We researchers are often correctly accused of being perfectionists. We want precision, and we want rigor. So, we need time to plan, strategize, design, and iterate before research ever hits the field, let alone to analyze data and extract meaning.
But what if you don’t have time to do all those things? What if you need a decision quickly?
Perfection can get in the way of progress, and not every decision requires the highest level of precision. Sometimes you do have to make trade-offs in order to make quick decisions and keep moving. Now stay with me. You don’t have to give up complete control. It’s about exchanging a little control for a lot of speed. Research should enable progress, not hinder it. You can still do reliable and impactful research to inform decisions that need to be made right now. Good enough can still be good.
This is all part of “agile research,” which provides feedback early and often to guide decisions that might otherwise be driven by opinion rather than data. It’s a matter of getting data that’s reliable but doesn’t slow down decision-making; in other words, getting “good enough” answers to the immediate questions at hand, then moving forward. But that’s not the end — it’s not just about running one study really quickly and being done. That study just allows you to make today’s decision, which very often informs tomorrow’s questions.
Everyone Can Play
Since agile research relies on continual research to inform many “small” decisions, you can even let those outside your research team participate. And, in many cases, you should require it. While pulling different stakeholders into some types of research can be a hindrance, allowing stakeholders who aren’t researchers to be involved in the agile research process can increase buy-in and, ultimately, speed up research. Really! The democratization of data and research does not [always] lead to anarchy. With the right guardrails and tools, even non-researchers can participate in conducting meaningful research that will keep projects moving forward. I’m not suggesting you set everyone free into a Wild West of research. I’m suggesting that with proper oversight, methodology, and gatekeeping, you can enable others outside the research team to make an impact.
Product managers, in particular, can use agile methodologies to intelligently de-risk their decisions without slowing down development. Let’s look at an example from a product manager’s viewpoint: They’re working on a product in a later stage, and they’re trying to decide which new features will resonate with their users and prospects. They’re up against a tight deadline — all deadlines in agile product development are pretty tight, because they’re trying to continually roll out new features. So which ones stick, and which don’t? The PM can use their gut. They can talk to people around the room. They can find someone on the street. And if left to their own devices, they might do any of those things. But what they need is feedback from the actual humans who might use this feature or who are already using the product. Plus, they need that feedback really fast to see what works for users and what doesn’t, then maybe they tweak the idea, and ask again. And they need to do all this by Thursday.