you build up a framework that reflects the growth for your organization. This also helps to establish what your ResearchOps team will be responsible for. 

There are several tools that are great for creating an effective framework. Look into using tools like:

  • Mind mapping tools, such as Miro, Scapple, and LucidChart. These frameworks start with a central idea and create branches of that central idea. Mind maps can be as fluid or as rigid as you want them to be, and you can add or subtract things as you see fit.
  • Kanban tools, such as Asana, Trello, Airtable, and the aptly-named Kanban Tool can help you lay things out in a more linear manner with categories and subcategories that each have their own card. You can shuffle the cards around as you see fit, as well as add and take away from what’s included in each card’s category.
  • Design tools, such as Figma, Adobe Illustrator, or Sketch can help you get creative and make your own version of a framework. You can create or make something totally unique for your team.
  • Research tools, such as UXtweak. We offer a wide variety of research and usability testing tools that you can use for your project, all in one handy platform. In addition, UXtweak also provides additional help with recruiting quality participants for your study.

research operations

2. Get the whole team involved

It’s always for your benefit to lead with a delegation in mind because this would help get everyone involved in the research process. This could involve designers, engineers, marketers, support, and anyone else who your research may affect.

ResearchOps professionals can be responsible for creating scalable, repeatable practices for sharing, storing, and presenting research to the rest of your team.

Some ways to share and socialize your research include: 

  • Regularly sharing insights with the wider team via newsletters, lunch-and-learns, or workshops.
  • Creating case studies that showcase the impact of research on business metrics
  • Communicating research findings directly to stakeholders with reports or live presentations

Understand the scope of your team’s research process and design your delegation process effectively.

3. Pick one area to master, then branch out.

Do not overwhelm yourself or get caught up by trying to perfect everything at once. It’s always important to start off your research operations by focusing first on the area that will make the most significant difference to your research team and process.

4. Build a habitual practice

Research should be something you do regularly and often. Being armed with information from your customers that will help you make smarter, more confident decisions, it should leave your team feeling ready to take on all your business challenges.

However, the problem for most people who are committed to habitual research practice is that it gets harder. There are so many moving pieces and doing it right requires a lot of up-front work to make sure everything goes off without a hitch. This is why it is important to build a good research ritual within your team which looks like “when in doubt, think research”.

research operations

5. Document your research for easy accessibility

If no one ever sees your team’s research (or if people only see it for a moment during a presentation, then never refer to it again), it’s unlikely to make a lasting impact. In order for research to have lasting effects on your company’s processes and decisions, it needs to be easy for everyone to access, sometimes even long after the research is complete.

Documentation must take the front seat in your research process, and you can start this by building a healthy repository of past and present research which would be accessible to the research team at any time. You can use repository tools like Airtable, Google sheets, Dovetail, Trello and Zapier. Any one from the listed can serve as a database for all things research in your organization.

Start your Research Operations process with UXtweak

UXtweak believes that every company can benefit from user research and that the process should be continuous and not difficult. ResearchOps can provide relief with dedicated roles (or at least focused efforts, if dedicated roles are not feasible) to create and compile intentional strategies and tools for managing the operational aspects of research.

This allows researchers to focus on conducting studies and applying research insights to build a quality product or improve on an already great product. Get started now with a free trial if you want to see how UXtweak could transform your research operations.

Exon Nkemchor
October 18, 2022
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A User Experience Designer who values design thinking, transparency & collaboration with the capability to bring a product from conceptual stage to launch

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