Over the past three decades, agile methodologies have revolutionised the way in which IT and development teams work. Benefits have ranged from increased success rates in bringing products to market, improved speed, better efficiencies and boosted team motivations. In fact, agile methodologies have been so successful that their influence has spread far and wide. Today, the same principles are being applied to a broad range of industries and functions.
Across the last five years in particular, agile methodologies have become a hot topic for research and insight professionals. Strapped for time, resource and investment – many teams have looked to agile in order to make more of the resources available to them. But in order to make the transition and reap the benefits, it’s important than an insight team has the skills required.
There are many skills that agile teams can choose to focus on. However, these six are the ones that can fast track success and have an immediate, positive impact.
1. Emotional Intelligence
Agile environments are fast paced, divergent and less constrained to pre-determined barriers than those influenced by traditional command-and-control structures. Though that may offer teams the flexibility to adapt to problems, it also requires a much higher degree of emotional intelligence to operate effectively in.
Emotional intelligence (EI) helps individuals reduce tension and grease the wheels of collaboration. By developing EI, team members can improve co-operation by identifying, assessing and appropriately responding to the emotions of other team members. Additionally, this is vital for anticipating actions, sympathising with concerns and resolving issues. Because as formal structures are removed, a significantly greater emphasis is placed on the relationships between team members and the ability of individuals to mesh with others.
2. Leadership & Teamwork
Almost all lists of required workplace skills with mention the leadership and teamwork dyad. However, for agile research teams, being capable of both at any moment is of particular importance. Leadership is used to influence others, offer direction, support others and drive teams to accomplish specific goals.
Teamwork, meanwhile, encourages leaders to delegate better, leads to greater efficiencies and allows members of an agile research team to form smaller working groups that complement each other’s strengths. Similar to the reason that emotional intelligence is vital within agile teams, the break down of formal structures and frequent team re-configuration are the driving factors that lead to a higher dependence on the ability of all members to display both leadership and teamwork qualities.
Perhaps no surprise, the iterative nature of agile projects necessitates that insight teams are capable of adapting on the fly. The exact forms that adaptations can also differ, leading to increased complexity. Cycles of research may lead to unexpected outcomes requiring a shift in focus. Or, challenges that arise in a phase may best be investigated further by implementing a different methodology.
The key point is that unlike other research projects, the end result and the latter stages of an agile project may not (and will most likely not) be what was initially planned. To that end, having the capacity to switch gears and be led by the research results rather than the project design is an important attribute to develop.
4. Persuasive Communication
A skill that many researchers are already honing in order to present more impactful reports to stakeholders; persuasive communication involves conveying information in a way that is clear, simple and effective. Agility is a great way to tackle what the field of design thinking calls ‘wicked problems.’ These are issues so complex they are considered impossible to entirely solve due to incomplete, contradictory or changing parameters.
Agile research approaches enable small parts of the problem to be tacked at a time, and a path to be charted through the wider issue through the iterative nature of the process. However, with greater complexity comes a greater need for communication that simplifies. To persuade stakeholders to take action the problem and solutions must be presented in a common language. To achieve this, team members must be able to give their full attention to a challenge, take the time to understand how others perceive it, ask appropriate questions and translate complexity internally.
Described as an attitude of systematically attending to the context of knowledge construction, reflexivity can be challenging enough to understand, let alone cultivate. The essence of reflexivity is being able to understand and account for the biases that are built into the process of any research process, as well as how results are analysed and conclusions drawn.
Typically associated with qualitative research, the importance of reflexive thinking is amplified by agile approaches. As more decisions are made based on previous research, these choices can be unintentionally influenced by either creeping biases or the process that agile methodologies lay out. A simple example of this is just prioritising quantitative methods as they allow agile projects to run in shorter cycles. The capacity to reflect on, or question, decisions before biases exerts influence is vital to ensuring research remains impartial and informative.
6. Hard Research Skills
Finally, whilst all skills up until this point could be considered soft – there is no substitute for the hard skills that all research requires. Creating a successful agile research team still requires the same analytical, moderation, scripting, coding and conversational skills (among others) that are demanded by the profession. That means while developing a new set of abilities to perform well in an agile environment should be considered, it should not be at the detriment to hard research skills that will always add value.
So, if you’re considering (or in the midst of) building an agile research team – consider also the effect it will have on your team structure, capabilities and skills. Ask whether your team currently has the attributes required, or whether further changes in both structure and training are required.
And, most important of all, consider what impact the culmination of these changes will have. While the skills listed here all elevate a team’s capacity for innovation, performance of routine operations may suffer as a consequence. As with all team structures, there are no easy answers; only practices that better suit different sets of priorities.
Chris is experienced in marketing strategy and brand development, which he uses to skilfully guide the FlexMR brand to its full potential. Chris works hard maximising opportunities and ensuring the brand’s offering is relevant and appealing to insights professionals. You can follow Chris on Twitter or connect with him on LinkedIn.