How Research Operations impacts organizational culture

Elham Ali, MPH, PMP
researchops-community
7 min readJun 20, 2023

--

Written by Elham Ali and Melissa Hack, interpreted from a ReOps podcast interview of Rohan Irvine by Holly Cole

Picture of Rohan Irvine standing on a stage holding a microphone presenting to an audience on UX
Rohan Irvine

Research Operations uncovers tensions, bridges communication gaps, and helps teams be more effective. Researchers often experience sticky and complex situations. They work creatively across team dynamics, organizational hierarchy, and budget constraints to improve outcomes. This presents opportunities for ResearchOps to help solve real unmet needs. The key is learning how to frame these needs as meaningful conversations to influence organizational change.

Here are three ways ResearchOps influences these conversations with Rohan Irvine, a user experience researcher and operations leader. Listen to the full episode on Apple Podcast, Spotify, or Amazon Music. Subscribe to the ResearchOps Community Podcast today.

ResearchOps reveals hidden fears and bridges difficult conversations.

“Research is the conduit within the organization. Recruitment was tough when I started my current job…[I] realized recruitment is tough because people don’t understand the systems within the organization and how to use them most effectively. And they keep hitting struggles with ‘I don’t know how to do X.’ That’s something I’ve sold multiple times, so I came in and got budget, got all the tools, and built some processes.” — Rohan Irvine

When teams ask for ResearchOps processes or tools, this often reveals deeper issues, tensions, and old structures that may no longer serve them. However, Rohan highlights that it also taps into hidden fears about unknown changes and organizational inefficiencies.

This sometimes motivates companies to look at problems differently, and ultimately, it inspires conversations about what is essential and what teams should focus on. Most importantly, ResearchOps reveals difficult conversations and friction points in an organization’s culture at specific levels, from equitable research compensation to customer satisfaction to power structures. It instills accountability where there is none, drives hard conversations, and can eliminate some circular ones.

One way to bridge these conversations is to stay curious about how ResearchOps can be a center of operations and thought excellence in the organization.

🎬 Take action

  • Build a knowledge map of how the organization works. In smaller to medium-sized companies, Rohan recommends talking to a number of people throughout the company to better understand who is impacted and how, allowing you to “get through and talk to most of the people and understand how information and knowledge and decisions are made within the organization.”
  • Define the ResearchOps jobs-to-be-Done. Talking to individuals and teams across different areas of the business, researchers can gain perspective about how work gets accomplished and how decisions are made that many teams lack. Rohan learned to plan for assessing how decision-making and knowledge creation affect organizational dynamics. How do you want to change that? And what is the researcher’s responsibility in creating that change? I tend to find that I am often THE person within the organization with the broadest perspective about what is happening across different [departments].”
  • Map the decision makers at each research stage. “A lot of the time it comes back to how decisions are being made and then what process people are following after those decisions are made. And research often just sits somewhere down the end of the chain. And so as soon as you start looking at it…If you’re an inquisitive troublemaker like myself, you will eventually find yourself talking to the CEO and understanding that some very difficult conversations are going to need to happen at the C-suite level to be able to change outcomes at the product development level,” says Rohan on the level of influence.

ResearchOps challenges the status quo, shapes norms, and creates clarity.

​​“Some people just aren’t going to like it regardless of what you do. Because what you’re doing a lot of time in operations is creating some accountability, which people do not like. But many times, some people don’t like it just because it’s new and difficult and hard, and is a bit more vulnerable, documenting something where you used to keep it pretty fluid.” — Rohan Irvine

Building a robust ResearchOps culture involves being curious about what is and what could be. It is more than just implementing tools and processes. Instead, Rohan emphasizes that it requires a fundamental shift in mindset and behaviors across the organization of what will be accepted and what needs new norms.

It requires the infrastructure commitment and the mission and values alignment to achieve success organization-wide.

🎬 Take action

  • Assess the ResearchOps maturity level of your organization to create foundational processes in areas that make the most sense and have the quickest wins. “You need to have a way to accurately assess the current level, and where you think you can get traction in maturing the practices and helping these teams.”
  • Define and quantify issues to leaders to give more context and gain alignment on where problems are, where things can improve, and what can be prioritized. Rohan recounts, “I ended up just doing heaps of retros. And facilitation with all of the squads, and then building that into a report to then give to senior leadership in product…For me, that’s the kind of cultural stuff that I think research is good at because we have this skill set of interviewing and synthesizing and questioning people in a way that they’re comfortable sharing what’s happening. And then suddenly, you’re not debating with the CFO about weird line items. You’re debating with the CFO about where the investment is going to our strategy or our vision for five years to make sure that we can get out of whatever we’re in at the moment and move towards where we need to be as the market shifts?”
  • Show the ideal and compare it with the constrained process to highlight what is lost. To Rohan, improving team outcomes is a process that requires education, setting expectations, and time to let it sink in. “I think if you’re going to my last organization at the same time they did a product reorg, and they hadn’t planned to do any work to help transition the teams. And when I say that I’m looking at it from a facilitation perspective going ‘Hey, you’re about to cause massive change within the largest part of the business!’ You’ve got to step people through this, let them have their feelings, let them reform, and then let them refocus, on what they want to work on.”

ResearchOps builds confidence and connection among teams. And, at times, disconnection.

“They always start as research processes, and every time I roll one out, you realize it is a cultural change within the organization. It is connection, transparency, clarity, all of the things that are necessary for any company to be able to reach whatever the next level is that they’ve decided is the next level.” — Rohan Irvine

ResearchOps can increase both connection and disconnection among teams. On the one hand, Rohan emphasizes that educating team members about ResearchOps processes, governance, tools, and technologies fosters connection. It highlights ways of working with the inner and hidden systems that people outside of a research role can appreciate, anticipate, and collaborate with.

It also instills confidence in people to understand “research as a conduit,” a driving force to validate (or invalidate) what they know. It also becomes a center point to collaborate with a transparent and structured process that drives happiness, confidence, and more profound, meaningful work.

On the other hand, there are scenarios in which ResearchOps isn’t allowed to function as it needs to. Sometimes researchers have to recognize when they are hitting a wall, and the wall is immovable. Sometimes they have done all they can and have to give others more time to understand and acclimate.

Most importantly, Rohan stresses how common for researchers to have imposter syndrome about how effective their work is amidst these challenges.

🎬 Take action

  • Document areas of teams’ connection and disconnection in ResearchOps. Then evaluate where they ebb and flow to “know that everyone’s on the same page and aligned, and where is any documentation, any conversations, anything that was written down, that shows that we’re at the stage now, where the research planning is at the end of this, the things that you don’t have solid written down evidence for, that’s your first task in the resource planning process is going out, get that stuff, get the numbers, get the conversations, put it in one place.”.
  • Create a shared communication language, such as cost-savings for operational leaders or key results met for product managers. It creates familiarity as Rohan reflects when presenting evidence behind ResearchOps “I think a lot of the conversations I’ve had are about providing evidence for things and why they’re working.”
  • Notice the maturity, values, and resources of organizations where you thrive. “I think that, as our profession, as a discipline grows, you’re going to run into more and more situations where it might be feeling that you’re not doing Opswell. And I think it’s really important to develop a great personal perspective about whether you’re not doing things well. Or is it that the organization isn’t keen to use operations, process, and documentation to mature and grow?”

About Rohan Irvine

Rohan Irvine (he/him) is the Research Operations Principal at TPG Telecom. He is a User Experience Researcher in Melbourne, Australia, and a founder of UX Gatherings — a monthly event to build a community around knowledge within the UX industry.

With a background in behavioral science and mixed-methods research, he works at the intersection of research practices, impactful experiences, and organizational culture.

Rohan has delivered and launched products and services with companies in real estate, talent and recruitment, and other industries. Connect with Rohan on Linkedin, Twitter, and his website.

Subscribe Today

Want to learn more from creative researchers and Ops leaders? Subscribe to ResearchOps’ Podcast.

Want to be a ResearchOps Community member? Apply to Join the Slack community and follow on LinkedIn and Twitter.

--

--

Elham Ali, MPH, PMP
researchops-community

Researcher at Beeck Center for Social Impact and Innovation & DrPH student at Johns Hopkins University BSPH