How to Draw a Research Ops Owl: Part 2

You can check out Part 1 here 🦉

Once you start, you’re halfway there

Step 2. Draw the rest of the owl

Solution Scoping

I kept in mind strategies for change management, dogfooding your own process, and building a community of practice.

Again drawing from Rana Chakrabarti’s research, my steps for scoping the solution included:

  • Finding the soft spot — what areas in the current workflow are ‘susceptible’ to intervention? For my team’s workflow, this meant focusing on spaces where we were already meeting, like UX workshops with POs, architects, and developers.
  • Designing an intervention — how can we scale effective strategies? I focused on using the current UX resources as a springboard for expansion.
  • Design doing over design thinking — people need to practice to improve.
The goal is not for researchers to be the sacred gatekeepers of User Insights™, but rather for researchers to facilitate the integration of user insights into product.

Solution Scaling

1️⃣ Skill up
To create a shared UX language and toolset, I invite both UX and non-UX roles to participate in research initiatives. I encourage them to practice the skills they’ve learned, and see first-hand how user insights can improve product development.

Active participation in research activities paves the pathway for colleagues to learn about UX research methodologies, and prepares them to use certain tools to execute methodologies. Will they do it ‘wrong’ the first couple of times? Maybe. Will they get useful feedback and keep improving? Definitely.

2️⃣ Champion design process
I highlight the successes of UX research initiatives by sharing case studies and research insights. Raising the visibility of research and awareness of resources or effective frameworks helps to create a coalition of the willing.

3️⃣ Increase exposure
I’ve found that an easy way to keep people engaged is to regularly share ‘updates’ from user personas, or insight nuggets from usability tests or user interviews. Every night, President Obama read 10 letters from American citizens. These letters — the 10 LADs — represented the stories and concerns of a range of Americans, and helped keep the President connected to his base. Obama said these letters helped to “identify … and inspire action on real problems.”

It’s almost like… Obama integrated consistent exposure to user insights into his workflow in order to create empathy for his users’ goals and pain points.

Seriously though

Getting stakeholder buy-in

Real talk — this is the hard part. Since stakeholders may not initially see the value-add in research tools and resources, I focused on selling them on the overall UX research strategy. As I scaled up and was able to demonstrate growing engagement with user insights, I found that stakeholders increased their support for tools and resources that support the strategy.

Lessons Learned

Get famous.

Let us take a page from the playbook of Kim Kardashian West, who used to organize Paris Hilton’s closets and now has Paris modeling the Yeezy Season 6 campaign.

How did KKW manage such a meteoric ascent? She has one goal — be famous — and inserted herself into every possible relevant nook and cranny. Kim has a clothing line, an app, emojis, a makeup brand, and of course the longest-running reality TV show in America.

She didn’t really break the internet but her app did make a million a minute.

So what can KKW teach us about succeeding in research operations? Insert yourself into every possible space there is. Get a blurb in the company newsletters, make a dedicated Slack workspace, go to all the sync meetings, present design demos, get ads on the office TVs, teach research workshops, and give UX lunch talks. Make yourself the go-to person for questions related to user research tools, methods, and strategies.

People don’t care about user research per se. What they do care about is solving hard problems, collaborating better, working faster, and delivering stronger products … and user research is just the thing to help with this.

Being a human 📣 for user research amplifies how research can improve our colleagues’ workflow and the final product quality. As researchers, we should be reframing our deliverables with our consumers — designers, POs, developers — in mind.

Actual footage of your org’s research scaling up.

The shortest distance between two points is a straight line.

So go high — literally — and contact the highest-ranking person you can find. I emailed our CEO and got the support of the CEO’s office. Find the fastest way from point A to point B, and then hit the ground running.

🔑 I give good email. Here’s the template I use.

Hi %FirstName,
1–2 sentence introduction that sets the tone, for example: I saw your presentation at %Event and was interested in %ThingYouSaid. I am looking to learn more about how you structure your research program.
A user story-style sentence, for example: I’m a user researcher with %Team, and I’m comparing effective UX research strategies and tools so that I can increase the scale, scope and speed of my team’s research efforts.
A closing sentence with a clear call to action, for example: I’ve attached a deck that covers the challenges of our research program and possible solutions. I would be appreciative of the opportunity to connect for a 15 minute chat to discuss your experiences with %Thing.
Thank you in advance,*

*Research shows that closing an email with ‘Thank you in advance’ generates the highest response rate, at 65.7%. And yes, I am the kind of person that researches which signature generates the highest response rate before sending hundreds of emails. I promise I am fun at parties though.

Nevertheless, persist.

Dylan Wilbanks puts it well in his viral advice post for new designers:

The most optimistic people I know are not rays of sunshine; they are realists who keep believing in the face of the frustration.

Sometimes you will do a thing, and it will work. And someone will say something kind to you, like “you have a growth mindset” or “I appreciate how clearly you’ve articulated this complex issue”, and you will kvell and revel in your user research skillset.

These moments are important, because the next day or week or month you will try a thing that is not successful. Don’t panic! Or rather, panic a little bit because all feelings are valid, but then keep calm and carry on while focusing on your past wins (also recommended: Lara Hogan’s 🍩 strategy).

The recommended reaction when your carefully laid plans fall apart.
Never underestimate the power of persistence. You’ll get there. It’s as easy as 1, 2 — simply start by mapping the outcome you want to achieve.
And then draw the rest of the f*cking owl.

PS. Here are even more Medium posts that I found helpful, written by designers wiser and more experienced than I. Give them a read, and if they help you, give them a 👏 (or hold that button down and give them 50 👏, you do you.)