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Agile Research: Misconceptions & Applications

Talk about agile market research seems to be everywhere nowadays with misconceptions abound. However, Agile Research doesn't solely mean faster outputs, but testing hypotheses, effective team communication, and iteration.

Editor’s Note: Some of my favorite blog posts are the ones that explain a new or complex concept in an easy to understand manner that readers can run with. Here, Batukhan Taluy takes the much-hyped concept of Agile Research and explains clearly what it’s about, and why it’s a valuable approach to business issues with many benefits.

Agile, stemming from the software development world, has rapidly become a quite popular methodology, as it helps project teams to quickly and effectively deliver outcomes.

However, when a term becomes popular, it is often used out of context and this misuse hinders the widespread adoption of an exponentially beneficial methodology. Agile does not mean faster outputs.

Breakdown of Agile

Agile is all about testing hypotheses, effective stakeholder/team communication and iteration.

As is depicted in the image below, the value proposition is fairly simple. Instead of executing the whole project in one go, agile methodology utilizes sprints whereby every sprint takes you one step closer to the ultimate outcome. During these sprints, the intermediary outputs are validated by stakeholders (customers, team members, etc.) and this iterative process continues until the project ends. As it is way easier to change intermediary outcomes than the whole body of a project, catching errors early drastically reduces project delivery time and improves quality.

Agile Market Research

Although agile was built for developers, it works like a charm for all kinds of user research.

“In business, knowing where you’re going is more important than knowing where you’ve been.”

Ergo, instead of spending hundreds and thousands of capital for one-shot researches, it is way more effective and manageable to spend the same amount through an iterative approach.

Agile enables one to iterate and change the research questions, to reveal a different type of customer segment and include them in the research, to probe if a methodology will fail or to probe if there is a different methodology which could work better; to change the hypothesis: for reaching the ultimate research goal. You would also have a chance to keep the study manageable and keep in touch with stakeholders about the progress. Stakeholder input is invaluable during research, as they live and breathe their industry five times a week, often over many years.

Further, research intrinsically promotes hypotheses testing, so as researchers, what could be a better way to practice what we preach, than testing our own material? Unlike traditional research, which is often built around human biases and assumptions, agile is all about being user-centric.

Of course, convincing stakeholders and educating them about this matter is a totally different challenge, but they often see the benefits early when an agile project starts.

An Anecdote

We have had the chance to work with one of the big three management consultancy firms on a pro-bono project. The challenge was to understand why a specific sub-segment of the general public was hesitant to donate.

The consulting firm’s approach was to survey this sub-segment and they had already initiated the project before we stepped in. It took them a month to create the right survey questions and find out which areas and questions are more important by ideation and analyzing secondary data.

What we did after understanding the challenge was to directly tap into the consumer’s mind (after a quick ethnographic study and an analysis of the secondary data) via remote, in-depth interviews; we learned more and more about the environment, the challenges, the motivation and the perception of users. We did several iterative sprints to deepen the insights that we had gathered from former studies. Utilizing the data gathered, we came to similar conclusions as to the consultancy company but also grounded our insights into deeper user motivations. It took us one-third of the time and half the cost to come to a similar conclusion. Further, as we were able to understand the users in a more holistic manner: our outputs were used in media planning and creating a more persuasive strategy, which the former study lacked.

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