September 11th, 2018

Leading research

When I started at my last job four years ago, I was the sole User Researcher. That wasn't to say that user research wasn't being done by some people already - it was - but I was the first dedicated researcher at the company. I was faced with the daunting task of establishing a research practice with no dedicated team or allocated budget. Research happened in pockets and was at best ad hoc. There was no joined up thinking about customers or users and no culture of research. User centred design was the norm in some teams but not in others. It was like the Wild West.

At the end of four years, the company is in a completely different place. The conversation has changed and I played a part in that. Being 'customer centric' is now a core value and data and research are central to that. There is a regular cadence of data collection and research is done by designers and product managers. 

After I left my role to go freelance, I reflected on what I had achieved and for a while it honestly felt like I didn't do much during my four years. Then I stumbled across the #ResearchOps community and got talking to other researchers and heard lots of stories that resonated. My main take away was this: 

Leading research is really hard.

By 'leading research' I mean the business of leading research and not the actual hands on project management of research. I also realised that I wasn't alone in finding it hard. There were lots of other smart people who were finding it hard too! 

A few months ago I tweeted:

"In in-house Research (or Design) Leadership it can take a very long time to move the needle or feel the impact of your work. This is because so much of the work is building relationships and facilitating communication. You can forget how much progress you have made."

This was actually a pretty big thing for me. I had been feeling alone for a long time. My confidence had started to wane and I had forgotten my worth. Having a professional support network available to me all of a sudden was priceless. Being involved in the community and meeting supportive, sensitive people was brilliant. I am really grateful, particularly to the #TeamReOps crew.

This post isn't just a chance to say thank you, it's a chance to tell you about something I want to do to give back and I need your help. I want to write a guide for researchers who are leading research in their organisation. They may be seen as a Lead Researcher or they may just be expected to step up and lead. I want to write something to help those folks so they don't feel so alone and have some guidance. I would like to talk to researchers to help me. I am collecting stories and ideas. 

If you are a User Research Leader or a Lead User Researcher or a Senior User Researcher who is expected to step up and lead, I want to hear from you. What are your challenges, what are your successes? What are you struggling with? What support do you need? What do you need to hear? If you have some experience of this, what learnings can I pass on to those who are learning?

If you can spare 45 mins to talk to me, please drop me a line or tweet


Previously : A shiny, new website