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Project Management Essentials for Market Research

Sarah Garbacz

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Laura Butterworth

    How can insight teams make sure a project is a success? How can they help clients attain everything that they would like from their market research experience?

    Project management is the answer. It is all about utilising resources in a controlled way to deliver objectives within a number of constraints, and as such it is an essential skill for insight professionals to master. There are six key areas of a researcher’s market research process in which project management techniques can enhance the efforts of insight teams.

    Planning

    The most important thing to get right on any project is planning. Planning takes a lot of time and effort and underpins all project management methods and techniques; effective planning helps guide stakeholders, teams and project managers towards the collaborative project goals, and is needed to identify the project requirements, reduce risks, identify key milestones and deadline dates.

    There are a couple of key tools and techniques that can be used to help insight team when planning a research project, a key technique is brainstorming. This creative process is designed to encourage idea generation and is also useful for highlighting potential problems and risks that are not immediately obvious. Brainstorming is all about thinking outside of the box looking at an objective from all angles and finding the best way to achieve it.

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    How can insight teams make sure a project is a success? There are a few project management techniques to take note of and apply to ensure success.

    If you only use one tool to track and monitor your project then it is probably the Gantt chart, it can be used to track and monitor many elements of a project and is an effective tool in project planning. Gantt charts are used for scheduling and monitoring tasks, key milestones can be added, activities are set deadlines for completion, they can also be used for showing costs, and communicating progress throughout the project.

    Effective Communication

    It is important to identify early on the key stakeholders in the project who will help achieve a successful project outcome. These are the critical stakeholders that you need buy in from, there will be a number of people who are stakeholders in a project who have the ability to help or harm the project, so it is important to identify them all.

    During the initial brief, insight experts can discuss the client’s communication expectations and who are the key stakeholders are, as well as exploring how involved they want to be; do they see this as a collaborative agile approach where there is continuous collaboration between them and the research team? Involving stakeholders in the research throughout the project will ensure that the research conducted and the insights generated stay relevant and accurate, but this requires effective and continuous communication.

    Some stakeholders will be more involved than others, and some will require different types of communication. Some stakeholders will require written information such regular project updates via email, or maybe want top line reporting between stages of a project. Some may prefer to receive information verbally through meetings or phone calls. Others may prefer visual communicating and may want to see illustrations, graphs, observe Focus groups or Interviews.

    The key to effective communication is that it sets out clear expectations on how often the stakeholders are contacted, how they want to be contacted, who needs to be contacted, how involved do they want to be in the research, do different stakeholders require different levels of communication (do they want a high level over view such as top lines or know the granular detail and want to see the raw data), and this is key to building a successful relationship with key stakeholders.

    Managing Collaboration and Building Relevance

    It is important to engage stakeholders, to encourage effective involvement in decision making. This requires excellent communication and interpersonal skills, such as conflict management, cultural and political awareness along with excellent negotiation and observational skills.

    These skills help to increase support, understand different stakeholder needs, and build a collaborative relationship that helps to keep the project on track. A key tool to use to keep projects on track whilst collaborating with stakeholders is a Gantt chart/timeline. By sharing this with stakeholders, confirming key dates and making it clear when documents need to be signed off etc everyone can work collaboratively, whilst keeping the project on track and working towards the project goals.

    Gaining insight and feedback from the client is an important step in adding value to the project and developing a supportive collaborative relationship with them. Continuous questioning ensures that the insight team have a clear understanding of the client’s objectives, deliverables, acceptance criteria and purpose of the research.

    Gathering the detailed scope requirements enable the insights team to identify the best approach for the research, whether this is surveys, focus groups, in-depth interviews, smartboards, etc. or a combination. The insight team works closely with the clients to ensure the methodology they select with deliver the results the client is looking for. Asking questions around what information they want to collect, who they want to collect it from and what they want to do with the results can help identify which blend of research tools would deliver the best results for the client.

    Resource Management

    It is important that key dates and milestones are agreed with the client to ensure that key resources can be identified and allocated to the project such as, third party suppliers, time and research staff.

    Depending on the complexity of the project the level of scheduling required will vary, however every project should be working towards the agreed objectives and an agreed delivery date with key dates or milestones between, where stakeholders can be provided with updates on project performance.

    It is important that once objectives have been identified that budgets are agreed. Internal costs such as the research team hours and the team required for the project need to be agreed, along with any other internal resources that may need allocating.

    Resource allocation is key for effective project management, it is important to assign the right tasks to the right team members. Resources should be allocated based on current resource availability and timelines to unsure they are utilised effectively. Again, the Gantt chart is a great tool to use to identify key milestones and help identify some key resources that may be needed and when.

    It is also key to keep track on all projects running within the team to help effectively manage the resources, project management software can help with this. Being able to visually see the team’s workload when allocating tasks, helps identify the best available resource for a task and reduces over and underutilisation.

    Organising external resources can be time consuming and costly, that is why it is essential to build a good relationship with third party suppliers. Trusted suppliers deliver on cost, but also reduce time trying to find a supplier, or having to re-recruit, as a supplier hasn’t delivered the agreed sample.

    Risk Management

    It is important to stay ahead on risk management and anticipate what might go wrong, and try to identify steps to avoid or mitigate risk. Risk management plans help identify potential risks to the project, such as a third-party supplier not delivering the sample agreed on, clients not signing off or providing key documents needed to proceed, additional requirement sneaking in that haven’t been costed, etc.

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    From risk and resource management to collaboration and building relevance, there are many project management techniques that are vital to the success of a market research experience.

    Brainstorming is a great technique to identify potential risks to a project. It is important to do your homework before using this tool though; understand historic data from past projects, use lessons learned registers from similar projects, organisational policies and procedures can all provide answers to potential project risks. Once you have identified these, people on the team with relevant knowledge and experience can identify additional risks as well as the probability and impact of the identified risks.

    Depending on the size of the project there are other useful tools that you can use to identify and manage risk, such as a probability and impact matrix, SWOT analysis, root cause analysis or a detailed risk register.

    In any project, it is important to assess the likely impact to the project in terms of the cost, scope and schedule, then prioritise the risk based on its likely impact. Risks should be managed as required, not all risks pose the same level of threat to the delivery of the projects objectives as others. Risk management is an ongoing process throughout the project and requires continuous attention to ensure the project remains on plan.

    Monitor Progress for Iterative Success

    Monitoring the progress of the project throughout will help identify which aspects of the project are on target, which are falling short and what needs to change to get these back on track. It is about actively reviewing all areas of the project, identifying potential issues and threats to project success and implementing changes as needed.

    Actively monitoring and controlling projects avoids inaccurate assumptions being made, helps with root cause analysis and it enables issues and potential risks to be identified while solutions are still possible.

    The key areas that need to be closely monitored and controlled within any project are the scope, schedule, budget and risks, these are the higher risk areas that if one deviates from the plan then this will impact the other areas. Effective monitoring and controlling of a project is important in any project as it helps realign the project activities to the objectives of the project and keep the project on track.

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