Archive for January, 2018

Where Do You Do Your Heavy Lifting?  More Muscle Up Front Means More Insightful Research on the Back End

Posted on: January 22nd, 2018 by doyle


From the desk of Carole Schmidt

Pop quiz! Think about the last research project you did. What proportion of your time was assigned to design, logistics/set-up, execution, analysis, and reporting?

If you’re putting anything less than 30% of your project muscle into the design stage, securing the foundation of the project, I contend that you’re likely wasting your valuable time and research dollars.

What fills that 30% proportion of time? Planning for success. We like to call this “The Wonder Session.”  This is not a project “kick-off.” This is what happens in the most successful research projects well before the kick-off.

Another meeting. We hear the groans. However, I’ve never left one of these sessions where the team didn’t have greater cohesion and increased precision about what we really wanted to accomplish in the research.  Including your research partners to hear it all makes The Wonder Session even better. The result? Thoughtful design, richer insights, and smarter business decisions.

Five essential elements comprise “The Wonder Session.” Yes, in this order:

  1. State the research objectives: What is the problem that we’re trying to solve? What is the business decision that needs to be made? What has led to this research need? Are you really seeking, e.g., appeal, perceived competition, or product distinction? Putting in time to define the problems fully and in depth makes them easier to solve, which means saving time, money and resources.
  2. Present existing research: What do we already know related to this challenge? What don’t we know enough about? What do we believe is still true? Meta-analysis of primary and secondary research saves money by utilizing existing knowledge, and clarifies research gaps. And examining previous research further defines who exactly we need to speak with, and most importantly, illustrates why their voices matter to your business in this research effort.
  3. Probe the stakeholder voice: Who are the stakeholders that matter most? What are stakeholders’ needs vs. wants? What investment, resources, and capabilities are available? There’s nothing worse than retrofitting stakeholders’ concerns after research is in the field. Allocate time to surface stakeholder agendas, note (and share!) the political watch-outs, consider the what-if’s well before the project is a “go.”
  4. Capture team members’ hypotheses: There’s no better way to refine objectives than by listening to team members’ expected results. How do they think the customer will respond? Press further–what are the optimal responses, the language and commentary that they’d love to hear? In what ways do they expect (or hope) participantswill express their needs? Make a list of hypotheses, guard it, and bring it back for the post-field analysis.
  5. Refine the research objectives and “criteria for success”: After completing the above steps, revisit the initially stated objectives with a red pen. Now, who is really the target? What do we expect to learn from those key participants? What is “need to know” vs. “nice to have?” And end The Wonder Session by defining the 3-5 elements of a successful project; what will a successful project deliver?

 Consider The Wonder Session the “breakfast” of your project–as we all know, the most important meal of the day!  Putting more muscle into the up-front, pre-field planning serves as the “protein” of the research project—it’s filling, satisfying, and provides lasting energy.  The reward? Efficient and insightful research learning that will ultimately help move your business forward.

NOW it’s time for the formal research kick-off meeting with your core team and your qualitative strategists. Go forth and prosper!



When converging after idea generation, think S.M.A.R.T.E.R.

Posted on: January 8th, 2018 by doyle

From the desk of Laura Duguid, Qualitative Researcher & Innovation Specialist

A major misstep to be wary of after idea generation is rushing the convergence process. Like ideation, effective convergence – i.e. confluence that nets truly big ideas – requires planning, a broad-to-narrow approach, and time. To prevent throwing the baby out with the bath water, think S.M.A.R.T.E.R. with these simple steps to success:

Separate from ideation: It’s important to deliberately schedule separate time for convergence after the idea generation. This will give the narrowing process equally important billing to the ideation, and allow people time to refresh their brain power and shift gears mentally.  It’s also advisable to do convergence off-site. This will cultivate a mindset of mental freedom which in turn encourages participants to carefully consider more innovative ideas.

More than once: Unique ideas are fragile and require the careful consideration achieved through multiple levels of review, including: 1) Shortly after ideation with the goal being to keep at least twice as many ideas as you intend to take into testing, 2) after the ideas are fleshed out further into written concepts, and 3) a quantitative sort with the end-user. As always, the quant should be prefaced with qualitative communication checks to refine the testing stimulus. Refrain from eliminating ideas as a result of the qualitative – let the quant be the judge.

Appropriate convergence techniques: For the first convergence, consider having people vote on ideas privately to start (e.g. via a worksheet with all the ideas listed and boxes to check pursue, don’t pursue, and comments).  The facilitator can then review and cluster the votes, keeping the results blind. This approach mitigates confining groupthink, thereby encouraging more innovative idea choices. To push the envelope further, you can give voters a wildcard choice – that is, permission to select a “crazy” idea they have heart for regardless. At stage two convergence, after ideas have been fleshed out and written up, use a more refined approach that looks at the ideas against a more meticulous set of criteria.

Right people: The first convergence stage should include all those who participated in the ideation. At this point the ideas are in a raw state and may require some nurturing to gain momentum, i.e. further clarification/explanation. Additional, relevant parties are often a useful supplement to the later, more refined convergence process. They lend an outside perspective that often helps further illuminate pluses, minuses, and notable considerations. Also, cross-functional teams at every stage assures valuable, multidimensional assessment.

Time commitment: Be sure to schedule enough time to effectively converge. Fight the urge to short-shift the process in an effort to solely accommodate participant schedules. Also, allow for periodic breaks. Convergence is hard work, and brains need relief now and then to achieve optimal performance.

Explore before elimination: At all stages of convergence, before killing an idea, ask the team, “in what ways might we revise/change/recreate this idea to make it work?” Pursue solutions because the best ideas may very well be the worst ideas, simply changed.

Retain an outside facilitator: Using an outside professional to lead convergence assures unbiased direction, and allows all team members to focus on what they do best – lend their relevant expertise. Also, an experienced facilitator can efficiently negotiate differences of opinion, and keep the process moving forward.

The lightning-fast pace of business today presents undeniable challenges to establishing prescribed pause. But to truly innovate and come out on top, wise words from Leo Tolstoy sum it up best: The two most powerful warriors are patience and time.