As UX research scales across organizations, researchers face obstacles like siloed insights, fragmented processes, and communication barriers. The discipline known as ResearchOps emerged to overcome these obstacles. ResearchOps focuses on the operational aspects of user research. It provides the frameworks and processes to help UX researchers work more efficiently and effectively. By dedicating resources specifically to optimizing UX research and communication processes, ResearchOps enables organizations to deliver higher-quality insights at scale.
This article explores the evolution of ResearchOps, its significance today, and how it's transforming user research. You'll discover key responsibilities, tools, and best practices to enhance your research operations.
Let's dive in.
What is ResearchOps?
ResearchOps, or Research Operations, refers to establishing processes, systems, and strategies to streamline and optimize research processes and workflows within an organization. It aims to create a structured framework that supports the efficiency, collaboration, and impact of user research efforts.
The responsibilities of ResearchOps include recruiting participants, managing research data, procuring tools, governing research, and more. ResearchOps aims to remove friction and bottlenecks in research workflows. It provides frameworks for scaling research while ensuring accuracy and high quality.
The history and origin of ResearchOps
ResearchOps is a relatively new field, emerging over the past few years to address new pain points resulting from the growth of user research. The origins of ResearchOps link back to 2018 when Kate Towsey coined "ResearchOps" and launched the ResearchOps community with a simple tweet:
"I've started a ResearchOps Slack channel so we've got a place to share, learn and be geeky about #userresearch operational stuff. Let me know if you want to join. #ResearchOps"
Kate started the ResearchOps community on Slack as a place where researchers could gather and discuss research operations' challenges and positive outcomes and support each other through it all. However, it quickly amassed over 15,000 members from over 100 countries.
Sixty organizers ran 34 ResearchOps workshops worldwide to discuss and define ResearchOps. This global community produced critical outputs that shaped ResearchOps. There were workshops, conferences, podcasts, and more. The community rallied around essential pillars of ResearchOps, from recruiting to governance. Since then, ResearchOps has grown into a widely accepted aspect of user research.
Why ResearchOps matters
The rise of ResearchOps is strongly connected to the exponential growth of UX research, a trend fueled by several key factors. The proliferation of digital products, increased consumer expectations for seamless user experiences, and the growth of tech companies have all contributed to this growth. As organizations embrace user-centricity, they invest in specialized research teams, further driving the demand for effective operational frameworks.
Larger research teams have a greater need for organization. Without ResearchOps, larger teams grapple with challenges such as:
- Recruiting and managing a participant pool becomes challenging because it requires meticulous planning and execution, especially when dealing with teams spread across various geographical locations.
- Collaboration becomes cumbersome across diverse teams and locations.
- Handling multiple research tools and repositories becomes problematic, as it demands an integrated approach to resource management.
- Effectively communicating research insights to stakeholders presents another layer of complexity.
ResearchOps provides the systems and structure needed to address these pain points. It lets you scale research operations smoothly across large, distributed teams. The coordinated support of ResearchOps also saves you time, so you can focus purely on deriving powerful user insights without getting bogged down in operations.
As UX research grows in numbers and prominence, ResearchOps becomes critical to continued success. It provides the scaffolding for researchers to work efficiently at scale.
Responsibilities of ResearchOps
ResearchOps is a broad function encompassing a wide variety of operational responsibilities that aim to optimize all aspects of research operations. Here are some core areas:
Recruiting and participant management
Recruiting and interacting with research participants is central to the work of UX researchers. However, as research scales, managing the entire participant lifecycle presents challenges.
ResearchOps takes on this operational responsibility by handling the following:
- Recruiting diverse, representative participants that meet study criteria. It may involve leveraging recruitment agencies, social media ads, or internal messaging.
- Screening and validating participants through surveys, screening calls, or other mechanisms. It ensures the selection of only qualified participants.
- Scheduling study sessions and sending reminders to minimize no-shows.
- Setting up and providing incentives. Compensating participants, usually monetarily, is vital for motivation and fairness.
- Managing communications and logistics for participants throughout their journey to create a smooth experience.
By having a team of expetowning participant management end-to-end, ResearchOps lets you focus purely on engaging with participants during studies. It removes the heavy lifting of coordinating schedules, sourcing participants, and handling incentives.
ResearchOps plays a crucial role in governance by ensuring research meets legal, ethical, and privacy standards. It involves:
- Developing clear guidelines for informed consent across different study types. It includes consent flows, forms, disclosures, etc.
- Ensuring compliance with laws — like the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation — to protect participant privacy and data.
- Adhering to ethics standards like avoiding harm, deception, or conflicts of interest. Communicating these imperative requirements to researchers is a fundamental part of this role.
- Securing sensitive research data like personally identifiable information (PII) or financial details with encryption, access controls, etc.
- Enabling secure information sharing within legal bounds through tools like encrypted repositories.
Strong governance allows you to conduct rigorous research, knowing it meets organizational standards. ResearchOps owns governance, so you can focus purely on deriving insights.
Generating insights is only the first step. Research creates immense value when people share and apply these insights across an organization. That's why knowledge management is a crucial ResearchOps function.
Effective knowledge management requires:
- Consolidating research data and insights from across the organization into a central, accessible repository like EnjoyHQ from UserTesting. It breaks down information silos and makes valuable research insights easily accessible to everyone in the organization.
- Establishing intuitive information architecture and search to facilitate the discovery of insights. It aids collaboration.
- Creating protocols for documenting and sharing different asset types from study plans to synthesis. Establishing standardized documentation practices preserves institutional knowledge.
- Building stakeholder dashboards and reports to socialize insights with non-researchers. This helps drive organizational understanding and decision-making based on customer intelligence.
- Using tools like machine learning to surface key insights and patterns from vast data.
UX researchers often use various project management tools to get the job done. However, managing multiple tool subscriptions and integrations has a few hurdles. ResearchOps tackles this by:
- Identifying redundancies and rationalizing tools to reduce costs. This involves evaluating feature overlap.
- Procuring new tools based on researcher needs and integrations with existing tech stack to prevent fragmented workflows.
- Managing tool licensing, access permissions, single sign-on (SSO), and onboarding/training to simplify tool administration.
- Enabling integrations between tools for seamless hand-offs in the research process.
The spaces where research happens are pivotal for collecting accurate, ethical data. ResearchOps manages:
- Physical spaces like focus group rooms, usability labs, and interview rooms.
- Virtual research spaces like online focus groups and remote usability software.
- Space requirements like privacy, modifiability, and accessibility.
- Third-party facilities for field studies as needed.
This management means you can focus on engaging participants and observing behaviors in optimally equipped environments.
Communication and advocacy
A key aspect of ResearchOps is sharing insights widely to inform decisions across the organization. It involves:
- Creating compelling presentations and reports to communicate insights tailored to different stakeholder needs.
- Building relationships with key stakeholder groups to understand their goals and pain points.
- Identifying opportunities to further scale research impact through democratization initiatives.
- Promoting research and educating colleagues on its value through workshops, newsletters, and events.
- Benchmarking metrics like net promoter score (NPS) and conversion rates to quantify research ROI.
- Managing research team brand identity through style guides, templates, etc.
With ResearchOps facilitating communication, UX insights gain visibility and buy-in across the organization.
ResearchOps and DesignOps: A symbiotic partnership
ResearchOps and DesignOps are two emerging disciplines in the field of UX that are revolutionizing how organizations approach user-focused design and research. Although distinct in their functions, these two disciplines have a symbiotic partnership that enhances the overall efficiency and effectiveness of the UX design process.
The symbiotic partnership between ResearchOps and DesignOps lies in their complementing roles and goals. ResearchOps provides the necessary research insights and data that form the foundation for design decisions. By optimizing the research process and making it more efficient, ResearchOps gives designers access to timely and relevant research findings.
DesignOps, on the other hand, takes those research insights and translates them into practical design solutions. By creating a seamless design workflow and providing the necessary tools and resources, DesignOps helps designers implement research findings effectively. The partnership between ResearchOps and DesignOps ultimately results in enhanced collaboration, improved efficiency, and better user experiences.
How can ResearchOps add value to your organization?
Implementing ResearchOps delivers immense value through:
- Greater research efficiency: By centralizing operations like recruiting and tool management, ResearchOps saves researchers time.
- Enhanced rigor and quality: ResearchOps establishes scalable workflows that maintain a consistently high quality, even as research expands.
- Faster insight discovery: With robust knowledge management, you can quickly build on existing insights rather than starting from scratch.
- Improved collaboration: Consolidated research data and streamlined tools enable team members to collaborate seamlessly.
- Increased insight democratization: ResearchOps distributes insights widely through stakeholder reports and events.
- Higher researcher productivity: When freed from operational tasks, researchers can dedicate more time to high-value analysis.
- Stronger research governance: ResearchOps bakes in ethics, privacy, and compliance processes to ensure rigorous, lawful studies.
- Reduced tool costs: By consolidating tools, ResearchOps cuts redundancy and lowers licensing fees.
Does your organization need a dedicated ResearchOps team?
A dedicated ResearchOps team becomes a necessity in organizations when:
- There's a surge in UX researchers who find it challenging to streamline research operations
- Operational processes weigh down researchers, hindering their analytical abilities
- Various branches or teams operate independent research programs, resulting in inefficiencies
- Elevating and systemizing research is a consistent roadblock to fostering a customer-centric culture
- The organization aims to integrate UX research into broader initiatives, such as crafting design systems or charting customer journeys
- Stakeholders find it difficult to harness and implement research insights
If these situations sound familiar, it's a strong indicator that your organization could profit from a specialized ResearchOps role. Begin modestly with a pivotal position like an Insights Manager and gradually diversify. Tailor the scope and role of ResearchOps to align with your specific needs.
How to get started with ResearchOps?
Embarking on a ResearchOps journey involves a series of systematic steps. Here's a roadmap to guide you:
- Assess your current setup. Identify the existing processes, tools, and systems you currently employ. Do you have research guidelines or a research repository? Knowing where you stand helps you understand where improvements are necessary.
- Set clear objectives. Why do you want to implement ResearchOps? Define your goals clearly, whether it's to streamline processes, centralize research findings, or foster better collaboration.
- Assemble a team. ResearchOps isn't a one-person show. You'll need a team of individuals who can understand research nuances and organizational needs. If possible, include a mix of researchers, designers, and operations professionals.
- Choose the right tools. ResearchOps involves many tools, from repositories and transcription services to participant recruitment platforms. Based on your objectives, select tools that best fit your requirements.
- Develop a framework. Establish a standardized process for conducting and storing research. This might include templates for research plans, guidelines for recruiting participants, or data storage and sharing protocols.
- Prioritize training. Ensure everyone on your team is on the same page. Organize training sessions to familiarize them with the tools, processes, and best practices of ResearchOps.
- Seek feedback. As you implement, continuously collect stakeholder feedback. This might include other researchers, designers, or even the participants themselves. Use this feedback to refine and improve your operations.
- Stay updated. The field of ResearchOps is constantly evolving. Join communities, attend conferences, and learn about the latest trends to ensure you're always at the forefront.
- Celebrate small wins. Implementing ResearchOps can be a significant undertaking. Celebrate the milestones, no matter how small. It will keep you and your team motivated to push forward.
By following these steps, you'll be well on your way to establishing a ResearchOps foundation in your organization. Embrace the process, adapt as you go, and soon, you'll see the benefits of streamlined research operations.
ResearchOps best practices
To truly excel at ResearchOps, you must know and incorporate best practices. Here are some essentials you should adopt:
- Establish clear communication. Ensure your team has open lines of communication. Clear communication reduces misunderstandings and boosts efficiency.
- Centralize your data. A centralized location for all research data ensures easy accessibility and minimizes the risk of essential findings getting lost or overlooked.
- Ensure data privacy. Always prioritize research participants' privacy and security. Adhere to data protection regulations and maintain transparency about how you use and store information.
- Standardize, but be flexible. While standardized processes are essential for consistency, ResearchOps should remain flexible enough to adapt to specific project needs or unexpected changes.
- Collaborate with other departments. Don't operate in a silo. Engage with marketing, sales, and product teams to leverage their insights and share your findings.
- Maintain documentation. Keep thorough documentation of everything from research methods to decisions made. It helps in audits and provides a roadmap for future research projects.
- Iterate and refine. The first process you set might not be perfect. Always be open to iteration and refinement based on feedback and evolving needs.
- Plan for scalability. As your organization grows, your research operations should be able to scale with it. Build processes and choose tools with future growth in mind.
- Stay ethical. Beyond data privacy, always conduct research ethically. Treat participants respectfully, get informed consent, and ensure your research does no harm.
- Network with peers. Connect with ResearchOps professionals in other organizations. Share insights, discuss challenges, and learn from the wider community.
Integrating these best practices into your ResearchOps will enhance your research effectiveness and set a strong foundation for a sustainable and impactful research environment.
Elevate your research operations with UserTesting
The rise of ResearchOps marks a significant milestone in the evolution of UX research. As the field continues to grow and the value of user experience becomes more prominent, organizations are recognizing the need for a structured and streamlined approach to research operations.
ResearchOps addresses researchers' pain points and provides the necessary support and infrastructure to deliver high-quality research insights. From recruiting participants and managing governance to knowledge management and communication, ResearchOps plays a critical role in scaling the impact of research within an organization.
Take your research operations to the next level with UserTesting's EnjoyHQ, a research repository solution to help you centralize and share insights from customer research.
Contact us today to learn more about EnjoyHQ and how it can revolutionize your ResearchOps strategy.
Frequently asked questions
Who leads ResearchOps initiatives?
Dedicated ResearchOps professionals typically spearhead efforts, partnering closely with researchers. However, ownership models vary based on organizational structure and maturity.
How does ResearchOps relate to DesignOps?
ResearchOps and DesignOps are highly complementary. ResearchOps delivers insights that inform designs created by DesignOps. The two functions work hand-in-hand.
What skills do ResearchOps professionals need?
ResearchOps requires a mix of project management, stakeholder engagement, tech platform management, and analytics skills.
What are some ResearchOps tools?
Some ResearchOps tools include user research platforms like UserTesting, research repositories like EnjoyHQ, transcription services like Otter.ai, and collaboration tools like Miro and Trello
Watch the on-demand webinar "How to build a research repository without losing your mind." Learn from three special guests how they got buy-in from stakeholders, what went right, what went wrong, and how their strategy changed over time.