Join UX research experts Anna Loparev, Senior User Experience Researcher at New Relic, and Brigette Metzler, co-chair of Re+Ops as they discuss how to recognize when your organization is ready to benefit from a dedicated research operations team.
Introducing our UXR Experts
Anna Loparev is a Senior User Experience Researcher with 10+ years of experience across product, marketing, and academia. She holds a PhD in Human-Computer Interaction from the University of Rochester. Anna highlights some common signs that indicate your organization may need to set up a Research Ops department.
Brigette Metzler is the ResearchOps Lead at Australian Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. Previous to that, led the Customer Insights Library team with Services Australia. Brigette is a PhD candidate in Gender Equity and Public Policy from the The University of Queensland in Australia and was the co-chair of ResearchOps Community from 2019-2022. She is passionate about human-centered design, about the capacity for ontologies and Linked Data in general to enable a more agile government.
Let’s dive in
Is your research process feeling more complex than it should be? The logistics of enabling accurate and timely UX research has become a huge topic.
Uncover the critical signs that your organization requires Research Ops with insights from expert UXRs Anna Loparev and Brigette Metzler. They reveal the heart of Research Ops, the breaking point when it becomes crucial, and practical steps to establish a robust research practice in your organization.
If you're wrestling with complex projects or struggling to integrate research into your planning, this article will give you the critical first steps—from streamlining processes to boosting recruitment and making the most of past work.
Be sure to check out our resource section at the end of this article for further reading, best practices, and frameworks.
Anna Loparev: When You Should Start to Think About Research Ops
When you notice yourself wishing something was automated, or that it could be simpler to do, that's when you should start to think about Research Ops.Anna LoparevSenior User Experience ResearcherAt its core, Research Ops is about processes and support activities associated with those processes. When you notice yourself wishing something was automated, or that it could be simpler to do, that's when you should start to think about Research Ops.
In many places, this stems from either the need to support recruitment or the need for a research repository.
Get a lot of requests from project managers asking for past work? Then you want a research ops specialist to help set up and maintain a research repository.
Recruitment feels like it's always slowing down projects? Then you want a research ops specialist to help find a tool and set up a process for recruitment.
Product teams keep forgetting to include research in their planning? Then you want a research ops specialist to help develop and evangelize a process they're willing to follow.
Where that tipping point is depends on your tolerance for inefficiencies. When your department is small, young, and scrappy, maybe it's not such a big deal.
For example, maybe there's only one product team so everyone knows what's already been researched, or maybe your approach to recruitment is good enough for the number of projects that come up.
However, at some point, there will be more teams, a longer history of projects, and more numerous and complex projects to take on. The guerrilla model will become unsustainable, and you'll want to hire that Research Ops specialist.
Anna's recommendation for setting up Research Op
Having a written out process provides a single source of truth that you can point to as something the team is striving to reach.Anna LoparevSenior User Experience ResearcherThe first step in setting up the groundwork for research ops is understanding how people do things today. This uncovers expectations, delighters, and pain points around current UX research processes.
If there are existing process documents around UX research, whether specifically focused on UX research or ones that include it as part of a wider process, read through those. Whether process documentation exists or not, meet with stakeholders, i.e., members of the UX research team and roles that work directly with the UX research function, to gather their understanding and opinions regarding current processes. What it says in the process and what people actually do are often different.
The next step is to take the data you collected and brainstorm/prioritize process improvements and action items. If there is no existing formal process for UX research, create one. Otherwise, add proposed changes to the existing process and associated processes, e.g., the product development process. Even if your company is not process-heavy and you're the only one who ever looks at it, having a written out process provides a single source of truth that you can point to as something the team is striving to reach.
Then, iterate on the process and action items by sharing with stakeholders and getting feedback on things like feasibility, foreseeable issues, concerns, etc. You want to include stakeholders at every step of process development because if they don't like your process, they won't adhere to it.
Once you've gone through a few iterations and discussions to the point that everyone is pretty happy with the result, the next step is to pilot the process and start on action items. A pilot is important because it lets you catch issues within the safe scope of a low-priority project and provides a case study you can use to evangelize the process later.
If the pilot goes well, make process adjustments as needed. Then call the process official and continue to move forward. Especially early on, ask for feedback from people who follow the process to see if there's anything that can be improved and go ahead and iterate again.
Revisit the process regularly, e.g., once a year, to identify pain points and prioritize addressing concerns in the near future. That will keep your process up to date with other processes and the expectations of newer hires.
Brigette Metzler: When do you Need ResearchOps?
When do you need ResearchOps?
You’re always going to want to do everything, but research operations is so many things.Brigette MetzlerResearchOps Lead at Australian Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and ForestryThe question of when is one I’m regularly asked! In my personal life, I’ve both started a research operations practice when the research practice was highly mature, and also when the research practice was just getting started. My insight there was, it is never too early to start. I’ve not once thought, ‘gosh I have nothing to do!’
The better question might be, where to start. For that, I do have some clear answers. Back in 2020, I proposed a framework for answering this question. It still stands as true for me today as it was then. The answer is in the Pace Layers Matrix.
You’re always going to want to do everything, but research operations is so many things. It is all the people, processes, and technology around research participant management, tooling, data and knowledge management. It is the care for researchers and developing their practice. It is the organizational cultural change you will need to do. It is a lot.
So, where to start?
In all cases, you are working towards something to meet each stage of the research lifecycle.
Get adept at connecting with others, building relationships, and asking for help.Brigette MetzlerSenior Director of Marketing at Indiegogo
You are always doing human research, so you need a good, legal, consent form. You will always need somewhere to put your research data, and some way of developing consistency amongst researchers. So getting at least an MVP of those under your belt in the first weeks or months of starting your research operations practice is a good idea.
But let’s say your organization is relatively new to user research or human centered design and you are delivering a product. In early stages of maturity, your HCD colleagues will likely be focused on trying to get out of, or stop from going into, a dreaded ‘feature factory’ situation. The research is often sadly driven by delivery, which is the opposite of the place you want to be. But we have to deal with the reality, and also work on changing it, right?
In this low maturity space, you’ll be encouraged to do a lot of concept and usability testing. That requires access to the right software, and lots of participants. As you’ll see on the Pace Layers Matrix, that means spending time procuring the right tools for the job, and on vendors for participant recruitment. Usability testing requires a lot more participants than the deeper data, long form, problem space research, so get that right first.
In the unusual event you are starting a research operations practice in an organization with a more mature research practice, they’re more likely to be doing problem space, and strategic research. That infers nice deep data, smaller numbers of participants who’ve given more of their time. This requires a lot more participant management and has much more attention given to all the storage and ethics of reuse of all that deep data - so that’s where you’d be directing your attention.
Do an audit - what support does your organization already have in place that you can leverage?
Make friends across the organization. Chances are you are not a unicorn (if you are a team of one) with a law degree, experience in cyber security, procurement, data and knowledge management, research practice, and governance. People in your organization will have specializations in those areas. So get adept at connecting with others, building relationships, and asking for help.
Resources and further reading
Research that Scales (coming soon), Kate Towsey
User Research: Improve Product and Service Design and Enhance Your UX Research (2nd edition contains a ResearchOps chapter), Stephanie Marsh
A Project Guide to UX: For User Experience Designers in the Field or in the Making (3rd edition will contain a chapter on ResearchOps), Russ Unger and Carolyn Chandler
Websites and communities: