Research operations is fundamentally about scaling the ability to execute on research studies. So let’s begin with what it takes to effectively execute a single study, while keeping in mind that repeatability and scale are the broader objectives.
In research, prerequisite steps can be critically important for the validity of the entire study. Think of these steps as the foundation upon which a study is built.
Study strategy and alignment
Fundamentally, research exists to inform decision making. In our experience, not enough time is spent between research teams and decision-makers to align on learning objectives, timelines, or success criteria.
- What does a dire situation look like? Business stakeholders across product, marketing, strategy, and innovation teams conduct “shadow research.” That’s when they commission their own research or acquire their own tooling instead of working with your research team, often because there isn’t mutual respect for workflows and value-add.
- What are key indicators that there’s room for improvement? Researchers have visibility into research being conducted across the organization, but only collaborate on some of the initiatives.
- What does excellence look like? Business stakeholders use a standardized format to input their learning objectives and other key information and have visibility into the research team’s priorities, toolkit, and timeline.
Selecting a methodology
After aligning on learning objectives, your research team must select the right techniques to generate actionable insight.
- What does a dire situation look like? There’s frequently a mismatch between data and decision. A common example is when usability research is conducted in order to optimize the experience of a concept that has yet to be validated. Also, selecting the right methodology is constrained by available tools and proficiencies.
- What are key indicators that there’s room for improvement? The research team is a one-trick pony. For example, the research team is excellent at executing on usability studies, but lacks proficiencies for other learning objectives and methodologies.
- What does excellence look like? The same stakeholders continuously return to partner with your research team.
Recall the three trends outlined earlier in this report that we said were influencing the state of research: agile development, the proliferation of tools, and the pandemic. All of them are forcing researchers to consider efficiency in order to do (or enable others to do) more in less time.
Often the most underrated part of research in terms of difficulty especially in B2B environments, access to and availability of participants can make or break any study. In our 2021 survey of 100+ corporate research teams, 80% said they use their own lists.
2021 Survey of 100+ Corporate Research Teams
- What does a dire situation look like? Sourcing participants is slow, non-compliant, or cost-prohibitive, and researchers are rarely able to interview or survey the target number of participants required for in-depth analysis.
- What are key indicators that there’s room for improvement? Some audience segments are accessible, but there’s a continuous risk of over-surveying the same population repeatedly.
- What does excellence look like? There’s a well-defined beta group or standing panel of participants eager to give feedback for research studies, with general access to current and prospective users/customers for occasional research needs.
Qualitative data generation
Interviews can be tedious to conduct but incredibly powerful for developing empathy within an organization, particularly amongst executives.
- What does a dire situation look like? Interviews are overly scripted and formal, and participants are reserved and tense. Relatively little new information is learned from each interview.
- What are key indicators that there’s room for improvement? One or two key insights are gleaned from each interview, but the process is tedious and subjective.
- What does excellence look like? Effective interviews frequently lead to several actionable insights and snippets that are shared across the organization. Qualitative data is integrated with quantitative data for powerful analysis.
Quantitative data generation
Surveys can be easier to analyze and segment than interviews, but questionnaires can be difficult to script and make it challenging to ensure comprehensiveness.
- What does a dire situation look like? Questionnaires are bespoke, tediously scripted from scratch each time, and frequently missing questions that are only noticed afterward.
- What are key indicators that there’s room for improvement? One or two key insights are gleaned from each survey, but they often conflict with qualitative data for unclear reasons.
- What does excellence look like? There are templates to ensure consistency from survey to survey, scripts are iterated on with trial runs, and data is collected quickly and predictably. Quantitative data is integrated with qualitative data for powerful analysis.
Time and cost factors
While every organization and research study is unique, it’s important to develop a perspective for the ROI of research. Typically, this is done by taking a systematic approach to evaluating the impact of decisions. Regardless of the criteria you use, speed and cost are increasingly important factors to optimize. In our survey of researchers, 1 in 5 said that time was the most significant pain point when it comes to conducting research.
- What does a dire situation look like? Research is typically over-budget and delayed past an agreed upon timeline. Not only that, but it is very difficult to project costs and timelines from one study to the next.
- What are key indicators that there’s room for improvement? Budgeting and turnaround time are stable but still too high to scale research to satisfy demand throughout the organization.
- What does excellence look like? The majority of studies are templated from input to output, powered by technology, and have predictable timelines and costs. Expertise and energy are reserved for the most bespoke and strategic studies.
How can you improve research in your organization?
Take the Self-Assessment Quiz: Improving Your Research Operations
Our self-guided quiz is designed to help you identify areas to improve the research operations of your organization. At the end, you’ll receive a score and guided recommendations to improve the maturity of your research operations.