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Thinking fast and slow: Delivering innovation research in an agile world

Charlotte Paris
Innovation - 03 Aug 2017
Charlotte Paris
Thinking fast and slow: Delivering innovation research in an agile world

Whether you are part of the well-established, well regarded insights team or the Shoreditch based, stand-up-meetings-only innovation team, you’re probably already sold to the importance of putting customers at the centre of your innovation process. On paper your two teams are a match made in heaven. The combo that will prove the test and learn approach is about the best thing since Tesla. However, developing propositions together can be a balancing act…

Innovation and Insight often have different expectations as to what research must deliver

Innovation teams often advocate agile, scrum or lean philosophies. In short, innovation programmes are approached incrementally. Each element is about developing and testing a small part of the new product or service. What this means in terms of research is “test early, test often”, and because the team is likely to operate on a one or two-week schedule, customer feedback needs to slot within this framework. When start-up appropriated and developed the approach, this often meant calling up friends and family for their opinion. While the methodology can certainly be improved upon it has one crucial benefit: quick insight. This means that come Monday, you’re already thinking about what you will be testing next.

When you’ve done most of your career in market research however, you learn to appreciate how time can bring about real depth and quality to insight. Some pretty big decisions need to be made off the back of your research and it’s important to get that right. Making the right decision often starts with asking the right questions, challenging stakeholders on objective and assumptions, with the time to come up with creative solutions. But it is also about rigorous examination of the data and considered recommendations. So there can be a reluctance to confine research to what can be done in one week and then confidently advising on whether to rescale, pivot or axe a concept.

Finding common ground

First, we need to recognise that market research hasn’t been terribly good at listening to innovators. The proof if you need any is that the entire industry has been pretty much cut-off from the customer led innovation process revolutionizing the start-up scene, and now being adopted by most established businesses. Still, there is a solid case to be made for the insights team. If innovators value multi-disciplinary approaches, expertise and honesty, they must recognise the value brought forth by their insights colleagues.

Though community panels haven’t expressly been built for innovation research, the platform has proven particularly helpful in empowering both teams to do their best work. The benefits are clear: from access to a vetted, captive audience eager to help, to a research team equipped with the best research tools, standing at the ready to take your insights request live. You have an established relationship with both customers and agency that can speed things up in a major way. But it’s not enough to have access, what matters most are the results.

You can have your cake and eat it too

The tension between innovation and insights, it seems is not so much about quality – we all want quality - as it is about speed, and insight delivery. In essence, the dilemma with agile research programmes is to strike the right balance between quick turnaround of findings and in-depth analysis. We find that often times both are needed. This means research teams need to build an approach capable of delivering quick insights at pace, without losing sight of the big picture:

  1. Sharing actionable and easily digestible summary results to inform the quick decision making underpinning agile innovation. This means access to the conversation as it happens, hot off the press toplines, live dashboards, summary reports and update calls during fieldwork, so your stakeholders know as much as research does.
  2. Reporting on the bigger story by cutting through the noise of multiple projects and methodologies. So you’re not only focused on the hypothesis being tested but you’re equipped to see the forest for the trees and build a knowledge base that you can share with the rest of the business. That will not only help you with your next idea, but it will also give your team the confidence to preserve, probe or pivot. Those are big choices, and you need all the support you can get to back up your decision.

It is not so much about preferring one way of doing things, but understanding that both tactical and strategic deliverables need to be part of the research package. The way these are communicated and the story they tell are of course of great importance. This is why along with insights delivery, collaboration between research agency, insights team and innovation stakeholders is paramount to the successful interpretation of the results and implementation of the recommendations. At the end of the day, outcomes matter more than outputs.