August 31, 2023

Julian Della Mattia on how to build ReOps on any team

Julian Della Mattia, a Research Ops Specialist, who has built multiple Research functions from scratch, joined the Rally team on August 31 to discuss building ReOps on any team. Julian covered topics like balancing Research Ops and conducting research, the impact of ReOps on cross-functional teams, how thrive as a ReOps professional, the role of ReOps in Democratization, and more. 

If you missed it, or want to revisit the highlights, read our recap below. If you’d like to watch a recording of the full AMA, follow this link.

Key Takeaways

🔑 You should prioritize ops in your Research function as soon as you can to set a strong foundation for growth and enable quality research. 

🔑 ReOps plays a pivotal role beyond just research, promoting knowledge sharing across various departments and fostering a collaborative environment. 

🔑 Implementing ReOps requires identifying and prioritizing challenges, mixing quick wins with long-term strategies, and frequent iteration.

🔑 Researchers will become crucial connectors between teams, especially as Continuous Discovery becomes more prevalent, emphasizing the importance of collaboration and integration.

🔑 Professionals in ReOps come from varied backgrounds, and success hinges on leveraging these experiences, continuous learning, and adaptability.

🔑 Not everyone is inclined towards research; forcing non-interested parties may result in suboptimal outcomes. Recognizing and respecting resistance towards research can elevate the understanding and appreciation of the research field within an organization.

🔑 Staffing decisions should go beyond raw numbers, focusing on team efficiency, scalability, and adaptability. Regional differences also play a part in determining staffing needs.

Who is Julian? 

Julian is an experienced researcher and founder of the research agency The 180. "I've been working in Research for almost seven years now," Julian said. "Though I’ve held an official Research Ops title, but I found myself deeply embedded in it over the course of my career."

"Over the years, my passion shifted from just interacting with users to helping other researchers refine their practice," he said. In his career, Julian has had the opportunity to join teams as the first or second researcher, and played foundation roles in building up Research and Research Ops practices. "I transitioned from a finder to a builder, focusing on not just uncovering insights but on building research practices and enabling quality research." Now, Julian applies his expertise to help companies build, set up, and scale their Research infrastructure. 


When should you prioritize ops in your Research function? 

"As soon as you can," said Julian. "That’s always my answer – as soon as possible." The benefit of integrating operations from the onset is that as the organization grows and complexity increases, having a solid operational foundation can greatly simplify future projects and initiatives.

Julian pointed out a common trend among research organizations. "Sometimes researchers, even in larger groups, tend to view ops as an afterthought. They might think, 'We'll take care of the ops later' or they decide to wait until they have a specific number of researchers before making their first ops hire."

However, the risk with such an approach, Julian cautioned, is that as more elements come into play – be it more projects or more personnel – the lack of an operational backbone can make orchestrating everything increasingly chaotic. 

Julian acknowledged that pushing for operations early on can be a challenge, especially when there's a need to establish the value of Research itself within an organization. But his advice remained firm: "Always get started as soon as you can."

How do you balance ReOps and other research duties?

Julian emphasized the need to balance operations with other research duties, especially when teams are resource-limited and can't hire a dedicated ops specialist. He explained there are three main ways research teams handle ReOps: hiring external agencies, employing fractional ops roles who juggle multiple companies, or having in-house researchers take on the ops tasks. Most commonly, teams choose the last option where researchers split their time.

The challenge here, Julian pointed out, is the trade-off between ops and research. "When you're working in ops, you're not researching, and vice versa." It's crucial to show that the investment in ops, in terms of time and effort, will yield better research outcomes in the long run. Instead of only focusing on immediate research results, Julian advised teams to recognize the gradual value ops brings as it matures over time.

On setting ops priorities, Julian suggested mapping out the research approach. Identify where the team struggles the most and focus on those impactful areas first. "When choosing what to work on, compare apples to apples. You will most likely have a mix of small and large tasks. Try to chop the large task in smaller bits so you can then compare them with the smaller ones and decide which ones to pick. I usually recommend a mix of short and long term value tasks. This way, teams can make incremental improvements while keeping an eye on long-term benefits."

Where do you start with ReOps?

While there's a vast array of ReOps tasks and touch points that can be impacted by researchers, two areas often bubble up as primary concerns: participant management and repositories. "These are the two big pain points," he shared.

Participant management, in particular, is a hot topic. Different regions come with their own set of challenges. For example, in Europe, due to stringent regulations and laws, managing participants and ensuring compliance becomes a significant hurdle. On the other hand, for some teams, setting up and maintaining a research repository is of paramount importance. In essence, while the broader ReOps landscape is vast, Julian noted that these two areas – participant management and repositories – are typically the ones teams want to tackle first.

How can ReOps positively affect cross-functional teams?

Julian pointed out that the influence of ReOps isn't limited to just the Research department. Instead, it ripples across various teams, playing dual roles: offering support and building a foundation for practices. For instance, with the rising trend of Research Democratization and Continuous Discovery, non-researchers often find themselves engaged in research tasks. ReOps can streamline this process and provide a cohesive structure.

Beyond that, Julian said he views ReOps as an amplifier of the voice of Research, creating bridges between different departments. By integrating insights from diverse teams like Product, Customer Support, and Data Analytics, ReOps can serve as a hub. This interconnection promotes knowledge sharing, offering a more comprehensive understanding of the problem space, customers, and industry. In essence, it helps in creating a cohesive, collaborative environment. Julian even suggested that the benefits of ReOps are so profound, there's value in implementing it even if a dedicated research team isn't present.

Setting up systems to amplify the voice of the user across an organization 

Julian shared his ongoing efforts to create a cohesive "insight pool," sourced from multiple teams. He said he’s a fan of conceptualizing these teams as "insight producing teams," which can include departments like Customer Support/Success, Sales, Marketing, and any others that interact with the customer. By leveraging tools ranging from Figma to Notion, Julian emphasized the importance of creating a space where everyone can both contribute to and extract valuable insights.

Essentially, Research teams pour their findings into the pool, Data teams add their metrics, and Customer Success might layer on feedback. This ongoing give and take, which Julian likened to filling and drawing water from a communal pool, is pivotal for what he described as "triangulation." This refers to the blending of insights from different sources and perspectives, offering a multi-dimensional view of user experiences. He also compared it to a movie shot from multiple camera angles, where each angle or insight source adds depth and richness to the overall narrative.

However, timing and cadence are crucial, he said. Teams must synchronize their input-output cycles, ensuring that insights remain current and actionable. The dual benefits of this system are clear – it fosters a more comprehensive understanding of the user's voice and serves as a valuable repository that can inspire and inform future initiatives.

Making the case for Research Ops and calculating ROI

When it comes to calculating the ROI for ReOps, there's no one-size-fits-all formula. At its core, the value of ReOps often lies in what costs and mistakes it helps to avoid, rather than quantifiable returns, he explained. Think of it like this: If a research initiative prevents a feature from being developed that would have been redundant or unhelpful, the savings come from avoided costs.


Breaking it down further, streamlining participant management can lead to significant savings. By optimizing recruitment processes, minimizing no-shows, and increasing response rates, you reduce researcher hours spent on these tasks. This can be translated into monetary savings by considering the hourly cost of a researcher. Similarly, creating a research repository to prevent repeating previous studies means less wasted resources.

Another tangible benefit, especially in regions like Europe, revolves around compliance. The GDPR mandates strict data privacy laws, with hefty fines for non-compliance. Ensuring your research practices align with such regulations not only upholds ethical standards but also dodges potential financial penalties.

While pinning down an exact ROI for ReOps can be elusive, the savings it provides are undeniable. It's akin to having an efficient car – you might not quantify the exact savings, but you undoubtedly spend less on gas. The focus should be on the money and time saved, and the costly pitfalls avoided, he said.

Basic roadmap for implementing ReOps

Embarking on Research Ops starts with pinpointing challenges. "Find out where you can deliver the most value," Julian suggested, emphasizing the need to map out pain points. After identifying these issues, prioritize them, considering both quick wins and long-term strategies. When setting tasks, Julian advised clarity: "When you select and prioritize topics to work on, pick some quick wins but also dedicate some time to those topics that take longer to show results and need time and several steps to be delivered.” Clear milestones, like finding the right tool, provide direction. However, striking a balance is vital. Julian warned against solely pursuing quick wins, as "a lot of things that need to be built will indeed take time. It's like planting a seed and waiting for the tree to grow." Lastly, he emphasized the importance of iteration, reminding us that many ReOps processes require time and revisiting.

Evolving and growing in ReOps roles

Research Ops, as a relatively new field, offers a plethora of opportunities for career development and skill enhancement. Like many emerging disciplines, there isn't a one-size-fits-all approach. "People come from different angles. I know researchers who were once accountants, librarians, or even pharmacists," he explained. These diverse backgrounds can shape the skills they bring to ReOps. For instance, while a seasoned researcher might easily train stakeholders in research methodologies, someone from a non-research background might face a steeper learning curve. "Since many transition into this role and it touches so many areas, your growth will depend on your strengths and where you want to go."


Julian offered some tips for thriving in the world of ReOps and growing in your own role:

  • Leverage unique backgrounds: Embrace the diversity of experiences both in yourself and in others. Every background can bring value.
  • Maximize existing skills: "Depending on where you're coming from, your growth and skills might vary." Look for ways to apply what you already know.
  • Stay engaged and curious: Commit to continuous learning. Join online communities and attend webinars or conferences to connect with peers and gather fresh insights.
  • Prioritize adaptability: "Since many transition into ReOps, it’s crucial to recognize your strengths, yet remain flexible, enhancing your overall value."
  • Connect and collaborate: The Research and ReOps community is rich with opportunities for networking, discovering new tools, and learning best practices.

What’s the ideal stage or time to request additional ReOps staffing? 

The intricacies of ReOps staffing lie not just in the numbers but in the evolving needs of a dynamic research team. "When you have a functioning research team, or you have maybe three or four people already working on the ops, you face the same problem any other team would  in terms of capacities and what you want to achieve." While it's clear that the ideal staffing ratio isn't universally defined, Julian said it's essential to gauge the existing structure's capacities and growth trajectory.

Delving into specifics, Julian shared, "What we know so far by some studies is that the average Research Ops person supports the work of 21 people doing research." However, this ratio can vary considerably across regions and organizations. He mentioned that in countries like Brazil and parts of Latin America, a single ReOps individual might support even 40 researchers. In essence, the true metric for additional ReOps staffing is not just about numbers but also about the team's efficiency, scalability, and adaptability.

What do Democratization & Continuous Discovery mean in the context of Research and Research Ops? 

When it comes to Research Democratization and Continuous Discovery, "there are a lot of voices and protests," Julian said. "Democratization specifically is a very sensitive topic in the Research community." Democratization, he explained, was meant to "bring people along the Research journey" and essentially make Research more visible.  However, this initial vision morphed into a broader interpretation where non-researchers began to conduct research, leading to potential missteps and complications.

When it comes to Continuous Discovery, Julian referenced Teresa Torres's framework: "Continuous Discovery involves a product trio consisting of a product manager, a designer, and an engineer completing small bits of research every week continuously." It's a model where researchers might not play a central role, allowing for potential pitfalls. Julian strongly advised, "When processes like these happen at companies and you cannot push back, it's important that researchers get a good grip on them. We can reduce these pitfalls by implementing guidelines, creating boundaries, and forming a foundation for how to do this." As research processes evolve, the expertise of trained researchers remains indispensable.

How do you support external teams in utilizing Research insights? 

In helping external teams harness the impact of Research and operationalize its insights, Julian underscored the importance of collaboration and alignment from project inception to conclusion. "First, how does this project originate? Are you being asked? What kind of conversations are you having?" This alignment ensures that the research output meets the expectations and needs of the external team.

Upon delivery of the findings, Julian stressed on interactive dissemination over mere report handovers. It’s important to ask questions like: "How are you delivering this? Are you just delivering this as a report? Or are you walking people through your presentation?" He said he’s found success in conducting workshops after research has been completed. "One of the things that worked really well for me is facilitating workshops at the end of each project." Such workshops encourage immediate ideation and application of the findings. Julian acknowledged, however, that not every insight may be immediately actionable. Drawing from his prior experience as a product manager, Julian empathized with the large amount of tasks these roles often face. Because of this, he recommended a cooperative approach and urged researchers to put themselves in the stakeholders' shoes and collaborate on actionable steps drawn from the research findings.

What to do when non-researchers are overwhelmed by training or resistant? 

When it comes to equipping non-researchers to conduct research and the challenges they might face, Julian brought up one significant aspect – the genuine interest and willingness of the non-researchers. He referenced an article that speaks to the "other side of democratization," which brings up the point that not everyone may want to engage in research. Julian mentioned that if these non-researchers are compelled to conduct research, despite their reluctance, it might lead to subpar outcomes. "You may end up with crappy research," he said. Julian likened this to a disliked school subject where students might just be trying to get a passing grade rather than genuinely engaging with the material.

It's vital to recognize and honor the resistance or the feeling of being overwhelmed, said Julian. If they express that research isn't their forte or they'd rather focus on their core skills like designing, it's essential to respect that choice. If they recognize the complexity and intricacies of conducting meaningful research, said Julian, it could potentially elevate the understanding and appreciation of the research field within the organization.

For Julian, passion and genuine interest in conducting quality research is extremely important. It’s okay if everyone doesn’t want to participate, he said. The emphasis should be on quality and meaningful engagement rather than mere participation.


Julian’s vision for the future of ReOps:

"The future of Research Ops is connected closely to the future of researchers," he said, underlining the increasing gravitation towards strategic research. With constraints like limited hiring capacities, Julian said researchers “will need to face the ever-changing environment.” Additionally, Julian thinks the future will involve researchers becoming vital enablers, bridging gaps between different teams and processes. This adaptation is especially pertinent with the rise of Continuous Discovery. "We need to connect more with the product world and see how we can support each other." In his vision, ReOps becomes a collaborative, integrative force in the broader organizational landscape.

Connect with Julian

If you enjoyed Julian’s AMA: 

Thank you, Julian!

We’re grateful to Julian for joining us and sharing his insight, experience, and passion for ReOps. If you’d like to watch the full webinar, follow this link