What is the difference between Research Operations and Market Research Operations? Why are they considered independent disciplines? Shouldn’t we instead be viewing both of them as one? Has anyone else wondered why these functions are strategically separated in so many organizational structures?
Let’s try an experiment. If you were to, in the search engine of your choice, search for “Research Operations,” what results would you find? Most likely links to the Nielsen Norman 101 course, a link to the ReOps Community, or even some articles on the topic by select research tools and platforms. What if you were to type in the term “User Research Operations?”
You’d probably get more of the same with some user research specific articles mixed in.
Now, what if you were to type in “Market Research Operations?” Well, a lot of those research operations articles suddenly go missing. In some cases, even the ReOps Community page is no longer one of the top results on the first page. Instead, we find results on Operations Research, articles on “How to do Market Research,” or links to market research suppliers and vendors.
Where did all the results for Research Operations go?
My reaction to the missing results
Expanding Beyond User Research
You might be asking yourself, “Nick, you devilishly handsome paragon of research, why did you start off this article with a paragraph highlighting an unnecessary series of searches for terms with slight variations?” Well, dear reader, there is a very good reason for this. For you see, I have noticed that there seems to be a focus in how we think about Research Operations as a User/UX/Design research specific practice (For the rest of this article, I am going to use User Research to encompass UX, User and Design Research).
Research Ops is often viewed as a specialty of Design Operations and usually falls under the Design organization within a company, both of which are more typically tied to User Research. Even The Eight Pillars specifically mentions that these are the pillars of User Research. Does this mean Research Operations and the frameworks that have been created just don’t gel with the needs of Market Research practices? I say, nay!
Another reaction of me while writing this
Now, this article is not going to be an earth-shattering piece of literature that will forever transform the landscape and future of Research Ops. I won’t be introducing much difference, if at all, in how Research Operations is already practiced across industries and companies.
What I hope the takeaway from this is, is encouraging a different way of thinking whenever we deliberate or talk about Research Operations, which, in my opinion, should include all instances of Market Research. After all, “Research is Research” and wherever there is Research, Research Operations should be there to support and scale the practice.
Throughout this article, I will make many references to The Eight Pillars. This is a source I reference frequently (mostly when explaining to others what exactly Research Operations is) since I feel it cohesively presents the areas and ways in which Research Operations can manifest itself.
While they were created as the Pillars of User Research, every single pillar is by no means exclusive to the support of user research. Instead, there are many parallel ways in which they support Market Research practices. Just as user researchers do, market researchers need access to a well-managed panel to execute on qualitative and quantitative research initiatives (Recruitment & Admin).
Access to a diverse and compliant toolkit of research tools, suppliers, templates and guidelines to help streamline their current research capabilities (Tools & Infrastructure / Scope). They need their insights cataloged and their data governed to make sure their work has meaning and influence across the company (Data & Knowledge Management / Governance).
They need their budget accounted for and their work tracked so we know when the team is operating at scale (Organizational Context). How we see the value in the pillars for User Research, we need to start seeing that they hold just as much value and are just as relevant for our Market Research peers as well.
All for Research, and all for Research!
Connecting Market and User Research Teams
So here I am preaching, nay, advocating for companies to see the value in having the Market and User Research teams working together, in an integrated and coordinated effort. The two practices are part of the same customer journey, they just happen to naturally fall at different stages.
This could have been avoided with some Market Research
This shouldn’t deter companies but rather encourage them to connect this funnel. Think of the possibilities! This could help prevent siloing of communications and duplication of work and tools at great expense while also bringing about more holistic insights that address business objectives and goals. It is this type of work that really drives the value and ROI of Research within a company.
It is this close collaboration and the benefits that it brings that should also encourage Research Operations support across both disciplines, so that the entirety of the research practice receives the benefits of the support. Too often we see this separation of practices and the resulting silos of knowledge, which can lead to confusion among leaders and stakeholders and, ultimately, lots of missed opportunities. They end up unaware of how to separate functions to solve more complex problems and impact business objectives.
My Story of Cross-Disciplinary ResearchOps
Since there’s nothing like a good ole fashion “based on a true story” example to help drive home a point, allow me to do that now.
“When I was your age, television was called books.”
When Kelly Clausen and I first began establishing the Research Operation practice at a previous role, we fell under the Design org, reported to the Director of Design Operations, and were tasked with supporting the Design Research team.
The practice’s origins very much followed the way of thinking I have described above, where Research Operations’ overall function is dedicated to supporting User Research practices. However, this changed after a reorganization saw a consolidation of Research, with the Market Research function falling under Design and thus under our umbrella of support.
We suddenly found ourselves supporting roughly 30 researchers, across Design, Market and Measurement (CX) research specialties. Immediately, we knew what we had to do. We kicked down the door to the CEO’s office and demanded the autonomy to get the job done as we saw fit to support our researchers. We then gave an impassioned speech about friendship, dreams, and the American way before walking out to “Don’t You Forget About Me.”
Power moves only
Okay, some editorial liberties may have been taken here so we should update it to a “based on true events” example.
Artistic liberties aside, the reorg forced us to rethink some of the initiatives that we had already executed on and were currently thinking through from the lens of User Research. This is because, while research is research, there are of course natural differences that could not be ignored when making sure we are catering to all the needs of each of our researchers and their respective specialties.
Some of the participants and recruitment requests look different with heavier emphasis on quant vs qual and the need for third party panels. Some of the tools are different and require distinct types of synthesis and analysis. Some of the steps in the project and research workflows are just independent because they fall into different stages of the product life cycle.
We had to make sure all of these were accounted for so as to continue growing the research practice, which was aptly renamed the Rocket Research team, at scale. Keeping the focus on only one research team would have greatly hindered the capabilities of other researchers whose work didn’t align with the needs of who we had originally been tasked with supporting.
The best part of this is that these were not drastic changes. We were able to support our new research stakeholders to the same capacity as those who we were supporting over the course of a few months. It only took introducing some flexibility into the pillars and how they support all research, not just user research. All of this is just to say, here’s one example of how Research Operations, and the pillars that we know and love, can be used to support much more than just User Research.
Did these nuances mean that we had additional work to make sure both disciplines were adequately covered? Of course, they did! Since when do we worry about a little extra work? We have eight freaking pillars to grapple with and Research Operations teams rarely start out with more than one or two people making up said team. But this shouldn’t scare us or stop us from providing the very best support for all of Research.
He ain’t heavy. He’s Mr. Frodo
Expanding the Value and Influence of ResearchOps
As I mentioned in the beginning, this article isn’t groundbreaking stuff. If anybody is reading this, and it’s not just sitting out in the ether of the internet all alone talking to a volleyball named Wilson for comfort, they may very well be rolling their eyes and saying “Well, duh!” I still hope that this message does resonate with those out there who can see the potential of Research Operations in a slightly different light.
As I see it, we are a growing field and community, and we should be looking for as many opportunities as possible to expand our value and influence. We should be encouraging further opportunities for Research Operations support with Market Research practices across companies. And depending on a company’s needs or maturity, we should be hoping to see more “Market Research Operations” roles open up or Research Operations openings highlighting the support for a Market Research function. We can also see more opportunities for expanding the influence of Research Operations from within and centralizing the practice across specialties of research.
If this message sounds somewhat familiar, it is because a similar message was shared by Genevieve Conley Gambill in her Farewell to UX Research, that focused on research as a whole. She advocated that boxing all of what research can do under UX diminishes the impact and value that it brings. And yes, tangentially, I do realize in addition to the content we also happen to have similar writing styles, but to be fair I started writing this before I was lucky enough to come across Farewell to UX Research, so we can just call it a happy coincidence.
This comes back to my point that giving Research Operations such a rigid focus on User Research can limit not only the opportunities for our steadily growing ReOps community but can also influence companies to only see the practice as a niche support for their User Research teams.
This misunderstanding in the potential of Research Operations could prevent Market Researchers from getting the valuable support that we provide and they could greatly benefit from. So, let’s not unintentionally put ourselves into a box labeled User Research Ops, but instead think of ourselves as Research Ops. Let’s reframe our thinking so that whenever we discuss Research Operations, our first thought is that it concerns all research — user, market, and anything in between. After all, research is research.
Oh, are you still here? Well then, let me leave you with something to put a smile on your face… A happy Corgi who also believes research is research… and, of course, ball.
Meet the (un)official ResearchOps macot
NOTE: This article is not covered by the ResearchOps.Community CC Attribution-Sharealike International Licence