What makes a great research operations pro?

By
Mia Mishek
May 14, 2024
What makes a great research operations pro?

I love personality tests — especially ones that focus on how I interact and can excel in work environments. 

There are a ton to choose from that many companies use –– The Working Genius, Myers-Briggs, Enneagram –– that all analyze and answer essentially the same thing: how do you solve problems, how do you relate to others, and what excites you? 

UX Research Operations Managers are an interesting bunch. My colleagues in the past have come from academia, law enforcement, veterinary services, and healthcare. There doesn’t seem to be a clear, straightforward line to this career, or clear, straightforward answers as to who would like this job. I certainly didn’t see it as an option as a communications major (I wanted to work in PR!) or further along as a project manager.

Great Question’s guide to UX Research Operations covers the role itself in depth, including what you tactically need to know and do in your day to day, so I suggest starting there if you are interested in learning what The Job™ is. If you’re looking for career advice on transitioning into the field, consider this excellent piece on the hard and soft skills you’ll want to have as a UX Research Operations Manager, by A’verria Martin, Ph.D.

But I actually want to take a step back and explore something a bit broader:

What traits and skills set someone up to be both great at research operations and love their job?

Although it's not a personality test, this article will examine several questions you might see in one, including:

  • How do you solve problems?
  • How do you relate to others? 
  • What excites you? 

If you can relate, maybe you should consider joining our small but mighty ranks in UXR Ops. Or if you’ve already considered a career change into UXR Ops, it might be your sign to make the switch. 

Note: This comes from the point of view of someone who has worked as a team of one in ResOps three times across multiple industries. The size of the company and industry you work in and your past experience can affect how you solve problems and relate to others, so keep this in mind as you consider my perspective.

How do you solve problems?

You solve problems with others, with authority and speed.

UX ResearchOps requires constant communication and collaboration with other departments: Design, Product, Engineering, Legal, Customer Success/Support, IT, Procurement — the list goes on. Like most operational jobs, you will be asked to constantly fix. Fix processes, fix problems, fix relationships between teams. 

I found myself always pulled towards collaborative environments. I was one who liked team projects in school, as it allowed me to learn how others interact and delegate tasks. In my career, I was drawn to teams that seemed to brainstorm and collaborate constantly; when I found myself stagnant in my career, it was in organizations that lacked team culture. 

If you’re coming from a career as a UX Researcher, authority may come easily to you. UX Researchers often have the data and the users’ own words backing them, allowing them to make recommendations with confidence and credibility. UXR Ops will have to come from that same place, with some flexibility. You will need to be able to understand and implement data compliance and legal requirements, while remaining flexible in your recruitment practices to find the right people to participate in your research team’s studies. You will need to be the voice of best practices and process. Other teams will be looking to you for help getting research, as quickly as they need it, which may mean constantly shifting how things get done.

You need to strike a healthy balance between structure and versatility, which is no easy feat.   

In most cases, this is not a position that allows room for deferment. You will need to be able to collaborate across departments quickly, find solutions that work for most, and implement. You will then need to iterate. Speed for the sake of speed will get you in trouble; speed because you know how to collaborate quickly and with purpose will get you far. 

{{jared-forney-1="/about/components"}}

If you’re a procrastinator, ResOps might not be the job for you –– it needs a steady, constant person, with the ability to self-motivate. I’ve found ResearchOps work isn’t as deadline-driven, and projects may lack a clear “end” to projects that allows you to check off a box. I used to think I lived and died by deadlines from my previous agency life, but have since found so much satisfaction in becoming self-propelled with my work. 

How do you relate to others?

You relate to others with humility and excitement.

Research operations is not a role for those with big egos. You may be a person that does not mind tasks being delegated to, or getting the job done that no one else wants to do. You will often have to push back and set the boundaries of your role, while still setting your team up for success.

You will need to be able to take constant feedback from your researchers; they will have shifting priorities given to them, thus shifting your process, and will have feedback after research is completed on the quality of participants you recruited for them. Listen. Iterate. Learn. 

But you should also be the type of person who can be enthusiastic about your work. In snobby terms, you might have been called “earnest” or “basic” because you, like many others, love Star Wars or Starbucks, or how stars align within astrology.

Being the type of person who gets excited about research will help others get excited about research. And everyone, from the research team to those in other departments looking for user insights, will appreciate it.

{{heather-ashley-1="/about/components"}}

Galvanizing, evangelizing, and frankly, selling your job is a unique quality of UX Research. Because it’s a nascent position within a turbulent field, you need to prove your worth. This is not a job where you can sit in a corner and quietly get work done. You will need to be vocal within your organization about the work that your UXR team is doing, so you continue to become entrenched within the product and engineering lifecycle.  

{{rex-chng-1="/about/components"}}

This skill may show up in other ways –– have you been a people leader, cheering on your team? Have you been part of a team where your product/feature/training is new, and you have to educate others on what you do? Are you the first to offer feedback, answer questions, or troubleshoot a problem?

Then you already have the ability to advocate for UX Research. 

What excites you?

You like people, and using both sides of your brain.

This is a job that lets you be analytical and creative. You will use data to improve processes, research repositories, and how you recruit. You’ll use your creative side to write captivating and interesting research newsletters or recruitment emails to potential participants. You’ll get to use wit and charm and creative problem-solving skills to negotiate with sales folks to get the best price on UXR tools, and work with engineers to properly integrate the tools you buy.

You have to be organized, but flexible. Data-driven, but human-focused. This is a multifaceted job that allows you to flex when you have either analytical drive or creative energy, which reduces burnout.

Most of all, you should be excited to work with people, whether they're creative or analytical. You will get to work with internal teams, external agencies, and most of all, the users of your organization's tool or product.

{{rachel-male-1="/about/components"}}

This was the biggest struggle in the start of my career –– project managers, in my teams, were task-oriented, analytical folks. Yes, some got to be creative about problem solving. But true creativity? It didn’t quite scratch that itch for me. I've found working in the UX Research space to be the perfect balance of analytical work with the creative, human element. 

This doesn’t pertain to just ResearchOps

Obviously this is coming from a UX Research Operations point of view. But these qualities overlap with Design Operations and Product Operations. Both new(er) to Product teams, both essential in their function, same type of brain power and humility needed. If UX Research isn’t your cup of tea, consider looking into those careers. 

Have questions about becoming a UX Research Operations Manager? Email me –– my inbox is open!

Thanks to the contributors to this article 

{{work-in-researchops="/about/components"}}

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.

Similar posts

Make Great Question your home for UX research