Why every team needs Research Ops
Research Operations is intimately linked to UX Research. No surprise, given that the main objective of ReOps is to support research’s work and make it more efficient and scalable. In fact, approximately 98% of the Ops roles exist when there is already a Research function in place.
In companies where a dedicated ReOps role doesn’t exist, researchers – and sometimes even People Who Do Research (PWDR) like designers and product managers – themselves are running the operations side of the show. This causes researchers to split their time between building the infrastructure and conducting the research. Plus the lack of a centralized strategy can lead to uncoordinated efforts and disjointed initiatives. In such instances, some infrastructure projects are completed at a slower pace, inconsistently, and can often resemble patchwork.
So, when is it a good time to bring in a ReOps specialist? Is having a large and established Research team a requirement for a company to invest in Research Ops? How about those cases in which we have PDWR involved, too?
First, how can ReOps help my team?
ReOps aims to make researchers’ work easier, more efficient, and more organized. There are many ways it can support your team, but for now, let’s focus on the 5 most common aspects:
Participant Management & Recruitment: ReOps ensures you get the right participants for your studies, while strictly adhering to data protection regulations. Additionally, it guarantees swift and appropriate incentivisation for participants. Participant Management and Recruitment is one area where ReOps can deliver value quickly.
Centralized Research Repository: A centralized repository for research findings, insights, and data can be a game changer for your team. It enables easy access to relevant information for stakeholders, thereby fostering a culture of data-driven decision-making.
Training & Skill Development: ReOps can act as an enabler and facilitate training sessions and workshops to enhance the research capabilities of both UXRs and other stakeholders involved in the research process. This upskilling ensures that research is conducted with a high level of expertise and meets certain quality standards.
Establishing Best Practices & Optimizing Processes: Within research, ReOps plays a crucial role in setting up the best ways to conduct research. These processes and best practices help guarantee that research is done in a well-organized manner, leading to better and more reliable results.
Tooling: ReOps can evaluate, implement, and integrate various tools and platforms, making it easier for teams to collect, analyze, and share data. This can save time and effort, making research more efficient and effective. One example of an effective ReOps tool is Rally, a CRM built for User Research that safely stores participants and their data, streamlines the research recruitment process, and integrates with your existing tools.
ReOps is key for scaling
As teams grow and research multiplies, the need for a solid infrastructure becomes more apparent. The more researchers you have on your team, the more output they produce, the more users they require for research, and the more documentation they generate. Scaling the team is challenging, and as the team grows, more moving pieces must be aligned to maintain efficiency.
Investing in ReOps early on can help you lay a strong foundation and lead a pivotal role in creating streamlined processes, reducing overhead, and emphasizing quality and consistency throughout all research projects and initiatives.
What if we just keep on adding researchers to work on infrastructure?
I’m always favorable to the idea of adding more researchers to the team. However, despite the fact that additional researchers could help mitigate some of the infrastructural challenges by putting some order through their work, researchers will most likely spend their time conducting research, leaving little or no capacity to work on the overarching structure. We all know the drill, when research requests come knocking, infrastructural projects usually get deprioritized.
Adding more researchers will increase your research power and overall output, but instead of reducing infrastructural challenges, you’ll likely make them worse.
Isn’t this a manager’s responsibility?
The answer is both yes and no. While certain responsibilities undeniably fall under the scope of a manager, and they ultimately call the shots on all things ReOps touches, their hands-on involvement with the infrastructure depends on various factors. This includes the company, context, team, immediate needs, and even the manager's own profile.
Another challenge is one we’ve already mentioned: capacity. Managers juggle numerous responsibilities, from aligning with other teams and stakeholders to research strategy, roadmapping, and ensuring their team's well-being. It’s clear that time is not really abundant. In my experience as a UXR Lead, I found I could only carve out around 20-25% of my capacity for Ops-related matters.
Too many cooks in the Research kitchen
With the rise of Research Democratization and the growing adoption of Continuous Discovery practices, companies are now conducting more and more research. On one hand, it’s nice to see more people interested in research, but on the other hand, things can get out of control and take a turn for the worse really quickly.
There are countless articles discussing if “opening the gate” to non-researchers is actually a good idea. Most certainly, the emergence of this concept is a symptom of a deeper problem we all have as an industry, but we’re not going to discuss it here. For the purpose of this discussion, I’ll assume democratization is happening, regardless of what I think.
In companies with UXRs, they often set rules and guardrails. However, these initiatives typically add further overhead, stress, and chaos to their already loaded plate.
On top of that, it is not surprising to hear nowadays that numerous companies conduct research without having a single dedicated researcher on their team. This makes things even worse!
Beyond the challenges related to the quality of the output and the enormous consequences it can have on products and companies, many pressing infrastructure challenges remain: difficulties in finding participants, bad practices related to data compliance laws, improper or insufficient tools, pervasive biases, and sloppy governance.
And this is where ReOps can bring the most value to your organization.
Research Ops is exponentially effective when there are dedicated researchers in the team, but when there are PWDR too, it becomes critical.
Sounds great, but how do I get started with ReOps?
Hire an agency to do the work for you.
This is the easiest and most straightforward option but also the most expensive. There are dedicated agencies and professionals that offer ReOps services. This can be great if your Research practice is growing fast and you need your infrastructure to be ready ASAP. These agencies can hit the ground running and accelerate your adoption.
Hire a dedicated specialist.
This option is direct, but it necessitates a distinct approach. Hiring a ReOps specialist that will come in and proactively set up all the systems and processes you need is ideal for organizations who want to bet on the long game and are willing invest resources to develop their own ReOps capabilities.
Divide the workload between team members.
This is a tricky option because while it avoids new hires, it will certainly require more work from your existing team. You'll first need to identify team members who are interested in ReOps and have relevant skills and experience. Depending on how many team members show interest or are available, you’ll need to divide the workload. In companies with researchers, this will most likely fall on them.
Without researchers, careful profile selection becomes paramount. The biggest downside of this option is that those outside research may lack context and in-depth knowledge, potentially affecting their understanding of what to build and how to approach it.
Hire a coach to train your team.
This approach is a hybrid of options 1 and 3. It’s great for those looking to divide the workload among existing team members without adding new hires or outsourcing. A coach can help your team get up to speed with ReOps and lay foundational groundwork that your team can polish over time.
Research Operations is ESSENTIAL
Research Operations is essential to any Research practice, regardless of who’s conducting the research. By providing infrastructure, training, and support, ReOps can help ensure that research is conducted effectively and efficiently.
While there are a number of ways to get started with ReOps, like hiring an agency, hiring a dedicated specialist, or dividing the workload among team members, the best approach will vary depending on the specific needs of your organization.
However, the most important thing is to start thinking about ReOps early on.
And remember, the best time to invest in your research infrastructure was yesterday; the next best time is today.
What’s holding you back from getting started?
Julian Della Mattia is Research Ops Specialist at the180. After being the first Researcher on numerous teams, and consulting independently for companies in the EU, US, and Latin America, Julian repeatedly found himself building Research Operations functions from scratch. This experience helped him develop a real knack for it. Now, Julian applies his expertise to help companies build, set up, and scale their Research infrastructure.