AR2021-A Research Skills Evolution (Dave Hora, Dave’s Research Company)

—>  To begin, its interesting to be at UXR conference, since I didn’t know ten years ago you could make living as researcher
—> The question that drives my work on research skills are: “What are we doing? How do we do it? How are we improving?


—> This chart was my first attempt at answering question of how do people grow their research skills
—> I took the research process into six buckets, from question to final impact
  • As junior researchers focus on execution of basic research
  • Mid-level focus on synthesis work
  • Finally, there is a full strategic role, that owns the whole process
—> As model of growth it’s not instructive, as it doesn’t say what we are really doing
  • So I’m starting to build answer
  • Goal of presentation is to share a model of  how User Research Skills evolve


—> To answer these questions, I led Research Skills Framework projects with the ReOps community to figure out the building blocks for the user research profession and practice
—> Project was amazing in scope, scale, and community involvement
  • 500 researchers participated
  • 65 organizers, 30 cities across the world
—> To learn more, can see my talk at the Tools for the Trek conference



—> So there are three parts to the presentation, first the framework itself and what it means to grow as a researcher
—> Part two, or how we can use the  tools/building blocks of framework and put them in practice for researchers themselves and teams to move research practice forward
—> Part three, or the long-term vision of where it can go


—> Research Skills Framework integrates several things
  • 47 Craft skills (or general patterns), specific to task of user research
  • 13 human skills
  • 6 tools/frameworks for teams/individuals to use, a number that is growing
  • References Christopher Alexander style pattern languages and Wardley mapping


—> Regarding Craft Skill and Human Skills
  • Craft skills refer to the technical skills user researchers need to have, such as being able to conduct interviews
  • Human skills are not about craft, but working in human context
  • For research work to “work”, researchers need to know how people will use work and how they can take and make the work their own
—> We should consider Human Skills to be equivalent to craft work
  • They are not as fully developed as Craft Skills, but need to be recognized and developed


—> Skills structured as patterns in pattern language, with each skill is rooted in human needs of making a project effective
  • Each skill explains how to answer the human needs behind any research project.
  •  The skill explains what needs to be done, but not necessarily how to do it, so that it can be applied to a researcher’s local context
—> Many of the practices user researcher’s expect (like a debrief session, analyzing interview, identifying participants) are part of the skill sets I identified


—> So let’s have a skillset analysis in action: The skill of Product Analytics
  • My group took participants into a workshop, and asked participants to  select the  three most useful skills in their existing practice (shown in green) and three most desirable skills (shown in orange)
  • All participants had years of experience, whether in-house or in consulting roles
—> On skill, we can see workshops validate that product analytics is a real practice, and desired more than it’s put into use
  • I can see it in community discussions as well as conference talks
—> As a side note: each skill presented is rooted in workshop data throughout the world


—> The second skill set analysis in action: The skill of Research Evangelization
  • There is a marked flip in how participants rated skill, as they saw it as a more useful than a desirable skill.
  • After 12 years of experience, it becomes the highest rated research skill out of all the workshops
—> Research Evangelization falls within the bucket of amplifying the practice
  • The spirit of the skill is training others to do research, and evangelizing UX research itself
  • Taking the work done by researchers, and allowing it to live on itself


—> The next step in the skills evolution analysis, is the value chain
  • The value chain starts with a user need, and from there the need is decomposed to the foundational acts required for that user need to be fulfilled
—> Example of value chain, consider the following high-level practices
  • Skill One: Amplifying a research practice, so that people can use the insights/techniques when needed
  • Skill Two: Providing strategic direction and initiative
—> From these high level skills, one can see what other skills can be done underneath
  • For example, building a research practice from ground up, require a set of basic skills like:
    • Basic Testing
    • Interviewing Ope
—> The value chain is a hypothesis for what growth and development for UX researcher looks like


—> In another model, one can move up from the value chain from the perspective of the self to the perspective of the  business and link the practices together
  • Moves from skills you manage for yourself like interviewing,  to communicating entire product area to the organization
—> You grow through spheres up to having agreater opportunity to leave a larger, broader impact on an organization


—> From understanding the progression of a research career, I will pull in a Wordley mapping to capture evolution of researcher skills



—> The tool relies on value chain to show how a researcher grows


—> One element to add is idea of how you grow into skills
  • From New/Uncharted to Teachable/Consolidated
—> This mimics model of unconscious incompetence to conscious competence


—> See the above example of coordinating interview data
—> The map provides a picture to show how skills are developed, and the scope of impact these skills can have


—> Here’s a sample profile with one year of experience
  • Research Coordinator for a year, and found building a base with usability testing and learning to run live interviews



—> Researcher for two and a half years
  • Now skills have moved to the right, and created new space for a base of higher-order skills on top of base skills
  • Need to figure out how much of one skill to develop to move onto the next
—> Researcher is now working on synthesis, and is embedded in product team


—> Researcher at four years:
  • All skills to run interview project have consolidated to the right
  • Now focused on structured modeling like broadcasting, jobs-to-be-done, etc.
    • Interesting work, but team knows you can do basic stuff
    • There is risk of not having the  bandwidth to do higher-level work


—> Researcher as lead/early manager:
  • Now focused on integrating practice with service delivery and development cycles
    • Learning how to set strategic direction and business alignment

—> Going back to zones of learning, in the first few years, skills are foundational, important, but not what you should be putting attention to
  • Basic recruiting moderation that person has to deal with takes time from higher-level research work that could be done
—> This issue of getting bogged down in lower-level research work is a driver for ResearchOps as a discipline, to both enable team to do basic parts of research, and creating strategic impact for research from the start


—> Now at most final stage: moving to broadcast, and setting strategic direction for the business.
  • People must always be evangelizing the research practice, but there is no clear path for  what’s next



—> That is the baseline for where research is now
—>So how do we use the network of practices and skills to advance own practice in own org


—> First question is Strategic Planning: How do you know where team is and where it needs to go?



—> Before a retrospective, make sure team knows skills and have shared language for the skills.
  • You can reference skill-assessment and ask teammates to bring assessment to retrospective


—> Ask teammates to draw out map of what was rated, and put where they think they’ve moved the most in the quarter (green), and where they’d like to go (red)



—> This helps raise good questions, and helps individual see where they are in the team


—> But what would a team do?
—> From perspective of value chain, individual growth applies to the team as well


—> So ask team members to hold onto their personal maps for next meeting
—> Put each team’s position on right the right, to visualize a strategic profile for the team as a whole
  •     Including in-house capabilities that can be developed for the team


—> In example, you can see gap where missing proficiency of structured modeling and broadcasting
  • It’s a warning for thos on the team who want to jump ahead
—> This chart informs what can be done before you worry about setting strategy for organization
  • Model shows bottom-up view for team capability



—> Scenario 2: Is more speculative and using patterns of skills at a more granular level, and using embedded researchers in team
  •     Getting problematic based on tools used, and how people interact as they move between teams
—> So what is healthy way of doing projects?


—> Find last five people who ran study, and run a workshop
—> Before workshop, give homework to the participants of creating a light-weight journey map for users to complete, and for them to understand what happened during the user journey


—> Set up activity where team members sequence skills they learned with skills in the framework for that specific study
—> I have a template available in Miro that can be referenced for this
  • Model specific research activities in each context


—> Since you can draw out pressures/successes, you can create common core of most important practices for team, and what to do for successful outcomes, and what to avoid
—> You can build a project playbook


—>  Since skills are patterns and are networked together, you have playbook that can be applied in any number of contexts
  • Lets projects be adapted to context
—> Take sequence of skills, and can pin to skills internal resources, and allow a standardized way for basics of decision making
  • As well as repository of best practices
  • Onboarding material


—> Really important thing comes from practices on the ground, that express the texture of activities as resaerchers
—> My index is incomplete, but enough to be abstracted to more meaning and more useful tools


—>  Core of research framework are connected together
—> So what does it mean for this research pattern language to work?
  • Any org that uses language, must need to align language with their own specific tools
—> Orgs must have a vision that language can be used to express practice
  • Need way for new patterns to be contributed and added back



—> We always need tools for adoption, use, and pathways for teams to contribute to new development



—> A parting invitation: This framework can live and be a wonderful way for shaping a communities view of its own practice
—> Test and try these existing tools
  • Everything else matters is tools work for you and can be used for them.
—> If enough people use them, we can figure out how to figure out living language of practice


—>  So use this index!
—> Check out framework, find me on Twitter, and talk about practices on Slack
—> Don’t know where this can go, but framework is interesting way for it to go
  • Thank you!


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