We sat down with Grail Insights’ Smisha Samra to get a sneak peek of her session, "Agility in Market Research" at the Corporate Researchers Conference, October 8-10 in Orlando.

Q. Without giving away too much of your presentation, what is 'agility' in the context of market research and why do we need it?

A. In short, agility is about getting to insights faster and more cost effectively. As we know, speed of competition has increased. Organizations often cannot wait months for the ‘perfect’ answer. Sometimes a ‘good’ answer now is far more valuable than a ‘perfect’ answer 6 months from now.

Now that does not mean that you forego quality. However, it may mean that rather than getting every question answered, you only answer a few of the most important ones for now. Or, it could mean that instead of travelling around the country over multiple weeks to do in-person focus groups, you conduct all of your focus groups remotely in a single week.

There are a wide range of new methodologies and tools that enable greater agility today. However, organizations also need to look at their internal teams and partnerships. Do they enable agility?  If after a meeting with your colleagues today you decide that you need some customer feedback, do you have ability to speak with customers by tomorrow? There are organizations out there that can. They will act more quickly as a result and be better attuned to customers’ needs.

Q. Can you expand on some of the indicators you’ve seen? Why agility, why now?  

A. This is not a new phenomenon. However, in recent years, we have seen an uptake and agility being talked about more or should I say hashtagged more. I have seen many changes happening in the market research sector and within my company, changes that are making us think about being more agile and aligned to the principles of agility. Traditional market research is not fool proof and in many ways was not built to keep up with the pace of change today.

Secondly, and I think more importantly in the recent years, I have seen our clients across sectors make a big push towards thinking proactively about ROI in research, pushing for insights with their partners, and an openness to trying newer methodologies to get richer and faster insights. Some of our clients have even undergone internal reorganization to become more nimble and agile, which has led to faster decision making, structured processes for working with partners be it research, IT, marketing, etc. and a drive towards getting to a working scenario rather than a comprehensively researched and documented scenario, which aligns with the principles of agility.

Q. You mention the ‘principles of agility.’ What are they?

A. For that you must come to my talk! But I can give a hint and say that, like many of us, I have looked to the IT sector as having a lot to gain in terms of agile approaches to their business. The Agile Manifesto continues to light the way for the IT sector and there’s a lot that we can learn from and apply to the business of insights. So I’m exploring how some of these principles can be applied to our field.

Q. And do you think agility principles apply across other industries?

A. I do. From apparel and F&B, to financial services and even manufacturing. Agile decision-making is not limited to certain industries. As I mentioned it comes in different forms, so while speed might not be achieved in a B2B study for a manufacturing sector client, we have seen how agile approaches in this sector can drive collaboration, and support vital micro-decisions. Then again, I can recall how speed was critical for an FMCG project, and an agile approach was key to supporting decision-making.

In other industries, we have seen how firms have reorganized themselves to be more nimble. For example, having a central insights team in addition to or in place of a market research team, or enabling more stakeholders with micro-decisions, holding more sprint meetings to keep insights-informed decisions constantly moving forward.

Q. How is an agile approach to insights different from just getting faster insights?

A. I know it may sound like agile research and fast research are interchangeable. And often the speed of execution is faster with an agile approach. But the fact of the matter is that agility is much more than speed.

I’ll give you an example going back to the principles of agility. The Agile Manifesto values individuals and interactions over processes and tools. Some tools may accelerate delivery, but the quality of learning from human interactions could be lost. Speed should not compromise quality. Another tenant of the Manifesto is that responding to change is more important than following a plan. An agile response can prove far more vital than sticking to a plan that is going in the wrong direction. Now that may take more time. So speed is not the same as agility.

Q. Given that, what do you see the role of what we might call ‘traditional’ market research?

A. A key point I would like to highlight is that not every market research or insights project can be agile, or needs to be agile. There is a place for traditional complex research projects that cannot be replaced by sprint-worthy projects. Understanding and matching information needs to that of the research approach, is what can differentiate a value-adding solution from a cookie-cutter solution. I believe agility is going to be critical on most projects, but its degree and level will vary. In some cases it might be about speed of execution, while in others it is about bringing collaboration across sources. Organizations, meaning corporations and market research firms alike, need to stop being hammers that see only nails and evolve our approach.

Q. In your own engagements with clients, how are you getting more agile in your approach?

A. One way is by being cognizant of the fact that answers to client questions can really come from anywhere through traditional research, non-conventional research methodologies, data analytics, managing and optimizing existing knowledge, etc. At Grail we’ve always been methodology agnostic, and I think this is one of the best ways to stay agile. Again, it’s in the Agile Manifesto, this idea of finding the optimal path, and often multiple paths to answers, rather than sticking to the path you know. This approach has benefited clients by finding efficient ways of re-envisioning existing information, or finding new information and sometimes extracting surprising insights from a combination of old and new. Agility is also about how we collaborate and contract with clients, saving time and money on the path to getting better answers.

Smisha, thank you! We look forward to learning more about this topic at the Corporate Researchers Conference, October 8-10 in Orlando, FL.