Nov 20 Solving Business Challenges Through Agile Research

In many organizations, the selection of research methods is subject to change as new leaders or new trends emerge. One day, a company may have a near-total reliance on quantitative analysis and pure data and distrust qualitative information. The next day, there may be a shift to experience-based storytelling where qualitative is king, and the voice of the customer is all that matters. One day secondary research is at the forefront of the discipline, and at the next turn, it’s direct primary research.  

But why categorically pick one option over the other—and then swing from one extreme to the next? Why not consider the jobs-to-be-done for research and selectively use a method at the moment where it makes the most sense? Moreover, what if we stopped seeing each research project as a different event, and instead re-imagined the entirety of any improvement or innovation effort to incorporate research into every phase? In our agile design world, where experience is at the base of our design standards, and the customer’s needs are at the center of our decisions, shouldn’t we include those same customers in each phase—even in our workshops? 

Our belief: Let the question guide the way

At Rêve, we employ a divergent-convergent methodology to guide our clients (see Services). We advocate incorporating research design into each phase. Based on what question we are trying to answer at each stage, we may employ primary qualitative research, or real industry data, or secondary case studies.  

We consider agile research to be a flexible, iterative, responsive – and indeed, agile – process that focuses less on a predesigned research schedule and more on responding to the results. It’s a partnership between research leads and the sponsor based on an understanding that research methods aren’t static, but responsive to the results directly. Thus, the study isn’t done until there is an answer to the question.

Given our defining feature of enabling a tighter iteration cycle, we can explore the development of additional agile research methods ... by asking questions like: What could you do to advance your understanding of the problem in the next week, the next day or even the next hour? - Michael Twidale

How to incorporate research into the five stages of design

For example, what if you were working with a large-scale health care provider, who needed to improve the patient journey in their pediatric clinic. Such a project would include physician service and environmental design, agile and lean operating philosophies, improved customer engagement, different technologies, updated messaging, and marketing. In short, the work would impact every aspect of the office. Research is core to decision-making in each step and would depend on a hybrid approach to gathering data.

In the Dream phase, it’s essential to dream—and dream big. Perhaps you hold workshops to imagine your future, incorporating participants from each department and encouraging them to think big. But why stop there? What if you opened that research phase up to patients and their family members and have the groups ideate together, then articulate a future vision that fits everyone’s needs? This is called participatory research. 

In the Discover phase, focus groups and interviews are expected and appropriate, but here you can incorporate case studies, industry best standards, and competitive analysis. All would be vital research to consider, as would current-state data around satisfaction, engagement, and operational factors. Moreover, the results in this stage might re-align expectations from the Dream phase, and might require re-engagement from the participatory design participants to re-define the objective.  

... It is a form of classic problem decomposition. It involves decomposing the problem of doing research into more manageable substeps. These, in turn, are designed so that they can be rapidly iterated and learned from, rather than expecting to get them right first time. - Michael Twidale

In the Design phase, we see a second opportunity for participatory design, as well as new methods of research. At Rêve, we are leveraging 3D modeling and VR technology through our partnership with Roomera. In this stage, we could build a model of the provider office to research design attributes, organizational efficiencies, omnichannel experience, and messaging—and have participants work in the actual space, to combine both quantitative behaviors (what are they doing/seeing) and qualitative (why did they look there/walk there/stop there). Again, building research into every step of the design allows for more rapid changes—and more significant financial savings. Additionally, this stage offers the majority of agile research opportunities, with rapid ideation resulting in testing of altered concepts and product designs, before moving to the Develop stage.  

In the Develop stage, rapid prototyping, UX design testing, and iteration research are standard. However, by incorporating research throughout the prior phases, the changes tend to be smaller and more focused on delighting the customer.  

And finally, in the Deploy phase, research would be used for validation, satisfaction, and engagement. These factors need to be addressed at some point in the sales and product cycle, and this is an ideal time to get a head start.

Getting to customer-centricity fast

Agile research is an ambitious approach that requires research to be at the table from start to end. But it’s not as expensive as it may seem. Yes, it requires more up-front investment and additional steps that get overlooked in the development process. But the cost and time savings from avoiding bad design, increased client and customer satisfaction, and increased engagement and purchase behaviors all result in exponentially higher ROI in the long run. 


Source 1, 2: Agile Research, by Michael Twidale and Preben Hansen. First Monday, Volume 24, Number 1 – 7 January 2019

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