Blog Posts
April 28, 2023

From Research Ops to User Panels: Key Takeaways from Top Research Leaders

Discover key insights on scaling research teams, building a user-focused research practice, and maximizing research impact from top Research Ops leaders in this comprehensive AMA roundup.

Over the past six months, we’ve hosted multiple AMAs with some incredible Research Ops leaders who each shared a wealth of insight and knowledge. In this blog, you’ll find a roundup of key takeaways and advice from three of our first events:

  1. Building Research Ops from the Ground Up with MongoDB’s Crystal Kubitsky and Pendo’s Tiffany Stanfield
  2. Scaling a UXR Team of One with Gong’s Akshay Verma
  3. Building a User-focused Research Practice with Xplor’s Lindsay Boylan

How do you make the case to scale Research?

Scaling research teams can significantly impact an organization's growth and innovation. Here are some steps you can take to make a strong case for expanding your research team.

Tiffany: Visualize the Current Process

  • Assess researchers' time allocation to identify areas consuming the most resources.
  • Document findings and share them with leadership to illustrate the need for Research Operations or senior research roles.

Akshay: Understand Organizational Culture

  • Investigate your organization's norms and expectations around discovery, product management, design, and research.
  • Document and measure success, focusing on replicating what works well.
  • Identify research that excites leadership, and build allies by understanding what aspects of your work engage them.
  • Be mindful of successes and aim to replicate them as you scale from one to multiple researchers.

Lindsay: Prioritize Roles and Skillsets for Growth

  • Focus on hiring a trustworthy right-hand person who feels right to work with, rather than solely prioritizing skills.
  • As the team expands, consider a mix of junior- and senior-level experience and diverse backgrounds.
  • Encourage diverse expertise, such as researchers with strong quantitative skills, to avoid creating an echo chamber.

Akshay: Scaling Beyond a Research Team of One

  • List all proposed research projects for the next quarter.
  • Determine what you can accomplish and what would require additional support or be left undone.
  • Frame research as risk mitigation when presenting to executives, emphasizing the potential to build the right thing the first time.
  • Share examples of research impact, both positive and negative, to demonstrate its value.

Building a strong Research team

Hiring the right talent for your research team is crucial for driving success and achieving strategic goals. This section highlights advice from Akshay, Tiffany, and Crystal on effectively scaling research, selecting the best researchers, considering contract hires, identifying when to bring in Research Ops, and managing change within the team.

1. Implement an Embedded Approach (Akshay): Assign dedicated researchers to each product manager within multiple product pillars, allowing them to accumulate knowledge and expertise over time.
2. Define Clear Hiring Goals (Akshay): When selecting researchers, focus on three key objectives: replicating success, aligning with leadership's strategic priorities, and fostering expertise to co-own the product roadmap.
3. Leverage Contract Researchers (Akshay): To address specific needs or skills, consider hiring contract researchers who can provide support on high-impact projects that require dedicated attention.
4. Recognize Signals for Research Ops Hiring (Crystal): Determine when to hire Research Ops by monitoring the following indicators:
            - Projects consistently exceed the research team's capacity.
            - Evaluative concept research takes away focus from generative topics.
            - Non-researchers frequently conduct research or request to do so.
5. Manage Change Effectively (Tiffany): To navigate change in the research team, identify a research or design team champion and seek leadership support, ensuring that change is facilitated from the top down.

Maximizing Research value, impact, and benchmarking

Effectively measuring the value and impact of research can be challenging, especially for small or solo teams. Use these tips to gauge success and benchmark your team, no matter its size.

  • Evaluate Impact: Monitor senior leadership engagement and alignment with business goals.
  • Reflect on Initiatives: Conduct a year-end review of research projects, goals, and results.
  • Conduct Internal Research: Query product leaders about research-influenced decisions.
  • Document Findings: Record research-driven decisions and outcomes for future reference.
  • Create a Research Portfolio: Compile a list of research accomplishments and actions.
  • Share Updates: Disseminate research insights and showcase impact.
  • Use Benchmark Surveys: Assess team performance, confidence, and training needs.
  • Develop Training Materials: Design and deliver research best practices and tool training.

What to do when you don’t have dedicated Research Ops support

We’ve broken this advice into two categories: one for teams of one and another for larger teams without a dedicated Research Ops role. This distinction is important because the challenges and needs of solo researchers differ from those of bigger teams. But first, here’s Lindsay’s perspective on Research Ops. Lindsay began her role at Xplor as a team of one, but her reflections are relevant to teams of any size.

  • "If the process around research is chaotic, then the research will be chaotic."
  • Dedicating time to Research Ops has paid off endlessly for Lindsay and her team.
  • Research Ops is an ongoing priority that matters as much as actually completing the research.

For teams of one:

Integrating Research Ops and tackling challenges as a solo researcher

Importance of ReOps for solo researchers:

  • Chaotic processes lead to chaotic research results.
  • The success of research practice depends on effective ReOps.

Before joining Gong, Akshay was warned by a mentor that he would need to handle research ops on his own, which meant taking on many extra tasks. After spending a considerable amount of time on tasks like emailing participants and setting up an NDA, Akshay discovered Rally, which helped automate much of the recruitment process and saved precious time and resources.

Advice for solo researchers:

  • Protect your time for meaningful research.
  • Be selective about tasks to avoid getting stuck in logistics.
  • Utilize your organization's existing toolkit instead of seeking new tools.

Akshay emphasized the importance of being ruthless with time management and using the organization's existing toolkit to avoid wasting time on acquiring new tools.

For teams without dedicated ReOps support:

How to address pain points without dedicated ReOps support

Crystal's advice on tackling challenges:

  • Automate tasks where possible.
  • Delegate responsibilities.
  • Templatize processes.
  • Find ways to increase efficiency.
  • Collaborate with others who face similar challenges.

Akshay’s advice on cross-functional collaboration

Here are four things Akshay recommends doing to increase collaboration and a shared understanding of research in your organization:

  1. Identify reliable individuals on each team who you can trust and rely on.
  2. Set up designated spaces and times, such as workshops, for members from different teams to come together and exchange insights.
  3. Begin by involving disciplines most closely tied to research, like product and design, and then expand to include other teams.
  4. Create a joint research roadmap that encompasses pricing research, marketing research, and user research to help stakeholders understand each discipline and connect the dots across various research sources and data.

Essential tips for setting up a user panel

Lindsay shared her insight on setting up a user panel and how to keep panelists engaged. Here are a few highlights:

  • Research existing panels: Learn from successful panels like Atlassian's, which has branded its panel to make participants feel special and incorporated multiple touch points.
  • Set clear expectations: Create a landing page or send an email to users upon sign-up, explaining what they can expect from participating in the panel.
  • Keep panel size manageable: A reasonably sized panel ensures that you can maintain engagement without leaving any participants feeling neglected.
  • Reach out to inactive panelists: Identify and engage with panelists who haven't been contacted or participated in research sessions recently.
  • Send regular updates and thank-you messages: Show appreciation for panelists' contributions by sending personalized thank-you messages or updates, such as during the holiday season. Share news about your research team's growth and express gratitude for panelists' involvement.
  • Choose the right tool: Rally’s User Research CRM makes it easy to build multiple panels and recruit users with sign-up pages tailored for each audience. And once you’ve populated your panel, you can use personalized email templates to update and thank your panelists.

Keep exploring our AMAs

If you’d like to read more from Crystal, Tiffany, Akshay, and Lindsay, you can check out our more in-depth recaps here. Keep your eyes out for future AMAs. We’re always looking for more UXR voices and insight to amplify, so let us know if you have any topics or people you’d like to hear from.

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