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The characteristics of top ResearchOps practitioners

The characteristics of top researchops managers
Published
6 May 2021
Content
James Vinh

The rise of massive technology companies in the past decade has fueled the operationalizing of nearly all functions. We’ve previously covered the details of how ResearchOps enables efficiency, consistency, and quality at scale. Now let’s dive deeper into the responsibilities and qualities of top ResearchOps practitioners and how to cultivate those qualities ourselves. 

Reducing the operational burden 

ResearchOps remains a relatively young and constantly-evolving field. The community began in March 2018 with a tweet from Kate Towsey, Research Operations Manager at Atlassian. Since then, the ResearchOps community has orchestrated large-scale surveys, presented workshops around the world, and built a thriving community of over 8,000 individuals. 

In multiple aspects, this emerging discipline shares parallels with UX Research in its early days: its professionals are still defining the responsibilities and scope of their roles while their cross-functional partners are still learning how to collaborate with these teams. We see both commonalities and differences when looking at how the related practice of DesignOps operates at companies like Google, Facebook, and Salesforce.

Yet the core mission of ResearchOps appears to stay consistent across organizations: to alleviate the operational burdens of user research so its practitioners can focus on practicing their craft. 

This mission has taken shape in the form of specific duties through the eight pillars of ResearchOps teams: governance; budget management; knowledge management; participant recruitment; tooling, physical space, and asset management; guidelines, templates and documentation; internal communications; and team and people management.

Top ResearchOps specialists 

As with the field of UX as a whole, ResearchOps embraces individuals from all backgrounds to become practitioners. Not only is the field too new to be taught in traditional academic programs or bootcamps, but diverse backgrounds actually enrich ResearchOps practitioners’ ability to approach and solve ambiguous problems. Prior experience—whether as a project or program manager in a different field—or even a further flung past position can be applicable in ResearchOps. Regardless of one’s background, here are traits of top ResearchOps professionals and tips for cultivating these qualities in oneself. 

Organized

This characteristic is arguably an asset to any professional endeavor, however, it’s especially crucial for ResearchOps practitioners. As the owners of essential research, responsibilities include but are not limited to: 

  • Participant scheduling

  • Incentivization

  • Data Storage and processing

  • Insight archiving and sharing 

  • Tooling

  • Template management

With these complex organizational tasks in mind, the ability to arrange things in a structured manner becomes key. 

Improving one’s organizational skills can be equal parts strategy/mindset and tactics/tools. Helpful paradigms to adopt when it comes to fostering a more organized mindset center around thinking of ways to bring order, systems, and arrangements to all aspects of one’s work. Organizing from a tactical standpoint encompasses standardized file naming structure, uniform file location practices, and frequent audits to minimize digital clutter. 

Though the best tools to stay organized can vary based on individual preferences and workflows, it’s hard to go wrong with classics like a pen and paper to log information, emails and Slack messages for communications, and a calendar to keep track of deadlines and meetings. Furthermore, ResearchOps specific tools like Dovetail’s Research Repository can be invaluable for storing, organizing, and sharing customer insights while Dovetail’s People feature eases the challenge of tracking and managing participants.  

Proactive

As pioneers in a growing discipline, ResearchOps practitioners should be proactive problem solvers. Oftentimes, a precedent won’t exist for solving a challenging problem, there won’t be documentation for best practices on how to handle a situation, and one won’t have a colleague who’s previously tackled the unique scenario you’re facing. In spite of this, we can take inspiration from A’verria Maritn, Ph.D, Director at ServiceNow, by:

  1. Channeling our inner designers. Applying human-centered design and design thinking processes to addressing challenges we face or new opportunities we identify. 

  2. Being agile. Don’t let perfection be the enemy of getting things done—prototype a template, process, or workflow then iterate based on feedback from your team. 

ResearchOps professionals must also be proactive in terms of identifying and mitigating potential risks within current or upcoming initiatives. Improving at this skill is a product of harboring relationships with cross-functional partners in conjunction with questioning assumptions. 

User centric

ResearchOps specialists might not directly conduct user research like the colleagues they support, yet they are a crucial member of the UX department and key to delivering outstanding user experiences. As such, a user-centric focus and all the traits that come with this way of thinking: empathy, curiosity, ideating, and testing solutions will enhance the understanding of the nature of their team’s work. Moreover, it can supercharge the quality of one’s ResearchOps deliverables and practices. 

Developing a user-centric mindset takes time and practice. One can begin by making a conscious effort to better understand those around you and their perspectives free of judgement. This includes connecting with a diverse group of individuals, asking thoughtful questions and listening like we mean it. In the process, we reduce our judgment, gain new insights into the world, and influence better outcomes. 

Once this mindset becomes second nature, one might consider crafting a toolkit of design thinking methods to apply in their own work and keeping up to date on current articles related to the field of user research

Emotionally intelligent

ResearchOps is a team sport. It requires widespread collaboration not only with the UX Research team but stakeholders from Legal, IT, and beyond. Thus, the ability to foster meaningful relationships with cross-functional partners becomes essential. ResearchOps practitioners are strong communicators with an acute awareness of their colleagues’ needs and priorities. They become much more than owners of processes and documentation: they are trusted allies for feedback and masters of getting things done. 

Building emotional intelligence can serve as a lifelong skill in both professional and personal capacities. This Harvard Business Review article touches on the 12 elements of Emotional Intelligence, while Daniel Goldman’s Emotional Intelligence 2.0 is a well-validated resource for those interested in delving deep into this space. Improving one’s EQ (emotional quotient) is tied closely to advancing skills in self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management. 

Just the beginning 

Whether you’re currently practicing ResearchOps or aspiring to transition into this role, it’s an incredible time to be interested in it. What practitioners do, create, and share today will undoubtedly impact the future of UX Research and be key to its growth. The responsibilities and scope of its practitioners will continue evolving, but these key traits of effective practitioners are likely to remain. 

What traits have you found key to becoming a strong ResearchOps practitioner? What are your tips and resources for developing them? Join the Dovetail and ResearchOps Slack channels to connect with fellow practitioners and continue the conversation!

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