An essential guide to research operations

By UserTesting | May 3, 2023
Team discussing researchops


Is your user research department wasting time on repetitive tasks? 

Perhaps your approach to UX reporting is chaotic, creating inconsistencies in metrics and confusion amongst leadership teams. 

These are the kinds of problems that the discipline of Research Operations (or ResearchOps) seeks to solve. It provides tools, templates, and resources to those involved in user experience, ensures research data is protected, and builds confidence in UX across a department or organization. 

In this guide, we’ll explain:

  • The definition of ResearchOps
  • The benefits of ResearchOps
  • The challenges of ResearchOps
  • How to implement a ResearchOps program
  • Ownership of ResearchOps

What is ResearchOps?

A Research Operations program manages the people and processes involved in an organization's research discipline. It runs alongside other operations teams like DesignOps and DevOps.  

There are five key components to a ResearchOps program, including:

  • Workflows to streamline UX activities (such as consent forms and participant recruitment)
  • Budget control when spending money on research tools, survey compensation, and more
  • Knowledge management and sharing research data with the entire organization
  • Responsibilities for each team member or department
  • Building UX advocacy across the entire organization 

The goal is to make user research activities easier and more consistent. Research Operations is an important aspect of a centralized approach to customer and user insight that helps teams make better decisions, faster.

The benefits of ResearchOps

Now we know what ResearchOps is, let’s take a look at the benefits of having a program in place.

Save time and improve productivity

You need to run a new UX test. But before you’re anywhere close to conducting the test or iterating designs, you’ve got a checklist of things to remember—like participant recruitment, scheduling interviews, and other project management items.

Sound familiar?

Jason Forney is a Senior UX Researcher at Okta, an organization with a 10:1 ratio of designers to researchers. Because of this, Jason says, “maximizing our resources and our ability to do as much as we can with our head [count] is very important.”

Having a ResearchOps program in place significantly cuts the time spent on administrative tasks. You have a repeatable, efficient process to guide you through each step—with some even being automated and taken off your plate altogether.

"The team at Deliveroo spend up to half of their time on set-up work like booking a venue, sourcing participants, scheduling it all in, setting up contracts and consent forms, scanning the forms after the session, etc — leaving them less time to do the actual research work (interviews, surveys, fieldwork observation, usability testing, etc) that they’re experts in.


This is obviously not ideal, especially as the business scales and demand for research grows. Hence the need for a research ops team to support the researchers and help operationalize what they do."

- Saskia Liebenberg, Deliveroo ResearchOps Leader

Make insights easily accessible to other teams 

There’s no doubt that measuring UX performance is critical. Our UX 360 Report found 77% of user experience professionals want to track UX improvements over time. Another 69% want to see their data relative to competitors. 

The only problem is that many UX teams have data that is inaccessible to other teams. And they're not the only ones. Many other teams like Sales, Product, and Marketing often collect valuable insights that are inaccessible to teams that could otherwise benefit from them. 

Let’s put that into perspective and say your design team is thinking of removing breadcrumbs from a few pages inside your mobile app as part of a redesign. But before the team does so, one of the designers decides to check your central knowledge hub and discovers that the breadcrumbs are there for a very important reason.

If your ResearchOps program hadn't established that knowledge hub, you might have wasted some valuable time and resources. 

"Rather than beginning by asking, What kind of study do we need to run? We are now equipped to ask, What do we already know?"

- Aaron Fulmer, Microsoft

As we mentioned above, it’s not just research insights that should be stored in the hub. All user and and customer experience insights should be centralized and organized into a single location, helping teams to better consolidate and collaborate regardless of where that insight originated from.

Get stakeholder buy-in for UX programs

We’ve already touched on the fact that UX teams struggle to measure their UX performance. Some 81% of digital experience professionals say their executive teams value UX— yet just 59% can effectively measure it. 

A ResearchOps program helps with measurement. You’ll have standardized processes that explains:

  • Which UX metrics should be reported
  • How those UX metrics impact the wider business goals 
  • Historical data to benchmark new studies

All of that data results in consistent UX reporting—a valuable asset that’ll go a long way in getting executive buy-in for user research.  

Control data governance and security

Most organizations don’t have one team managing UX. In fact, user researchers are nearly as likely to say that each business unit is responsible for UX as they are to identify any specific C-level exec responsible for it. 

(Because of this, fewer than 1-in-5 say their senior design or UX leader reports to the C-Suite.)

Lack of ownership over UX could land you in hot water—especially when sensitive data is involved.

Governments’ demands for companies that manage sensitive information are growing. Regulations like GDPR and the California Consumer Act mean all research insights need to be protected and secured. 

That’s much easier to do when you have a ResearchOps program that details responsibilities for data governance.

Manage UX budgets effectively 

User research can be expensive. Chances are, you have the following UX activities coming out of your budget:

  • Software fees
  • Incentives for research participants 
  • Contractors 
  • Travel expenses

A ResearchOps program gives someone responsibility for that budget. It’s a research operations manager’s job to approve expenses or find alternatives that lower cost (and improve your UX ROI).

"We’ve worked hard over the past few years to create a strategic role for research. At Shopify, we never do research for the sake of doing research; we do it for the sake of informing strategic decision-making.

This means that we will always prioritize the exploratory/strategic/descriptive over the tactical/causal/operational."

- Dalia El-Shimy, Shopify UX Research Lead

The challenges of ResearchOps

Despite the benefits of having a Research Operations program, just 61% of research executives currently have a strategy for one in place. 

Here are some of the stumbling blocks to creating a ResearchOps program: 

Buy-in from the team

Consistency is a major bonus of ResearchOps. But it only works if the entire research team follows your new guidelines and workflows. 

The reality is: people are creatures of habit. It’s not uncommon for UX researchers (especially those with years of experience) to continue using their own workflows. Convincing them to change to yours can be tricky. 

This is likely why large companies struggle to implement ResearchOps. Interestingly, one study found that all small organizations surveyed had a Research Ops strategy in place (compared to just 80% of the large organizations with multiple team members to manage). 

Time to set-up 

The journey to operationalize your UX program isn’t straightforward. You’ll need multiple team members’ input, a tool that’ll help you manage each stage of the process, and time to create repeatable workflows for every repetitive task.

Each of those issues are a struggle for organizations that are short on time already.

ResearchOps can easily fall to the backburner for companies without time to invest in a strategy. But even though it’s a considerable investment, a ResearchOps program will end up saving you hours in the long run. 

How to implement a ResearchOps program

Ready to take advantage of a ResearchOps program? Here’s a step-by-step guide to implementing your own.

1. Choose a ResearchOps manager

The first step for any ResearchOps is to choose a leader. This is the person who will have total control over UX budgets, workflows, and data. It’s their responsibility to make sure your new guidelines are used across the entire organization. 

The ideal ResearchOps leader is someone senior who has multiple years of experience under their belt. They need to:

  • Understand processes for UX activities—from planning through to reporting  
  • Know what a reasonable UX budget looks like (and how to manage it) 
  • Have great relationships with leaders of other departments and their own UX teams to ensure consistency 
  • Be able to explain the value of a ResearchOps program

2. Understand your UX team’s skills and responsibilities

Once you’ve chosen your ResearchOps leader, they’ll start their program by thinking of the skills and responsibilities for each research team member.

A key part of any successful ResearchOps program is competency. Each team member should have access to guides, tutorials, and templates that’ll help them do their job faster, more consistently, and efficiently. A solid understanding of each job role will help you create those resources.

Remember: UX spans multiple departments. Once you’ve listed the skills and responsibilities for your department, expand into support, UX designers, and product teams. 

3. Create repeatable workflows for each UX activity

By this stage of the ResearchOps process, you’ll know the tasks each team member is working on. Your job now is to create repeatable, scalable workflows for their daily activities. 

List every research method your UX team is using. Document the process for each, then figure out whether you can:

  • Automate repetitive admin tasks
  • Create templates to save time—such as consent forms or persona development 
  • Give control over a certain element (like recruiting participants) to a designated team member

Lucy Walsh kickstarted Spotify’s ResearchOps program by identifying low-hanging fruit she could tackle within a three to six-month timeframe. Lucy says this “would remove some of the time-consuming operational tasks that fell to our Researchers.”

"When I joined the team, Researchers were still printing consent forms, which would then have to be scanned and uploaded to a contract management system. Researchers were also still handling recruiting, whether this was via a third-party partner, or reaching out to our own internal lists of users. In my first few months, I, therefore, put in place processes to remove these time-consuming elements, including implementing digital signatures for consent forms and a Trello board for recruitment assistance."

- Lucy Walsh, Spotify User Researcher

4. Develop an insights hub

The final stage of your ResearchOps program is to develop a knowledge base. This will act as the home for all of your research and customer insights. Encourage everyone to upload their UX research data and customer feedback into the platform whenever they run new tests—regardless of how big (or small) the test was, or which department was responsible. 

You can even create guidelines for:

  • Tagging certain themes in your data 
  • Hashtagging the type of data it is (qualitative or quantitative) 
  • Passing research insights to other teams

As we touched on earlier, having a central knowledge base 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.

The best part? The overwhelming majority (72%) of digital team members are experiencing a surge in the demand for UX. 

If you’re experiencing the same and employing new team members to cope with demand, this part of a ResearchOps program helps with onboarding. New hires will have immediate access to the library of research studies you’ve done, so nothing gets repeated—just built upon.  

Start your ResearchOps program today 

As you can see, ResearchOps is designed to take control over the people and research processes you’re using in your UX strategy, providing you with a centralized way to store and share UX data. 

It’ll help you save time, improve productivity and get the stakeholder buy-in that most UX teams are crying out for.

You’ll overcome operational challenges your user research department experiences and, perhaps most importantly, make better decisions, faster. 

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