ResearchOps and User Experience

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A column by Janet M. Six
January 21, 2019

In this edition of Ask UXmatters, our expert panel discusses the importance of ResearchOps to the UX community. Our panel begins by defining ResearchOps and describing the efforts of the nascent ResearchOps community to establish a common understanding of ResearchOps.

Our panelists then explore the many challenges practitioners of the discipline of ResearchOps face—for example, issues they encounter in different types of organizations and in agile and Lean development environments. Our experts also consider the challenges of global user research. Finally, our panel cautions against trying to generalize ResearchOps across the larger UX community.

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In my monthly column Ask UXmatters, our panel of UX experts answers our readers’ questions about a broad range of user experience matters. To get answers to your own questions about UX strategy, design, user research, or any other topic of interest to UX professionals in an upcoming edition of Ask UXmatters, please send your questions to: [email protected].

The following experts have contributed answers to this month’s edition of Ask UXmatters:

  • Pabini Gabriel-Petit—Principal Consultant at Strategic UX; Publisher, Editor in Chief, and columnist at UXmatters; and Founding Director of the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)
  • Cory Lebson—Principal Consultant at Lebsontech; Past President, User Experience Professionals’ Association (UXPA); and author of The UX Careers Handbook
  • Gavin Lew—Managing Director at Bold Insight
  • Christian Rohrer—Principal and Founder of xdStrategy

Q: There has been much recent interest in ResearchOps. What are your thoughts on ResearchOps and its importance to the UX community?—from a UXmatters reader

What Is ResearchOps?

“Kate Towsey, Research Operations Lead at Atlassian, has been a key instigator driving the ResearchOps movement,” responds Pabini. “In her presentation at UX Brighton in November 2018, Kate provided the following definition of ResearchOps:

ResearchOps is the mechanisms and strategies that set user research in motion. It provides the roles, tools, and processes needed to support researchers in delivering and scaling the impact of the craft across an [organization].’—Kate Towsey”

The ResearchOps Community

“In early 2018, Kate Towsey established a ResearchOps Community on Slack, bringing together a global community of user researchers to shape the emerging practice of ResearchOps,” continues Pabini. “She has also coalesced a community around ResearchOps on Medium.

“As Kate proposed in her April 2018 Medium article, ‘ResearchOps Community: A Series of Global Workshops,’ this community has since conducted a series of workshops whose goals were to

  • provide an opportunity for user researchers to define the meaning of the term ResearchOps
  • enable the community to share information and stories about the current state of ResearchOps practice
  • communicate the challenges and needs of the ResearchOps community
  • establish spaces in which members of the ResearchOps community could interact with one another to achieve common goals
  • create an actionable, open-source framework for ResearchOps
  • set broad goals for the ResearchOps community

“After concluding these workshops, as well as conducting a survey, the ResearchOps community produced the ‘What Is ResearchOps? Framework,’ which is shown in Figure 1.”

Figure 1—ResearchOps Framework
ResearchOps Framework

Image source: ResearchOps Community, Creative Commons

Operationalizing User Research

“I spoke on the topic of ResearchOps at the Design Ops Summit 2017, in New York,” answers Christian. “The title of my presentation was ‘Research Operations at Scale: Enabling Others While Maintaining Excellence.’ In my talk, I told the story about how we did this at Capital One by overcoming barriers—such as meeting stiff governmental regulations—and reducing risk, all while increasing efficiency. Accomplishing this required our investing in a small team that is dedicated to research operations—including technicians, coordinators, and ResearchOps leads—as well as research education—by hiring instructors, curriculum developers, and specialists.”

Figure 2—Christian’s presentation ‘Research Operations at Scale

Source: Rosenfeld Media on SlideShare

Figure 3—A video of Christian’s talk

Source: YouTube

“The challenges that ResearchOps teams face can vary significantly, depending on the type of organization—for example, B2C (Business to Consumer), B2B (Business to Business), or IT (Information Technology). Plus, recent trends in research present new challenges that we must overcome, including the following:

  • inserting research into an increasingly agile and Lean development world
  • making it easy for non-researchers to conduct research on their own without support
  • overcoming a shortage of talent
  • reconciling the use of qualitative versus quantitative research
  • building and using an effective knowledge-management system
  • inserting the right insights and knowledge from research at various stages in the product-development process”

Challenges of Global User Research

“Where do I start?” asks Gavin. “The issues that ResearchOps presents are real. This is something the UX community has been working on for 15 years. For example, the UXalliance began by doing UX research globally, with five UX teams in different countries. Its reach has now expanded into about 40 countries.

“The challenges of aligning UX methods and operations manifested from almost Day 1. How could we ensure consistency from one locale to the next? What are the expectations for research sessions? Where do local landmines exist? For example, intercepts are not permitted in Japan. Incentive payments in Sweden have major tax implications. Pharmacists in Italy cannot accept cash incentives.

“Doing high-quality UX research globally presented so many challenges that we met face to face every six months, for over a decade. After convening for 24 meetings around the world, we recently decided to meet just once a year. Many have asked me how international UX leaders could meet every six months. The answer is always about consistency and quality.

“Robert Schumacher, a member of the UXalliance, actually wrote a book on the elements that make up much of ResearchOps: The Handbook of Global User Research—which had 55 contributors from 25 countries. In this book, he describes the challenges of global user research and provides best-practice solutions.

“Since publishing this book, the UXalliance has done global research on social media, parking-meter kiosks, retail and banking apps, and even dating sites.

“What I love is that many ResearchOps pioneers are publishing solutions for massive qualitative-data analysis. In 2014, my team did 50–100 household ethnographies. We used Trello boards to hold hundreds of instances of qualitative feedback. While I urged my team to write up the method we had used, we never got around to it. We published the studies, but not the methods.

“Check out the following publicly available information from the Council for Research Excellence on the collection of massive amounts of research data: ‘Two New Studies from Council for Research Excellence Yield Insights on Consumers’ Adoption of New Video Technology, Group Viewing Behavior, OTT, and OOH Viewing Preferences.’”

Generalizing ResearchOps Across the Larger UX Community?

“While there are certainly many exciting and important discussions about large companies that have growing teams of researchers, I’d like to inject a note of caution about generalizing ResearchOps to the larger UX community,” advises Cory. “Many user researchers are working at small companies, on a team of one, or a team of none—as happens in the case of companies that bring on a consultant or freelancer to do their research. So ResearchOps won’t necessarily become a universal conversation; nor does it need to be.” 

Product Manager at Tom Sawyer Software

Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas, USA

Janet M. SixDr. Janet M. Six helps companies design easier-to-use products within their financial, time, and technical constraints. For her research in information visualization, Janet was awarded the University of Texas at Dallas Jonsson School of Engineering Computer Science Dissertation of the Year Award. She was also awarded the prestigious IEEE Dallas Section 2003 Outstanding Young Engineer Award. Her work has appeared in the Journal of Graph Algorithms and Applications and the Kluwer International Series in Engineering and Computer Science. The proceedings of conferences on Graph Drawing, Information Visualization, and Algorithm Engineering and Experiments have also included the results of her research.  Read More

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