How research operations can benefit your company by improving UX workflow and reporting.
Is your user research department wasting time on repetitive tasks?
Perhaps your approach to UX reporting is inconsistent, causing mismatches in metrics being tracked and confused leadership teams.
A research operations (or ResearchOps) program solves all of those problems. It gives tools, templates, and resources to those involved in user experience; ensures research data is protected; and builds confidence in UX across the entire department.
In this guide, we’ll explain:
Originally developed by Kate Towsey of Atlassian, a research operations program manages the people and process side of user research. It runs alongside other operations teams—like DesignOps and DevOps.
There are five key components to a ResearchOps program, including:
The goal is to make user research activities easier, more consistent, and provide a centralized approach to customer and user insight, to help you make better design and product decisions, faster.
Cristine Cravens, User Research & Product Design Leader at Kroger, reveals how she makes research scalable by developing a ResearchOps practice that empowers all designers in her team.
Now we know what ResearchOps is, let’s take a look at the benefits of having a program in place.
You’re running a new UX test. But before you’re anywhere close to implementing the changes, you’ve got a checklist of things to remember—like participant recruitment, scheduling interviews, and getting design teams to implement the changes.
Jason Forney is a Senior UX Researcher at Okta, who has a 10:1 ratio of designers to researchers. For this reason, Jason says, “maximizing our resources and our ability to do as much as we can with our head [count] is very important.”
The good news is: having a ResearchOps program in place significantly cuts the time you spend 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
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. Also, many other teams in the organization, including sales, product and marketing collect valuable insight in some form, but it’s stored in different places and can be inaccessible to teams who should be able to benefit from it.
Let’s put that into perspective and say you’ve previously run a usability test that supports your decision to include breadcrumbs on pages inside your mobile app. Your design team is thinking of changing that in their redesign of the platform.
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.
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.
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 explain:
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.
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 easy with a ResearchOps program that details responsibilities for data governance.
User research can be expensive. Chances are, you have the following UX activities coming out of your budget:
A ResearchOps program gives someone responsibility for that 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).
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
Despite the benefits of having a Research Operations program, just 61% of research executives currently have a strategy in place.
Here are some of the stumbling blocks to creating one:
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. When EnjoyHQ surveyed UX teams, they found all small organizations had a Research Ops strategy in place (compared to just 80% of the large organizations with multiple team members to manage).
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 things is a struggle for organizations that are stuck for time as it is.
ResearchOps can easily fall on the backburner for companies without time to invest in a strategy. But remember: while it’s a hefty investment, a ResearchOps program saves you hours in the long run.
Ready to take advantage of a ResearchOps program? Here’s a step-by-step guide to implementing your own.
The starting point 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:
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.
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:
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
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.
Choose a platform like EnjoyHQ. 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:
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.
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.
Also, it's worth checking out the ResearchOps Community, it has a very useful Slack group, and lots of resources for you to find out more about this topic.
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