Profile: Thriving in the Role

Reference map for researchers somewhere around 6-9 years experience. 
Are you in a similar place? How does your map compare? Check out the
map explainer if you need help to read this map.
Our example researcher here is well established in their career. They are able to mold and manage the process to serve organizational needs at scale, focusing on activities that enable and amplify more complex and meaningful work.
Biggest challenge? “1) Elevating research to the top leadership. 2) Ensuring action and follow through from stakeholders.”
—Senior UX Researcher, in-house, 6 years in field
A researcher here is poised to move to a functional lead or manager role once they’ve developed the key themes of Framing the Work and Broadcasting. These are the outer edges of the research process: Framing up front to shape programs or projects that make sense for the organizational context, and Broadcasting on the other side to integrate results into teams and ensure they have impact.

Leverage in strategic planning

A complement to the broad emergence of strategy is the specific act of participating in roadmap planning. “Roadmaps” are the common vehicle (for better or worse [Ed. note: worse]) by which project and product/service teams convey their strategic intent. In all, we saw fairly high signal around this skill, its importance and desirability peaking for participants with 7-12 years experience.
There are two aspects to the work: influencing the product / service roadmap, and developing aligned or complementary research roadmaps. In general, organizations are not good at expressing their strategy—creating artifacts like feature lists and roadmaps are easier to achieve than overarching, cohesive clarity. It means that “developing roadmaps” are often used as shorthand for doing strategy. 

That said, if a roadmap has organizational buy-in, it is major point of leverage. It signals commitment to some detailed forms of work, and sets the constraints and the timelines for how they should happen. If a researcher or capable research-whisperer is not present when a roadmap is developed, it is also not likely that the roadmap will beframed to allow research to perform its best.  

Researchers have important and valid leverage: well-developed user insights, and a clear sense of how the work can be framed and shaped to assess the risks and gaps in delivering on them.
My work right now? “Develop roadmaps for product teams, assist with strategic alignment, develop research plans, conduct research (generative and evaluative).”
—UX Researcher, in-house, 8 years in field
This is the higher order work that everything else feeds into. Teams pay attention when useful insights about their work are clearly and simply articulated. Well-formed research and rigorous synthesis help derive these types of insights, the ones that can change how teams think or act. Our ability to carry out that work depends on how we engage with the teams around us, set up projects, and act on all of our craft skills. The value flows up and to the left.

Revisit: evangelizing the work

Evangelizing our work: never not important, and now, more important than ever.
The content of what is evangelized transforms as researchers gain deep experience. On top of explaining the benefits of the work and interpreting past success, researchers have to reframe how others think about research to open new doors.
What's next? "Excited to grow the research practice in my organization, and design participatory workshops to engage more members in the research process and demonstrate the value of research."
—CX Researcher, in-house, 7 years in the field
At this stage researchers are already confident in selling their own capability and trying to integrate it with teams. Now they take it to a higher level, they start selling the idea of research and push for its establishment as a meaningful pillar in the organization. Almost half of all researchers with over 7 years of experience indicated “Evangelizing the work” as one of their most important skills. This spike in importance indicates the nature of the road ahead, and the prevalence of this challenge for our discipline. Keep working on it now, because you’ll really need it at the next level.

Fuzzy horizons

And what it looks like there, whatever is “next,” is not well clear. We have very few models for how and where our work fits. Some researchers keep doing what they love and doing it well, building collective value for our profession through their work. Others are moving into strategist, lead, and manager roles, learning to shape processes, programs, and functions. Some leave for the independent route, consulting to bring organizations up to speed. And others transition to something more personally appealing.
Biggest challenge? “Positioning research so that it can have maximum impact. Much of this positioning = working with stakeholders plus team members." 
—Research Lead, in-house, 9 years in the field
The lack of clarity can be frustrating or disorienting, the opportunity exciting. The flexibility of our skills allow us to deliver an extensive amount of insight wherever we look. Let's start with what we do best - understanding the context and forming useful questions.
Biggest challenge? “Knowing how and where to develop, what it is that I want to do next." 
—User Researcher, in-house, 7 years in the field

ResearchOps community