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The Many Shades of Agile Market Research

Our insights industry is chock full of new technologies, methodologies, and techniques all professing they are in some way ‘agile’. The term ‘agile’ reminds me of the evolution of MROCs which then turned into Insight Communities, or Pop-up Communities, or even Panels. Is it just another “sexy” (if that sentiment exists in MR) term to help sell services and products, or is there something more to it?

What is our definition and understanding of ‘agile’ research? What is it meant to be?

With all of this in mind, I put on my ‘market researcher’ hat and hit the cyberspace streets of LinkedIn to post a straightforward poll with the goal of understanding what people think ‘agile’ means when it comes to market research. Here, I will share what I’ve learnt from all of my fine LinkedIn colleagues and voters!

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What is our understanding of 'agile' market research? What is agile research meant to be? Well, to investigate we took to LinkedIn to see what other insight professionals thought.

The Poll – What Does Agile Research Mean Most to You?

To start, here is what I asked my LinkedIn connections:

Agile research has been a hot topic for quite some time now but it seems to be quite an elastic term that can change from place to place or depending on the context it is being used, so I'm intrigued to know what the consensus is about its meaning and purpose. This could quite easily be a multiple-choice question but a LI poll is just a one-shot thing, so please use the comments to expand your answer!

What does agile research MOST mean to you?

  1. Quick & Fast                                                        (20%)
  2. Iterative - Research in Sprints                  (46%)
  3. Flexible and Changeable Design              (29%)
  4. Cheaper                                                                 (5%)

My goal was fifty votes, and my LinkedIn friends did not disappoint, we ended the poll at fifty-six total votes that were broken out as above. Also, there were almost 1600 views of this post in my feed, which to me shows how important this question really is in our industry.

Overall, the vast majority of people felt that Iterative - Research in Sprints was the true agile of the bunch, followed by Flexible and changeable design.

Agile as Iterative – 46%

Almost half of voters selected “Iterative” in my poll, which is actually a term adopted from software & development engineers. For example, software development is done using this ‘iterative sprint’ approach where they make changes, test it, make changes, test it again, etc. all in a very condensed time frame. From the research perspective, researchers are thinking of conducting research in the same manner whereby they test, iterate, and launch products, concepts, or campaigns faster and more effectively.

"An iterative-research approach is one where the content of the discussion, stimulus, or sometimes even the methodology of the study is adapted throughout the research. As we are learning from initial research sessions, we can then use those insights to influence the inputs for subsequent interviews." -Kenny Thompson, Schlesinger

"The SCHEDULE and CADENCE of regular iteration is important. Committing to regular calendar breaks for testing is beneficial for teams, too - they get to break up their work into smaller, more manageable pieces and milestones, AND get regular reinforcement about what they're building and where they're doing well." – Ki Arnould Aguero, The Home Depot

"Agile research allows for more flexibility and creativity. Usually the goal is to do something better within a given set of constraints (e.g., time or budget, or hard to find research participants, etc.) So, start experimenting with bitesize research (to avoid higher risks) and adjust and improve based on the results (before going back to the drawing board). Once it feels like it’s ready, then scale. In other words, it is a way to innovate by reducing risk. I wouldn’t apply “agile research” to a large high-stake research project. BUT I may use it during the early stages of planning and methodology design to ensure better results/ outputs. And of course, it is ideal for new methodology design. Hence the choice of iterative in sprints." -Mahta Emrani - Metis Collective

"I view it as an opportunity to have the ability to pivot and switch directions fast and often. It doesn’t have to be linear research but the power to start and stop frequently and building off of each step for the next step." - Misty Flantroy – Owens Corning

Agile as Flexible – 29%

The second runner up was Flexible & Changeable with 29% of the votes (sixteen in total), which for a lot of folks is reflective of what agile methodologies actually do to the research process. For example, they feel agile allows the researcher to pivot based on unknown events during the research process. I think the argument can be made that this option plays hand in hand with option one. As the agile iterative approach breaks down the research into smaller ‘sprints’, this in turn allows for more flexibility and changeability during the research process. Some of the comments above could arguably fall into this category as well.

"I associate agile research with being nimble and able to adjust if a project scope changes or some intervening event occurs and that impacts a project." - Eliza Jacobs, PBS

"Agility means you can move quick, that’s what researchers want." – Derek Sawchuk, 247.ai

Agile as Quick – 20%

The third option, not too far behind Flexible & Changeable was Quick & Fast, which clocked in at eleven votes or 20% in total. Voters are thinking about the benefit of agile methodologies as it pertains to the timelines associated with the research. Agile research in sprint-based bites allows for quick decisions, which helps condense research timelines.

"I voted quick/fast because bandwidth is a top 3 benefit people have bought on. I like sprints as well because ultimately, that's where we are at our best and not doing EVERYTHING." – Adam Jolley, SurveyMonkey

"An increase in efficiency is an increase in productivity and that equates with fast with me." - Jennifer Duryea, Emmes

"It largely comes from my background in primary research. Nothing out the process is fast/quick. It's usually a long and time consuming because there are so many manual steps. When I think about agile research, I think quick /fast because I assume a lot of those manual steps we used to take will be automated or easier to handle - resulting in a quick turn project." - Stephanie Scalice, PVH

Agile as Cost-Effective – 5%

Coming in last place, we saw Cheap as it relates to what agile means to voters. I am not really surprised by the low number of votes (three in total) on this one. I am wondering if part of it is that people don’t want to choose this option because it is cheap, which has a negative connotation. However, I do think that cheap is certainly a byproduct of saving time and using agile methodologies in your research, which is reflective in these quotes.

"I interpret Agile as a research approach that a company pursues for cost savings and speed with a known tradeoff on depth. It does not follow a traditional full-service model and likely includes a DIY component." – Charles Guilbeau – Ferrero

"Most of corporate marketing heads actually link agile as quick response where efforts are more automated and hence ought to be cheaper. For example, a pizza chain getting short survey done from same application which is used for ordering where they save on not doing survey separately saves them time and cost." – Ravi Dua – Snware Research

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Even though we identify with different definitions, we all think about agile in similar ways; 46% of insight professionals see agile as 'iterative', while only 5% see agile as 'cheap' research.

Market Research as Agile

Overall, even though we identify with different definitions, we are all thinking about agile in similar ways; we just choose to focus on slightly nuanced benefits. I am not saying this poll was rigged, but I can argue that all of these options if you distill them down are all completely interconnected.

The definition in the Oxford English Dictionary (Lexico Online) states that agile: “relat[es] to or denoting a method of project management, used especially for software development, that is characterized by the division of tasks into short phases of work and frequent reassessment and adaptation of plans.” Because agile breaks the project down into bite-sized tasks, it creates an environment that allows for quick changes, condenses project timelines, and ultimately makes the research cheaper. Essentially, we are really all correct.

Thank you to all my LinkedIn connections for taking time to vote and comment, and thank you, Readers, for taking time to read! I’d love to know your own thoughts and feelings on what you believe agile research is, so please don’t hesitate to get in touch or comment your opinions.

The results discussed in this article are based on a LinkedIn poll voted on by market research and insight professionals; n=56.

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Heather Wendlandt

Written by Heather Wendlandt

Heather has 18 years' experience in the market research industry, over which time she has worked closely with major brands such as MillerCoors, P&G, Welch's and Philip Morris. This, combined with her natural ability to build rapport, gives her a deep understanding of how research can help our clients meet their business goals.

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Topics: Agile, Market Research, Research in Society