Enterprise Research Management: Succeeding with Research at Scale

UXRConference Bonus Talk | June 30th, 2020 | 30 min + QA
Sean McKay, Founder & CEO,

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to present a bonus talk as part of UXRConference Anywhere 2020 on enterprise research management. The talk is only about 30 mins long with some Q&A at the end. So if you missed it at UXRC, grab your lunch, take a break, and enjoy the session recording now!

UXRC was amazing!

I first want to start by saying that the all remote UXRConference was awesome! The conference had 5 tracks on day one, and I attended Track Five: Leadership in Research. It did not disappoint! The main talks on day two were also very solid with talks covering a wide range of meaningful topics.

I’ve outlined my talk below with some highlighted content and also included some links to other UXRC talks that go deeper into the related topics. (For now, those related videos are only available to UXRC attendees — see “That’s a Wrap” email on 6/26 for password).

Intro and background

So what I want to talk a little bit about today is research and insights management, how to build and scale a research practice.

At Handrail, we’re focused on helping organizations succeed with research at scale. That’s how we frame it. And today, as I share some challenges you might face, we’ll also talk about some advice and a framework for formalizing and scaling the research practice and digging into some of those topics.

Superpowers of Researchers (1:20)

Getting to the why!
you can get to the why and companies are beginning to understand the power of getting to the why and they want more of it. So, they want us to scale…

Let there be SCALE! not that easy
… this is organizational change that we’re we’re facing… It’s one of the hardest endeavors you can take on.

Related UXRC session:
You Are Not Your Research Report
(Day Two 16:58)
Behzod Sirjani, Head of Research and Analytics Operations, Slack

Archenemy - Vapor Research (2:29)

it’s research that vanishes. That’s a literal interpretation. You might get one time use of the study, but its full ROI cannot be captured by the business. It’s a one and done. Or the second one being research that lacks credibility and value. It might not have context or evidence, and you’re not sure how to apply it. Can we trust it?

Top 5 Causes of Vapor Research
1. Research is scattered or lost
2. Lack of evidence or context
3. Ineffective sharing or socializing
4. Misalignment or bad timing
5. Bias in the organization

Fundamentals of Avoiding Vapor Research (5:14)

… what are some of the fundamentals of how we can avoid vapor research? I’ll walk through three…
1. Build trust
2. Collaborate
3. Rigor, transparency, and consistency

Build Trust “Develop Org Empathy” (5:23)

Apply your empathy skills
… understand the perspectives of the other people involved. What’s driving their behaviors? … take the time to understand the goals and incentives that might be driving them… their decision making styles…

Related UXRC session:
Tales From The Other Side: Research & the Exec table (Track 5 00:42:13)
Eran Ben-Ari, Chief Product Officer, Tophat

Collaborate “Meaningful Involvement” (8:52)

Democratizing research
…we can’t be too precious, but we can’t be reckless. We need to respect the craft and figure out how to meet the needs that are being presented to us. We need to be practical and purposeful… that was a big part of Molly’s talk… about being intentional, purposeful.

Challenges we face
… and the two drivers are, [1] there’s really not enough trained researchers out there for the demand and [2] we have other roles and other structures involved… Agile, lean, SAFE—all these other organizational structures that might be in play.

Related UXRC session:
Escape Velocity: Finding our path in the next decade (Day 2 04:31:08)
Molly Stevens, Director of User Experience Research, Booking.com

Not all research is the same
... we have very tactical research going up to very strategic and more complex. So, if we only have a little bit of those resources, where is it landing in this?…

So is that landing all down here, just summative… all you’re doing is helping do iterative usability, and it’s at the end of the process and we’re already kind of done? And then we’re just trying to optimize? Or are we trying to get ahead of it a little bit? Or are we stretched thin across all of it, and so we’re having trouble deciding where we can spend our time. … how do we prioritize?

Related UXRC session:
Structuring your UXR team (Track 5 01:22:51 )
Monal Chokshi, Head of UX Research, Lyft

Meaningful Involvement?
So let’s get back to meaningful involvement…
1. Create shared understanding
2. Build relationships and alliances
3. Use collaborative language

Shared understanding
The goal is to have a shared understanding of the research process and the context, because I think that’s how we’re going to build that respect for the craft. That’s why it needs to be the right level of involvement.

Not everyone should do research
It doesn’t mean everyone should be doing research. It means asking what should they be doing and how should they be involved? And if we involve people from the start and understand it, we start to build ownership within those people as well … It’s their research too, as a stakeholder and advocate...

Collaborative language
…one of the ways you can do that quickly or create barriers quickly, is the language you use… We want it to be a craft, but it should be approachable. It should be understandable, so they understand what you’re talking about.

Rigor, Transparency, & Consistency “Rigor, Transparency, & Consistency” (15:35)

1. Demonstrate rigor in qualitative research
2. Be consistent and make it repeatable
3. Be open and transparent responsibly

They know what to expect
One of the issues that I think research struggles with… is that it’s a “hidden” craft… We want to have a way to demonstrate that the rigor is there and that it’s repeatable… that we have something we can repeat and people know what to expect...

Research Practice Framework (17:20)

Projects, Programs AND the Practice
… We start with people and processes. So, at the high level: the planning, collecting, analyzing, storing, and sharing… but there’s a lot more to it…

Same hierarchy
… No matter if it’s a program or project, tactical or strategic, it’s the same hierarchy. It might be at a different scale, but it’s the same hierarchy… and as we go to build a practice, we have a foundation that starts with organizing and prioritizing…

From Research Projects to Research Programs: How strong programs keep us on track (Day Two 00:35:57)
Rannie Teodaro, Head of Research, Thumbtack

Ok, you’ll need to watch this part. It takes about 10 mins to explain and visually build up the framework.

With great power comes great responsibility (26:00)

… I’ll close with this. Going back to our superhero… with great power comes great responsibility… Spiderman taught us that, right? (Technically it was his Uncle Ben)

… It’s an opportunity design went through, and we’re going through it now… We need to make the most of it. We need to respect the craft, but not be too precious… but also not be too reckless… We need to make sure we’re doing it with purpose, show that we are practical, that we can get things done… because we have people’s attention right now...

…we can’t be whiny. We can’t demand it. We have to prove it. We have to show it and know what we’re doing. So we need to be organized. And with that comes the responsibility to deliver and show that we can be part of the overall business impact. And that’s where we need to be focusing.

Thanks again to the UXRC team and all the speakers for an amazing conference. Hopefully this bonus talk was helpful. If you have interest to learn more about what we are doing here at Handrail, please reach out. I’m also happy to just talk research and design!

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