May 9th, 2018

What is Research Ops?

Confused about this new fangled 'Research Ops' thing?

Three months ago, I hung up my ‘employed’ hat and put on a new shiny ‘self-employed’ one. Around the same time, I happened upon an emerging Slack community about Research Ops, set up by Kate Towsey. It was like a breath of fresh air! Researchers from across the globe and all walks of life but mostly the UX kind, came together to talk shop. I couldn’t help but get involved despite the fact I was ‘taking some time off’.

My first reaction to the question ‘What is Research Ops?’ was that it was for bigger organisations only. I thought it was mostly about scaling research and research processes. As we started discussing what Research Ops was within one of the channels however, I started to feel confused. Some of the things people were talking about (logistics, data management, training, infrastructure, governance, communication) were things I had been doing as part of my research role for many years. How was this now a different thing called ‘Ops’? In fact, some of it seemed to be research leadership which is what I’d been doing most recently. This was my reply to someone at the time:

I think this is what research leaders do in some organisations — creating the right environment. In my old job I was one of two senior researchers and we only focused on this, as well as leading some strategic research projects. This was the work to a huge extent — not the actual research.

The talk continued — was this just a UX thing or did it include other researchers in the organisation — Market Researchers, Analytics, VoC and so on? It was fascinating to contribute and listen to the views of others. 

As time went on, we deliberately moved away from discussing and deciding ‘What is Research Ops’ as we realised that this was a question that needed more than just a Slack channel. A core group came together to set up a research project comprising of a a survey and a series of global workshops. 

But what does it means for your organisation?

With the growth of iterative user centred design practices and tactical user research at scale, larger user research teams have become more common place. Companies are looking for ways to support their researchers and enable them to work more effectively. Tech giants are leading the way and investing in an ecosystem to support researchers. This new layer in the UX organisation is being called ‘Research Ops’.

Operations is not a new thing in the Market Research Industry but Research Ops is the newest kid on the block in the UX Industry, following on from Dev Ops and Design Ops. The difference with User Research Ops is that it's predominantly something in-house teams are concerned with as opposed to a Market Research agency function.

I'm part of the core group of the community focused on understanding and defining Research Ops, facilitating conversations and undertaking research. We are sharing our findings via Medium and speaking at events and conferences.  

Some of my recent Medium posts for the ResearchOps community are:

WhatisResearchOps? A starting point:

WhatisResearchOps? Our initial findings:

If you're curious about Research Ops and what it means for you or you'd like me to talk at your conference or event, get in touch.

Previously : Working with the research funnel
Recently : A shiny, new website