When a company wants to get user insights about their product or positioning, they turn to customer or UX research. As valuable as research is, the process can be time-consuming and unproductive if not done well. The challenges associated with UX research can prevent teams from conducting it in the first place or effectively using what they’ve learned to make decisions.
That’s where research operations come in.
We will explore what research operations are, how it benefits companies, and what it’s like to work in the role. The goal of this guide is to familiarize you with what goes into research operations, either as a career path or a framework to apply to your company’s UX research.
- What are research operations?
- What it’s like to work in research ops
- Signs your company needs a UX research ops team
- How to assess and optimize your research operations framework
What are research operations?
Research operations are the processes and frameworks that help customer and UX research teams work efficiently.
People who work in research operations, sometimes called ResOps or ReOps, manage the research process so the research team can focus on conducting hands-on tasks, like customer interviews. If a UX researcher were a racecar driver, the ResOps team would be the pit crew.
It’s important to note that we’re talking about research operations and not operations research. The latter uses data analysis to make better decisions on complex issues like logistics routes, so it’s only similar to ResOps in the name.
The history of Research Ops
Research Operations as a role is still in the early years of development. While customer and UX research isn’t new, a formal supporting role has been evolving for the past few years.
At the forefront of defining what research operations are and how to do it best is the ResearchOps community. This group of volunteers began holding workshops in 2018 and has since grown to a community of more than 8,000 people. The community researches the best practices of research operations (very meta), hosts workshops and town halls, maintains a Board, and offers a Slack community for ReOps pros.
In an attempt to map research operations and give shape to discussions about the field, the ResearchOps Community created the framework below. The community recognizes that as ResOps grows, the mind map that plots its influence will, too.
Since the role is evolving, there are still questions about its fit into the company structure. In a survey of Design Operations professionals, there was a near-even split between those who thought ResOps and DesOps would and would not integrate in the future. One DesOps manager noted that,
I see Research Ops as a vertical within the Operations discipline. I do think Design & Research should be a partner in the same way Design & Product, Design & Strategy, and Design & Engineering our partners. Specifically, Research Ops does have separate research-specific needs that should be operationalized such as intake, participant recruiting, knowledge sharing, etc. that live in a different context to design.
- DesOps Manager
How ResOps supports researchers
An effective research operations team can mean the difference between informed company-wide decisions or guessing in the dark. While ResOps typically doesn’t conduct the actual research, they set the researchers up for success throughout the entire project.
Some of the ways ResOps helps propel research forward include:
Before a study:
- Create a system to recruit research participants
- Manage participants outreach
- Schedule research sessions
- Create templates to streamlines tasks
- Oversee research budgets and work with the research team to prioritize studies
During a study:
- Deliver research incentives to participants
- Organize participant responses, recordings, and transcripts
- Ensure ethics and legal compliance
After a study:
- Maintain a research repository with insights for future reference
- Track research panel outreach to avoid burning out participants
- Train new researchers
UX research operations career overview
If you’re a curious person who lives for organization, research operations could be an interesting role. As a ResOps professional, you’d help a company make research-driven decisions by clearing the way for researchers to get data and connect the dots.
Typical research operations job responsibilities
Depending on a company’s size, you may be the sole ResOps person or a part of an entire ResOps department. Your exact responsibilities will vary depending on your spot within the ResOps team. Managers may have more strategic decision-making power, while ResOps team members focus on day-to-day operations. Either way, expect to work closely with UX researchers.
Curious about what a ResOps job entails? Here are a few job responsibilities:
- A Senior Manager of Research Operations at Instacart leads data and document management, including “templates, dashboards, knowledge storage, retention and archiving, and data sharing.”
- A Research Operations Manager at Bank of America “owns the management and coordination of the research budget, collaborating with the finance and design operations team.”
- A UX Research Operations Project Manager at AnswerLab needs to “manage research-related technology and provide technical support as needed,” including programming surveys.
- A Research Operations Coordinator at Acumen LLC is responsible for “drafting project status reports and summaries for company-wide progress updates.”
How much can you make as a research operations manager?
Average research operations salaries vary by location and data source, but an average around $50,000 a year is a good benchmark to start from.
During a survey of careers in research operations by the ResOps community, salaries ranged from $25,000 to $300,000 a year. Globally, the average ResOps salary is $52,713, according to the group’s research.
How to learn about ResOps
Since Research Operations is an evolving profession, you’re not likely to find a specific degree requirement to match. Instead, you can turn to the growing ResOps community to learn about what skills and experience are useful in the field.
If you want to learn more about ResOps as a career, here are some resources we suggest:
- ResearchOps Community
- ResearchOps Podcast
- Following ResOps expert Kate Towsey
- The Eight Pillars of User Research
- Research Skills Framework from the ResearchOps Community
- Careers in Research & Research Operations Report
How to tell if your company needs research operations help
Perhaps as you’ve read what research operations entail, you’ve begun to think, “my company could use some help in this arena.” If you want to make continuous research the standard for your organization, research ops are a must.
It’s time to buckle down and make a change if:
- You do research infrequently. You liked the results of previous studies, but you haven’t found the time to do it again.
- Your research hasn’t felt worth the effort. You get insights but spend so much time setting up, organizing, and managing that the time cost outweighs the benefits.
- You can’t find anyone to talk to. Recruitment is such a hurdle that you can’t even make it into the research process.
- You haven’t used any past research. Suppose your past sessions are sitting in a folder collecting dust. In that case, you need an insight management system to leverage your hard work.
If your current research process is inefficient (or nonexistent) you have two options—create a ResOps role or integrate ResOps principles into your workflow.
Option A: create or hire for a ReOps role
If you want to invest in research, you could create a ResOps role. Chances are you already have a researcher who would work alongside the research operations person.
Creating a research operations role could be good for you if:
- You can afford an extra salary. You’ll need to pay for a contractor or full-time employee on top of your existing researcher salary. If you’re all in on research and expect a return because of better research, then this might be justifiable for you.
- You want your researcher to focus on hands-on research. If you already have a research operations process but need someone to manage it, you can create a new role. Having a dedicated research operations person gives your current research team more time to conduct interviews, analyze results, or work on other projects.
Want to go this route? It’ll likely take a few months to hire someone for your ReOps role. Here are your next steps:
- Determine a salary budget
- Create a job description by talking with your researcher and reviewing other job listings
- Hire and onboard
Option B: incorporate ReOps strategies in your small team
Suppose you’re still at the early stages of your company or want to work more efficiently with your resources. In that case, you can use tools and processes to incorporate ResOps into a small team. It’s never too early for startups to begin conducting research, and you can build good operations practices now.
Optimizing your research operations in your current team could be good for you if:
- You want to save money. Even if you want to hire a ResOps team member, it might not be an option for you right now. Even founders who are wearing multiple hats can organize their research process.
- You need a quick solution. Hiring for a role takes time. Typically a month, in fact. If you identify the weak points in your current research process, you can incorporate research operations frameworks within a week.
Want to go this route? Here are your next steps:
- Find your research bottlenecks (hint: we’ll help you do this in the next section)
- Create templates to streamline that stepInvest in a research management platform like Great Question to manage your workflow and findings
How to assess and optimize your UX research operations framework
Think of your research operations framework as your process blueprint. It outlines what you need to do, who will handle it, and how you’ll get the job done. Since research operations cover the entire research process, there are multiple areas to consider.
Below we’ll break down five core areas to tackle. You can assess how well you currently handle it and where to go from here for each of these steps. In the end, you’ll walk away with an understanding of what you can do to incorporate ResOps best practices starting today.
There’s not much more frustrating than having big research ambitions, only to hear crickets from a lack of participants. Research Operations assists in research recruitment by finding users, getting them on board with research, and setting up a user research panel to recruit from in the future.
- On a scale of 1-10, how easy or difficult has it been to recruit in the past? Some common issues could include:
- Not knowing where to recruit. Check out our participant recruitment guide here for tips on where to look.
- Not finding enough participants. You may need to change your recruitment scripts or information page.
- Do you have a customer research panel? A customer research panel is a group of users that have opted-in to helping with the research you can call on when you have a study.
Templates and recruitment management software are your best friend during recruitment. Having outreach email templates handy (like these) speeds up outreach and ensures a consistent experience.
You can also use recruitment software like Great Question to find participants beyond your customer list, create recruitment pages, and manage participant contact info and permissions. Having a single place to log who has opted into research and when you last contacted them helps you cycle through your audience for a diverse perspective.
Once you have participants engaged in research, you need to keep them engaged and happy. You'll need a fast and easy way to schedule and administer research plus payout incentives. Special consideration is necessary to make sure you securely handle customer information and payouts.
- Do you have an automatic way to pay out incentives? Manual payments can work for a few participants at a time. Still, if you want to scale research, you’ll need a tool like Tremendous or Rybbon for automatic payments.
- How do you schedule research sessions? The best-case scenario is an automatic scheduler whenever someone opts into a study. Reducing back-and-forth emails to coordinate a Zoom call saves time and frustration.
- Where do you store participant contact and session information? The larger your research pool gets, the harder it is to manage everyone in a spreadsheet.
Both you and your participants benefit from an integrated scheduling and management system. Look for scheduling, research, and video hosting tools that work together to make sure nobody slips through the scheduling cracks. Ideally, your scheduling tools can automatically update your database of participants so you can get at-a-glance information about who your team will talk to and when.
As your research team works hard to gather information from users, the mountain of data and transcripts will grow...quickly. One of the most important roles of the research operations team is managing the research repository.
- Where do you store research recordings and results? You’ll need a place to keep insights and organize them by date, user type, or research study.
- Is there an easy way for teammates to search the research repository? New research is great, but sometimes there are valuable pieces of information lurking in past studies. Having a way to search past research or reports prevents repetitive work.
- Do you have templates for research summary reports? If your research team wants to share key takeaways with stakeholders or across teams, try creating a standard template to work from.
The best research repositories are accessible across teams. No matter where you choose to store past research, ensure everyone knows how to access it. The more you’re able to collaborate across teams; the more impactful your research will be.
There are dedicated research repository tools like Dovetail and Glean.ly. You can even use a workspace tool like Notion to create a research repository. Great Question also offers a built-in research repository alongside other participant and research management tools.
Research operations teams assist in maintaining ethics compliance by ensuring all communication and permissions meet national and local privacy laws. Creating steps in the research workflow to gain participant consent is essential.
- Are you aware of local and national privacy laws? Consent and information management rules vary by location, so you’ll need to research for your location. If you work with research participants in other states or countries, you may need to abide by their rules, too.
- Do you have templates for gaining permission or other participant agreements? Getting your verbiage and process checked by the legal team upfront and then reusing forms means you don’t have to sweat the details every time.
You can find templates or contract builders online to kickstart your compliance toolkit. It’s always wise to consult with a legal team to ensure you have everything in order before using forms during research. The ResearchOps Community has a consent form in development, and you can find non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) here.
Training and advocacy
While the previous steps focused on running the research process smoothly and continuously, sometimes a new person joins the team. The research operations person can help new researchers understand the process and advocate for research across the company.
- Do you have a central place to learn about the research process and past efforts? A high-level review of your research program helps you organize your thoughts and get new team members up to speed.
- Are you tracking (and advocating for) research progress? A summary of research milestones, projects, goals, and plans makes it easier to communicate the value of your team.
If the thought of documenting everything about your research program is (understandably) overwhelming, take it one step at a time. Create notes about your efforts to complete a particular task and repeat them for every research stage.
You can also consider what questions stakeholders have about the research program. We have more information about training new team members boosting cross-team collaboration in our guide to research operations.
Great Question overhauls your research operations
Research that seems simple on the surface, such as talking to customers about how they use features, becomes complex once you consider the steps. It’s for this reason that some companies might skip research altogether or complete it infrequently.
Great Question believes that every company can benefit from user research and that the process should be continuous, not cumbersome.
Get started now with a free trial if you want to see how Great Question could transform your research operations.