Research Ops is still considered an “emerging discipline.” Based on what I’ve seen happening in the research space over the last few years, I have to disagree.

Research Ops has come into its own.

More companies are realizing this every day — and organizing and hiring accordingly.

In a nutshell, ResearchOps as a function focuses on reducing operational inefficiencies within the research process, that includes participant management, data governance, acquiring tools, knowledge/insights management among many other logistic areas. The benefits are numerous, but I would argue that the biggest impact is that critical research insights are delivered into the hands of stakeholders much quicker and more effectively.

With 2020 coming up fast, I got curious about what UX and research executives were thinking about when it comes to their strategy for the year. I reached out to 25 executives and the results were fascinating.

We talked to people working at a mix of large, medium and small companies, with 46% of the respondents coming from organizations with 1,000+ employees, 30% from organizations with 51-200 employees, and 23% from organizations with 1-50 employees.

Here’s what we learned …

Research Ops Strategy — 2020 and Beyond

Of our participants, 61% have a Research Ops strategy in place for 2020, and 15% are thinking about it. Put another way, ResOps is on the mind of more than three out of four of the research-focused teams we surveyed.

It is definitely a small sample but I was pleasantly surprised to learn that most executives we talked to were actively working on it for 2020.

It’s easy to jump to the conclusion that this is a resource issue, and that larger companies might have more leeway to plan for a new discipline like ResOps. So this may surprise you: All of the small organizations have a ResOps strategy in place for 2020, while only half of the medium sized businesses and 80% of the large organizations do.

So what’s on the docket for ResOps in 2020? We asked our audience what their top 3 priorities are, and here are the results in order of priority:

  1. Improve the way research insights are shared across the organization
  2. Invest in systems and tools to improve research speed and quality
  3. Streamline the recruitment process of research participants
  4. Professional development and career paths for researchers
  5. Train and empower other teams/stakeholders to do research
  6. Increase stakeholder buy-in when it comes to research budgets and resource allocation
  7. Improve data security practices for compliance (GDPR, consent forms, etc.)

This echoes what we’ve seen so far in informal conversations and online communities. There’s a strong need for better systems of gathering and sharing research but there’s also a growing need to systematize almost everything about the research process — from recruiting research participants to acquiring and preserving talent to training other teams in research best practices.

The Growing Role of Research

As more companies reap the benefits of gathering insights directly from customers, the value of that insight is growing clearer. And the value of the research process and researchers themselves is becoming clearer as well.

Of our survey respondents, 27% said they had 20 or more full-time UX researchers (including ResOps people). And a whopping 72% said they had between one and 10 researchers.

When we asked our audience what their investment focus would be if they could double their budget next year, 38% said they would hire more researchers.

Not only we are seeing more investment in research but also more research leaders building UX and Research functions from scratch and thinking about it with an operations hat on.

2019 Regrets

I was curious to know if our research audience had any regrets about how things happened in 2019. So in our survey we asked, “Looking back at 2019, when it comes to research activities and processes, what do you wish you had invested more time in?”

Reading through the candid statements we received, I found that the responses fell into three main buckets:

  1. Missed opportunities to evangelize research
  2. Lack of training and career opportunities for researchers
  3. Needed processes improvements

Here are just a few of the things our audience shared:

“I wish we had invested more time in advocating for more headcount for our research ops team. Ensuring we're moving to ratios that help scale our research practice to its full capacity. We've made great progress but lots more room for growth!” – Manager, User Research, 1,000+-person company
“I wish we had applied the same research/learning mindset we direct toward our customers to equally emphasize the motivations, problems, value systems, and experiences of our product teams.” – Director of UX Research, 1,000+-person company
“I wish we had invested more time in career growth and opportunity.” – Director of UX Research, 1,000+-person company
“I wish we had invested more time in evangelizing research earlier in the process to make an impact with teams — they want to test what they have already decided to do not learn what they should do.” – Director of UX, 51-200-person company
“I wish we had invested more time in improving templates and processes for research deliverables.” – Research director with 20+-person research team, 51-200-person company

The good news is that with the value of research and ResearchOps becoming more apparent at more companies, and with better tools available to researchers, these regrets are going to be easier to avoid going forward.

Wrapping Up

UX research is flourishing, and along with it comes a growing need for investment in ResearchOps to help teams do what they do best, help the organization drive decision making based on strong customer insights. From reducing inefficiencies to promoting team collaboration to keeping projects within budget, ResearchOps is the critical role behind getting the most out of your research team. If your company isn’t making plans for ResOps in 2020, take note: Don’t get left behind.