As part of a series of informative webinars that Cubyts has undertaken to showcase the importance of DesignOps, we hosted the third webinar on the 16th of November, 2022.
This time, we took a deep dive into the world of ResearchOps, what many consider to be a sub-discipline of DesignOps.
Our CEO, Aurobinda sat down with two ResearchOps specialists, Annemieke Van Ruiten and Marine Debussche, to discover the importance, components, and roles of ResearchOps, and how it applies to today’s business landscape.
Annemieke Van Ruiten is the Research Ops Lead at Assist Digital, Italy, with over 10 years of experience in UX Research. She studied UX project management and has managed several mid-to-large-scale research projects for international companies.
Marine Debussche is the Lead Consultant for ResearchOps @Devoteam Digital Impulse, France, and comes from a strong user research background, with tremendous empathy for users and for project teams.
With that said, here are the key takeaways from this webinar: A Conversation On ResearchOps.
First, let’s talk about user research
The last three to four years have seen a massive increase in people recognizing the need for proper user research, with more user researchers in the market and dedicated research courses and training programs in universities becoming common.
From what we’ve seen, we believe that the reason for this rapid growth is that user research has become a unique way to derive crucial information that can transform an organization to become more customer-centered.
It shows that the value of user research is better understood in both our own market and that of other industries.
Typically it is the UX designer who does the research, and we still see this in businesses today, but it does feel optimistic to see that more and more product teams are requesting research-centric roles and dedicated research teams for user research.
However, the rapid rise in the need for user research brings its own set of challenges.
Challenges research teams are likely to face
Firstly, with more research comes the collection of lots of new data. How do you make sure this data and use knowledge is used to the fullest? How do you make sure that the data is a shared property within your organization for anyone who needs to use it?
Secondly, the way research teams work today, researchers waste a lot of time undertaking operative tasks such as recruiting, scheduling, incentives, participants, etc. These are tasks that don’t require their expertise as user researchers.
So how do you make sure their work is compliant with regulations such as GDPR regulations in Europe, for instance? How do you make sure research is done with company standards in mind, but also personalized in a way that every researcher and non-researcher can find similarities to use it effectively?
Lastly, the rise in user research has also allowed for the use of more tools, which is a good direction. But with that comes the challenge of making sure the right tools are used for the right tasks and ensuring that people in your company have access to these tools.
These challenges are prevalent in every research team that is scaling today. Fortunately, there is a solution, and that is where ResearchOps comes in.
What is ResearchOps?
Given that it’s still a new division, some people refer to ResearchOps as a synonym for tasks like building research repositories or recruitment services. These are important aspects of it, but it is not what ResearchOps is entirely about.
Here is the official definition of ResearchOps as provided by the ResearchOps Community led by Kate Towsey.
ResearchOps is a means of providing the roles, tools, and processes needed to support researchers in delivering and scaling the impact of the craft across an organization. It’s also the mechanisms and strategies that set user research in motion.
To add to that, we look at ResearchOps as a service that is not just built for researchers to help them carry out their research but is also for anyone and everyone who takes responsibility for user experience in the organization. It is a tool to support them in getting the most out of the valuable insights that are collected.
Apart from that, ResearchOps is also a catalyst for leading organizations toward a more user-centric or customer-centric approach to product development.
The ResearchOps framework
Inspired by the ResearchOps community, the ResearchOps framework underlines six key areas of focus:
Before we get into what these components entail, it is important to note that these six areas are not isolated elements. Rather, they work hand-in-hand and influence each other to help research teams conduct effective user research.
With that said, let’s look at each of these components.
This area includes anything that helps you find and recruit quality participants that fit into your targetted groups to conduct research on.
It also includes the process of scheduling research sessions effectively while also making sure that the participants are rightly incentivized or compensated for their time.
Because it’s usually the most obvious and urgent necessity of overworked research teams, recruitment is where we start when implementing ResearchOps services with clients.
In order to boost productivity and scale research, ResearchOps is in charge of the strategic acquisition and management of tools and platforms.
It entails the organizing of tools, platform licenses & subscriptions, permissions, onboarding, and training to make sure that researchers know how to properly use the given tools.
This includes the procedures and tools for gathering, analyzing, and sharing research insights.
Research-intensive businesses develop enormous data libraries. To make it simple for teams to access and use this material, ResearchOps must gather and organize it through research repositories.
Researchers must pay attention to sharing these insights in a comprehensive way so even non-researchers can understand and use the data. This means you have to contextualize how you discovered these insights and what impact it has on the organization or product.
This component also includes the management and storage of raw and processed data.
The most important factor to keep in mind is that the findings and insights need to be traceable throughout the organization so teams can be prevented from conducting the same research twice, helping save time and money.
Any research involving participants must have governance rules. It concerns the ethics, safety, and legality of research. ResearchOps aids in information governance by developing procedures and policies for authorization, data privacy, and asset/information storage.
It also includes the creation of playbooks, templates, and guidelines to provide research teams with readily available information that can be used to launch and conduct user research.
The goal of this component is to understand and define the roles of each member that connects to user research. This includes the actual researchers, sponsors, supporters, and anyone else who has a part to play in the research process.
This is where leadership roles are created to help translate information across all the various disciplines and levels of an organization that requires user research.
It also aims to pinpoint any gaps in the research team and offer coaching to new researchers to speed up the onboarding process, while identifying the existing potential within the team and squeezing it out to maximize efficiency.
It is essential to expand the organization’s research capabilities and expertise as the volume and need for research undertaken grows. The goal of the roles component is to encourage more people to understand and do research.
Lastly, we have the promotion component where the value of user research is shared, popularised, and promoted within an organization through ResearchOps.
This can be divided into two categories: Internal promotion and external promotion.
Internal promotion is to get stakeholders on board by showcasing the impact that research has on the product and business with the help of success stories and case studies.
External promotion is to get users on board which becomes evident to them when you actively listen to your users and incorporate their feedback into the product or service.
What are the parameters you should look at when considering the implementation of ResearchOps?
From our experience, there are three key factors that come into play when considering ResearchOps for your organization.
Usually, the need for ResearchOps arises when a research team consists of five to eight members, wherein each research division is handled by a ResearchOps person.
According to a survey conducted by Annemieke in 2022, around 50% of companies she analyzed had a dedicated ResearchOps person in charge when the research team size was above 12 members.
While this is not an exclusive parameter and can be used for much smaller teams, we’ve come to notice that team size is definitely a factor to look into when considering the implementation of ResearchOps.
The main role of a researcher is to conduct research, but more often than not, we find researchers take on operative tasks such as creating consent forms or making sure platform licenses are renewed.
That is simply not the best use of their expertise. While these tasks are easy to handle, it takes up valuable time that researchers can use for conducting effective research.
If you find your researchers tackling operative tasks, it’s probably time for you to implement ResearchOps.
By maturity, we mean how much importance is given to user research and user-centered data within an organization.
If your organization values user research and the need for user-centric products, ResearchOps is undoubtedly the way to grow from there.
This really comes down to the tasks within the six components that researchers need to focus on at any given time.
For example, if you want to make the research process more efficient, you ideally concentrate on the recruitment facet of ResearchOps. This means sitting with the legal team to discuss how to conduct research in a way that is compliant with privacy regulations, or personal information is collected and stored within the organization.
In this scenario, a researcher is also likely to look at data CRM teams to access client files to recruit the right participants to help with their study.
Another instance is if the researcher wants to look into the knowledge management facet. Here the researcher will work on defining the right tools and creating a common knowledge repository. They will work with teams of other disciplines to make sure they have access to the information they need.
A researcher will also overlook the methods the research team uses for gathering user insights, making sure they know what they’re doing, such as verifying whether they understand the difference between qualitative and quantitative data, for instance.
The underlying theme here is that as a ResearchOps person, you are always working with different people in different roles with different methods of interaction. And from our experience, you should ideally have four types of time slots in your agenda as a ResearchOps specialist.
DevOps, or even Operations in general, have been there for a while, and its impact on a business’s success has been rightfully evident.
ResearchOps and DesignOps, like other upcoming Ops, are relatively new fields to improve a specific area of expertise.
However, when it comes to these two Ops, they are linked because user research is a part of design, with some even calling it two peas in a pod.
They are mutually supportive of each other because their objectives are both user-focused. The objective of user research is to understand who the users are and what motivates them, and it is already proven that user-centered design has a massive impact on the success of a product.
User research brings the necessary information that design teams require to design a product that is centered around the needs and insights of their customers.
User research is a pillar of good design, and in that light, ResearchOps can be considered a sub-discipline of DesignOps.
In fact, some organizations even have the same person conducting ResearchOps and DesignOps, so that’s a clear indication that they are intertwined in goals.
In spite of being fresh in the market, ResearchOps has changed the direction of how research teams conduct effective research – by keeping the customers at the forefront.
Just like DevOps and DesignOps, ResearchOps has shown considerable growth in how user research is used to produce the best results. And with the rise in user research in today’s landscape, we can safely say that organizations are headed in the right direction.
This was an especially insightful and delightful webinar, with our guest speakers having a lot more to say on the subject of ResearchOps, and it might help you to check out the full video to see how they shared their expertise with other research teams looking to scale their efforts.