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What is ResearchOps?

A definition of the emerging field and it’s impact on user research.
What is ResearchOps?

It’s impossible to deny the impact that technology has had on the world when there are new methodologies, new roles and new disciplines emerging every year - ones that would make no sense to us pre-web era. One of the most recent we’ve seen arrive in the product sphere is ResearchOps, following closely behind DevOps and DesignOps.

The field is so new, that there is barely anything written on this topic which does not reflect the growing need for this function in business. In this article, we’ll debunk ResearchOps - what it is, where it came from and why it is essential for research teams and beyond.

“Having the unique and powerful position of being one of the few people in the organisation who know what the research team is doing and learning from their research – is a superpower.” - Kate Towsey, ResearcOPs Lead at Atlassian

If you’ve heard of ResearchOps, you’ve probably heard of Kate Towsey. A legend within the field for building a strong and supportive community and legitimising the need for this business function.

ResearchOps is...

Well, the truth is, ResearchOps, or Research Operations, is many things - with a number of goals including:

So as you can see, ResearchOps is not only set out to benefit researchers, but the wider company as well. In our interview with Kate Towsey, she explains that “ResearchOps is about offering support and infrastructure to people who do research. This is because in a lot of bigger organisations, it’s not just researchers doing research, there’s also PMs and designers doing research”.

Practicality wise, ResearchOps looks at things like participant recruitment, tooling, procurement, vendor relationship management and more. You can explore just how much, here.

User research helps create better products, ResearchOps facilitates that

To create meaningful products and businesses, you need to connect with and understand your customers. User research, through process of user testing, drives this connection and enables you to apply invaluable insights to your day to day work.

Insights like these can:

Before a ResearchOps team comes in, the operational side of things can be decentralised. Whilst this might not stop a business doing research, they’ll still be spending money on it but might not be getting the most accurate data in the most efficient way.

Introducing a ResearchOps team centralises these costs and changes the conversation from, ‘How much is research costing us?’ to ‘Let’s get closer to our customers’.

ResearchOps enables businesses to be close to their customers skilfully, providing a trackable means for return on investment.

How are other companies tackling ResearchOps?

At Atlassian, Kate Towsey tells us the team has grown to 5 people in 7 months, a few focused on participant recruitment and a couple on engagement where they’ll be making sure research is accessible to the rest of the business. Next, they’ll be looking at getting someone focused on QuantOps and then a Digital Librarian, who’ll act as more of the storytellers of the research.

“We’ve procured a variety of vendors or pathways for recruiting various kinds of people – and worked hard on tooling around our Atlassian research group and on our community of participants.”

One of their biggest challenges so far has been scale. Whilst they’re getting the word our about the multiple services they’re offering and the response has been super positive - then comes the problem of balancing growing demand without the scale to deliver. Although, it’s a catch 22, because you need demand to bid for more headcount.

At Deliveroo, they’re just embarking on their ResearchOps journey. UX Researcher, Sophie Woods, tells us that the aim of this new function is to provide internal researchers with the support and infrastructure they need to scale their impact effectively.

Currently, the ResearchOps team’s support helps them with handling participant recruitment, research planning and logistics, finding analytics and organisation tools and also set up training sessions to upskill the team.

“Being a pro-active, vocal member of your product team is being a researcher. Incorporating research insight into every conversation your product team’s having is being a researcher.”

At BlaBlaCar, ResearchOps is currently half managed by Marion Damiens, a Senior UX Researcher, and half managed externally. After many years experience in UX agencies, Marion has found that there are many operational aspects that can have critical consequences if not done properly. For example, generating poor insights as a result of bad participant recruitment.

As a result, Marion is working hard on developing a stronger working process for external agencies which are more comprehensive and help avoid the avoidable.

What is the future of ResearchOps?

“It’s an emerging field, if anyone says that they know it all, they’re lying or delusional. One of the two. We’re all trying to figure it out.” - Kate Towsey, ResearchOps Manager at Atlassian

ResearchOps right now is filled with potential in terms of growth. We’ll see more and more businesses exploring it’s functionality, implementing strategies and increasing headcount - where we’re bound to see some new weird and wonderful job titles popping up in the space.

A lot of researchers are going to be directing their own story for now, but the community understands it’s need and are incredibly supportive community and environment for each other to grow. Like this Slack Channel, and this Medium publication.

Writing for Marvel. Writing for fun. Eating everywhere, all the time.

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