So you’ve found a tool that you’ve proven will work for your research team, fits in your budget, and finance approves the go-ahead to buy the tool. The hard work is done. Or is it?
Throughout my time building two UX Research Operations teams from the ground up, I want to share some other things you need to think about during the tool procurement process, especially if you’re part of a smaller organization that does not have a procurement team.
Here are eight things I want you to consider when procuring a new UX Research tool.
Research Operations folks come from all career paths, so maybe you’re coming from a different background where change management isn’t part of your job description. Well, now it is. Change management is the process of, well, managing change. This can mean change within a team, entire organization, or process. Learning change management best practices can help you understand where you need to prepare your organization and team for the new tool so it gets used properly, and you don’t waste all this time procuring it just for it to gather dust and die a slow, painful, budget-wasting death.
Successful change management is a learning process, and you might not get it all right the first time you onboard a new tool. It took me onboarding multiple tools to get the process down remember, change management can be someone’s full time job!
Learn the essentials and take what resonates with your organization for the next tool you onboard.
If you’re struggling with adoption of your tool, it might not be that the tool isn’t the right fit. Work on setting up training and showcases of how the tool works. Keep in close contact with your CSM on new features that your team can use. It’s an ongoing process, so don’t expect any tool procurement to be set-it-and-forget-it.
Even if they don’t do procurement, you need to create a collaborative, productive relationship with your organization’s Legal and IT teams. Set up quick syncs with key personnel, introducing yourself, what you do, and what you will likely need help from them in the coming months.
Legal and IT tend to have a huge backlog of work, and putting a friendly face to a name, as well as providing a multiple-month heads up, will help you in the long run.
Once I made friends with Legal and IT, I wanted some insider knowledge of how tool procurement had been done before. Reach out to other Operations teams in your company, and ask how their process went if they recently procured a tool. It might not exactly fit your scenario but it will give you insight on what went right (and wrong!) for them. This step helped me understand who were the power players in getting tools approved and onboarded, and what sticky points I needed to watch out for.
Related read: Impactful research is a team sport
Some sales teams will tell you you’ll get a special deal if you sign by X date. Obviously, they are trying to make their quota, and sales people are gonna sell. If you’re a small team with an even smaller budget, this deal might make or break your ability to get the tool, so go for it. In my case, I needed a deal to afford a necessary panel management tool my team desperately needed.
But learn from my mistake — know there is always going to be a timeline to when that deal expires.
You need to let everyone know on your side there is a deadline for getting this deal done. Keep in mind the holidays, spring break, or summer vacations. Extended periods of vacation on your end can delay the signing of a deal and lose your cost savings. Getting a contract signed on a new tool right before the holidays (even though it was already approved months prior!) proved to be a mammoth task, and I only got it through after plenty of escalating and haggling with internal legal team members.
Most tools come with a short free trial, and you’ve probably already burned through many trying to find the perfect tool. That’s totally fine and expected. However, once you’ve picked the tool that your organization is going for, ask for another, extended trial. This will allow you time to become acquainted with the tool.
Some tools may push back, but you can argue in the long run, this will benefit both of you.
Use the script below if you need a thought starter on how to ask for another (or extended) free trial.
I’d like to request another X week/month trial. During the procurement process, I will use that time to become acquainted with the tool, therefore reducing the time your team will need to spend on onboarding my organization on the tool. I know this is outside of the usual scope but I hope that we can come to an agreement where I can get more access to the tool while we go through this procurement process.
More time spent in the tool allowed me to jump-start the process of writing content around how to use it effectively, including training and help documentation. This helped me better familiarize myself with the tool without the pressure of a short trial expiring.
Maybe this is my tool geek coming out, but I love learning everything there is to know about a new tool. Each new feature I learn helps me understand how processes can be optimized and improved within my team. But even if you’re not a tool geek like me, becoming a SME on the tool will help you immensely with institutionalizing the tool within your organization’s workflow.
All tools come with help articles, support staff, and possibly a Customer Support Manager (CSM) to help the onboarding process. However, many of those help articles are limited to describing feature-sets, and they don’t know your individual needs. And oftentimes, CSMs are budgeted for a set number of hours they can help you per your contract, so you need to use their time wisely.
All that said — you’re on your own, kid. During your free trial, build as many projects as you can think of. Even replicating old projects works. You need to understand how your team is going to use the tool, address potential hiccups, and be able to answer any questions that come up with confidence.
If you’re confident in the tool itself, you’ll be able to better explain the value of why and how they should use it, and cater your training to different use cases.
In lean UX Research teams, ResearchOps specialists are expected to take the lead on a lot — organization, collaboration, recruitment, insight management, evangelizing research, procurement… the list goes on.
You can only do so much.
I found that leaning on team members outside of UX Research can not only help the tool procurement process, but also strengthen the relationship between UX Research and other teams. And odds are, there are other team members who are closer to Legal or IT, and can help manage expectations, solicit feedback, or just be an ear to listen. It’s a win-win, and more collaboration with outside teams doesn’t hurt.
Related read: Building a best-in-class research operations team
If you’re in Research Operations as your career, chances are you already know about the great community of practices that are out there, like ResearchOps Community. These communities are there to help support you in your role. If you don’t — look for them, they exist. There are slack communities, websites, and forums dedicated and chock full of advice about the best way to onboard tools, pick tools, and nuances along the way. Tools like Great Question often are involved in these communities, so if you need a place to start, ask your CSM! Below are some communities I have heard of (or am a part of) so if you’re interested, check them out!
If your tool procurement goes smoothly, with no pushback from legal or finance, no onboarding issues, and everyone suddenly uses it fully without questions — you’re one in a million.
For the rest of us mortals, expect hiccups, and build a lot of leeway into your timeline.
It’s perfectly normal, and no, it doesn’t mean you haven’t done the absolute most to get this thing through to the finish line. Legal is going to legal — they will push back on one tiny little line. Finance is going to finance — they will ask why this tool is necessary now, who approved it, and how it’s going to contribute to the company’s bottom line. You get the picture.
Just ride the waves, and know at the end of it all, your due diligence will ensure you have a tool that gets the job done. The temporary pain of procurement has always been worth it in the long run for me. I hope these nuggets of wisdom help prepare you for your next tool procurement, and always — good luck!
Mia builds UX Research Operations from the ground up. Specializing in tech startups, she has experience building operations within UX Research and Design teams for healthcare and SaaS companies. She loves consuming and writing content about the best ways to set your UX Research team up for success. Follow her on LinkedIn or contact her directly here.