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A Blueprint For Scaling UX Research

A practical plan for scaling UX insights from research ops pros succesfully using it.

Research Operations' (ReOps) great impact is to scale research and, by extension, to scale research’s ability to drive and inform decisions. But how do we—whether or not we have a ReOps team—create this scale? We put that question to three senior ReOps practitioners. Their answers will help you better define what “scale” might look like for your company and steps to start creating it.

This article is based on a panel from our user research event, YouX. Stream every session on-demand.
If you are a researcher, you are doing research ops. Period. You’re managing recruitment, informed consent, field management…all the things that need to happen in order for you to come back with findings to inform a recommendation and an insight. 
And at some point in time, most companies start to realize just how much more research they could be doing, how much more they could be learning, if there was a team dedicated to supporting those things.
When a company truly commits to being human-centered and building with the user in mind, they often realize how that can’t happen in a repeatable, scalable way without research operations. That commitment to ops usually results in scale. ~Kelly Clausen

Identify what “scaling” research means for your company

No two companies or teams will “scale” research in the same way. Just as “research” can look different—the scope, the teams, the stakeholders, the product—so too can the approach taken by ReOps folks.

For Slack’s Nicole Anselmo, scale is all about her own processes. As a ReOps team-of-one, Nicole is always looking to find efficiencies in her own work in order to unblock others. For her, scale is hindered if she gets stagnant with process, so she is continuously optimizing them.

Since I’m being asked for the same things over and over, workflows and automations—down to customized text shorteners so I don’t even have to type the full requirement—is a primary way I scale. My project management tool is Asana and I’m always building templates to speed things up within it. ~Nicole Anselmo

Rocket Mortgage’s Kelly Clausen has a larger ReOps team than Nicole. That extra help means she has more established ReOps systems: templatized recruitment flows, centralized insights repositories, documentation for privacy, security, and governance. The “found” time these systems bring lets her focus on scaling insights throughout the company.

Even if a research team is a relatively small part of an organization, scaling means giving more people—ideally everyone—access to these insights and findings. We’re trying to do this in two ways: first by creating an org-wide taxonomy and second by using that taxonomy to share research at the right moment. ~Kelly Clausen

Amazon Web Service’s (AWS) Hannah Barbosa thinks about scaling using a familiar research categorization: tactical and strategic. 

Strategic scale for her means thinking about the position and influence of ReOps relative to the other research teams and their projects. Is her team in a position to help a majority of research-launching teams? If not, how can they improve that? What are the common questions being asked that we can solve for?

Tactical scale is more about processes, templates, workflows, and the raw materials we share with those teams to support and scale them. Although smaller in scope, Hannah’s team knows that when repeated across teams, the easing of work is actually research scale.

Prioritization can surface research-scaling opportunities 

For Hannah, who transitioned from a research role into ReOps, prioritization was a challenge at first. She was balancing learning her new role with trying not to say “no” to her former research teammates. She quickly learned that creating a sustainable research scale requires identifying the “right” opportunities. These might be critical company goals, quick-wins, or areas where she could uniquely and efficiently support.

We started asking, “What are the things that only Ops can do? What aspects of the research process really can’t happen without ReOps’ perspective? As I’ve grown in this role, I’ve gotten more comfortable asking those questions to evaluate potential projects. ~Hannah Barbosa

Kelly thinks a lot about prioritization. So much so that she has a motto to guide her team: “Value within constraints.” For Kelly, this helps her team recognize that they cannot possibly execute on everything: every request, need, problem or opportunity space…they have constraints. These constraints—time, budget, headcount, knowledge—lead her team to think about the organizational context they work in and to identify what—from among all the options available—will deliver the most value.

You need to be that calm, stabilizing force that is reading everything happening around you in order to identify the most important place that you can have the most visible impact at any one particular point in time. You’ll have to choose something that will work across your definition of scale, your team’s goals, and what will really leave a service mark on your company. ~Kelly Clausen

The ways in which a prioritization process needs to change is how Nicole ensures that she’s scaling the right things. Revisiting definitions, team structures, and checking in on the ways the wider organization understands the value of Ops all informs what Nicole’s team works on. 

This also creates knowledge about bigger goals and initiatives, which her team relies on if/when they need to tell a partner no or deprioritize a project. Those conversations help create trust and mutual respect so that if a difficult decision is made, all parties feel it was made in good faith. 

My “ops world” six months ago is not my reality today. So I will regularly check in with stakeholders on the “State of Ops,” asking about priorities, what they’re using and not, and that really helps me prioritize. Often I find that something that was important only a few quarters ago has shifted, and that means the needs from our team are likely to shift, too. ~ Nicole Anselmo

Five strategies to help you scale UX research

After the definitions are (mostly) set and the projects have been prioritized, how do ReOps folks actually go about scaling research? Here are strategies Hannah, Kelly, and Nicole use:

1. Centralization

Identifying where the research findings are being stored across your teams—various tools, cloud storage accounts, etc.—and bringing them together in a single place is an important force for scaling. There’s a reason that many ReOps pros focus on repositories: because they can be force multipliers for insight access and application.

2. Promotion

The idea that “if you build it, they will come” never anticipated the hybrid and remote workplace reality facing many ReOps teams. The people you need to support, whose work you want to scale, might work in different time zones, use different tools, and just feel farther away from you. This is where promotion and marketing come in. Don’t build anything without a plan for sharing it with the org.

3. Flexibility

Because research can take on many forms within an organization—market, product, user, design—any process or workflow ReOps creates should account for those differences. Scale happens when frameworks for intaking, organizing, and supporting research spans the company’s definitions of research activities. What you don’t want is to create a new process for each and every difference. Build against those commonalities.

4. Tracking

How do you know your processes, workflows, templates, etc. are making a difference for your colleagues? If you cannot point to raw numbers that demonstrate your impact—shorter timelines for launching, more projects in field, better data quality, higher satisfaction from stakeholders—then you might already be scaling research but can’t point to it. Make sure to identify, measure, track, and report the numbers that signal scale.

5. "Relationshipping"

Without strong relationships across your company, scale cannot happen. Knowing your stakeholders informs what you build (and why); connecting with leadership ensures programs are aligned to future plans; regular check-ins can surface problem areas before they become bottlenecks. Taken together, ReOps can most effectively scale when it is attuned to the signals of the business and teams who need to learn about customers.

I consider my researchers my customers. They are my clients. I am there to provide them with services that actually help them to get their work done, but I'm also building a partnership with them because I want to further their research. I want to scale their research across the organization. I want to know what kinds of cool things they're coming up with So the next time I'm connecting with a stakeholder I can point them to a relevant project. 
You really do need those relationships.—they become a force multiplier for scaling research. ~Kelly Clausen

More resources on scaling research using operations

Ben Wiedmaier
Senior Content Marketing Manager
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