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The Confluence of Agile Research & Customer Co-Creation

While Agile Research and Customer Co-Creation currently represent only a fraction of current MR revenue, they are clearly aligned with 21st century product development principles of collaboration and iterative, rapid development.


By Kevin Lonnie

Researchers are getting used to hearing about the opportunities afforded by agile research and customer co-creation.  Often the terms are used almost interchangeably but, to me, they are distinct, with the latter being a subset of the former.Agile Research is a derivative of the agile development process.  For definition, I’ll use Jeffrey Henning’s recent “beg, borrowed and shoplifted” version from the GreenBook blog:

Agile research is a type of market research in which the requirements and solutions evolve through collaboration between researcher and sponsor. It is not phased research but is iteratively open-ended, refining the research until all key questions are answered.

Co-Creation is one potential application of the agile research process. Consistent with the sharing economy and expected social reciprocity between customers and their favorite brands, customer co- creation allows customers to feel they have skin in the game.  For the lack of a universal definition, I will offer my own:

Co-Creation describes an agile, structured environment for infusing customer creativity at the onset of the product/service design process.   The process is inherently iterative to allow for collaboration among all contributing stakeholders.

Co-Creation requires the agile research process, as the infusion of customer creativity needs to be parceled on an iterative basis.  It is a sub-set of the agile research universe. On the other hand, agile research does not necessarily imply a co-creation scenario.  It can be done via traditional surveys or online qual techniques.  It applies to any research objective that is best served via iterative reevaluation.

Agile research and customer co-creation share the idea that customer inspiration is best portioned asynchronously so that the proposed offering/solution (e.g. concept design, product prototype, etc.) can systematically evolve.

The following diagram shows the relative position of agile research and customer co-creation in the product development universe.  Co-Creation, as a subset of Agile Research belongs to both the Agile Development & Market Research circles, but is governed by the rules of Agile Development that require multiple waves of collaborative interaction.

research graphic



What makes Agile Research and Customer Co-Creation so exciting is that they are born out of the Internet era.  The idea of fast iterative development infused by customer inspiration belongs to Agile Development.  The fact that they are powered by structured customer insights allows them to overlap and also belong to the world of Market Research.

And while Agile Research and Customer Co-Creation currently represent only a fraction of current MR revenue, they are clearly aligned with 21st century product development principles of collaboration and iterative, rapid development.

It’s a bit humbling to constantly reassess how much we don’t know at each step of the Agile Research / Customer Co-Creation process.  But it’s a distinct improvement from thinking we know the answer after a single “snapshot in time” survey.

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7 responses to “The Confluence of Agile Research & Customer Co-Creation

  1. Hi, Kevin
    From how you describe co-creation, I see value in the approach (infusing customer creativity at the onset of the product/service design process). However, it wasn’t clear to me based on the description how one would execute this that would make it distinctly from what’s currently being done (via online bulletin boards/focus groups, hybrid qual/quant, etc.). Can you elaborate on the execution?

  2. Hi Renato,

    First of all, thank you for that great question!

    To your point, researchers currently have a bevy of online qualitative tools available to obtain early reactions from consumers (e.g. online focus groups, BBGs, etc.). So how is co-creation different?

    In my mind, all these online tools are merely variations of the traditional brick and mortar focus group. For reasons of cost and perhaps geographic representation, we choose to do them online, but they are still “snapshot in time” quick reads of customer reaction to presented stimuli. In that regard, they are reactive. Nothing wrong with finding out what people think of our ideas, but that is not customer co-creation.

    To qualify as customer co-creation, the process needs to be agile and iterative. In that regard, we see the consumer as one hub in a non-linear wheel where we are moving forward in developing a new product/service by constantly infusing the insights of customers and internal teams (e.g. R&D) so that we move in a collaborative fashion towards a solution.

    To summarize, to qualify as co-creation, the process needs to be iterative and it needs to have a back & forth among all the creative contributors (including customers). That is beyond the scope of traditional online qualitative.

  3. Thanks, Kevin… How do you motivate the customers/consumers/respondents to participate as “stakeholders”—i.e., skin the game—over a period of time during the iterative process? Implementation-wise, what have you found works best?

  4. We’ve had co-creation sessions with customers that have run for weeks. Although, we typically look to limit the experience to roughly two weeks. So if you think about it, we’re asking the customer for several hours of their time, certainly far more than the typical focus group. That said, I don’t feel the honorarium needs to be larger than a focus group incentive. A core element of the incentive comes from social reciprocity, the ability to connect with one of your favorite brands (hopefully, you like the brand or at least have a co-dependent relationship with them as is would be the case with your local cable provider or air carrier).

    It’s important to place greater emphasize on the intrinsic social motivation of working together as stakeholders while still offering a reasonable intrinsic cash incentive (e.g. guaranteed $50 with the opportunity to make more if they are directly instrumental in shaping the final idea).

    The net effect is to have the customer feel they are receiving appropriate compensation, with most of that coming from the intrinsic social currency side of things.

  5. As a user experience researcher, I rely on a lot of behavioral observation over expressed opinion; I’ve found it much more helpful for use-dependent products such as software. Co-creation comes, ultimately, from early human-computer interaction work done in Sweden, and has some interesting political overtones that are largely missing from more modern implementations. Anyhow, focusing on user actual behavior and attempts to solve problems, with the experienced designer proposing good-enough solutions in collaborative real time, is usually how I go about this. I’ve also done some work with using games (not gamification!) to structure these sessions.

    I have found that incentives are incredibly important. These can/should be financial in most cases, but if you’re offering a suitably enjoyable game or a chance for superfans to express passion, you might be able to get away with that.

  6. Hi Troy,

    One of the things I like best about the GreenBook blog is the opportunity to advance ideas and hear other points of view. Certainly, as a user experience researcher, you bring a fresh perspective to the idea of co-creation. I come more from the collaborative dialogue side while you come more from the behavioral observation side. However, I think we would both agree that the consumer can serve as a muse for the designer (e.g. engineer, applications developer, etc.) by simply attempting to solve a problem.
    That all said, I am intrigued by your points and agree that co-creation should add a user experience component. I am currently reading “Sprint” by Jake Knapp of Google Ventures who argues that successful co-creation requires the collaborative team to actually build something rather than just spouting ideas. (God forbid, we go back to brainstorming!)

    It’s an evolving field and I very much thank you for your thoughts!

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