At the end of May I helped organise one of the first of many global workshops on the topic, “What is research ops?”.
This is a question we’ve been discussing at Deliveroo as we’ve started to identify the need to operationalise user research to support the team as it scales with the business. User research is at the heart of how we think and how we develop our products, and it requires a lot of coordination work in addition to the actual conducting of the research, analysis of the data and reporting of the findings. The team at Deliveroo spend up to half of their time on set-up work like booking a venue, sourcing participants, scheduling it all in, setting up contracts and consent forms, scanning the forms after the session, etc — leaving them less time to do the actual research work (interviews, surveys, fieldwork observation, usability testing, etc) that they’re experts in. This is obviously not ideal, especially as the business scales and demand for research grows. Hence the need for a research ops team to support the researchers and help operationalise what they do. In some tech businesses this is an explicit function, in others this has been absorbed by a research manager or lead. We are now at the stage where this is becoming an explicit function in our team.
One of the best things about working at a start-up, especially one that’s at the scale we are, is the opportunities you’re presented with and the new challenges you can embrace. I’ve been at Deliveroo for nearly three years now, but am lucky enough to be embarking on a whole new mission in uncharted territory — for us! That mission is setting up a research ops team.
But what is research ops? What does it include, and why is it needed? Is this even a thing? How is it different from user research?
Turns out, these are topics that are being discussed at length by many others in businesses of all sizes and levels of maturity. Charlotte Clancy, user research lead at Deliveroo, put me in touch with Kate Towsey, who started a dedicated Slack workspace for like-minded research ops people to gather, collaborate and discuss nerdy #ReOps topics (like GDPR!). I joined the community a couple of days after I started my new role as user research programme manager, and it was invaluable in helping me understand more about how I can support the user research team at Deliveroo to move even faster and be even more aligned with the business and with each other.
Looking at the fast pace of growth of the Slack workspace, it was evident that there was an appetite for real-life interactions and a framework to help explain what we do, why we do it, and how it works.
So in classic researcher fashion, the #ReOps core team kicked off a global research project to consolidate what we mean by research ops and what we’d like it to become.
Step 1: a survey to help guide us towards a model for research ops
Step 2: global workshops to gather insights around research ops
Step 3: analysis and consolidation, leading to a research ops framework
I jumped at the chance to help with the London workshop — I’d already learnt so much from the Slack community and wanted to give back in some way. The research experts in our organising team focussed on how to run the session and gathered the insights, while I helped with networking, timekeeping and provided food on the evening of the workshop.
London was the second in the workshop series, which are happening globally throughout June. At the session we had a great mix of user researchers — contractors, in-house, agency-side, those with decades of experience and those just starting out. The atmosphere was great, and we had some really open discussions on the operational challenges and successes we’ve experienced, along with what we wish we could improve at our workplaces and what we would immediately set up if we had to start from scratch at a new workplace. There were so many nods around the room as stories resonated — it was quite something to realise that there were so many common experiences in the group. Everyone was worried about knowledge silos, thinking about how best to engage the business with the findings, and concerned about how to retain knowledge and insights after a researcher leaves the business. I also felt very grateful for the stellar work Charlotte and the team have done at Deliveroo in making research such a valued and integral part of how we build products. This is no mean feat.
What comes next?
The global insights gathering, analysis and write-up of the findings is in progress, and I can’t wait to see the resulting framework that we come up with. We’re hoping that we’ll also have a robust structure to support the community as it continues to grow. I really feel privileged to be part of this at such a key stage of development and I am so excited for what the future holds for research operations.
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Interested in finding out more about user research at Deliveroo or chatting about research ops? Give me a shout! You can also find out more about the ReOps framework and community on Twitter @TeamReOps, #WhatisResearchOps or on Medium: ResearchOps Community