Taking Qualitative Research to a Whole New Level with Agile Principles
The term “agile” (with its roots in software development methodologies) has been misused in the business world for quite some time. Like its counterparts, the term agile has become a substitute for “quick and dirty” work, which has nothing to do with what agile actually is.
Then what is agile?
As explained in a previous article, agile is all about testing hypotheses, using forms of effective stakeholder/team communication, and most importantly, using iteration.
In a nutshell, as is depicted in the image below, the value proposition is fairly simple. Instead of executing the whole project in one go (as in a waterfall process), agile methodology utilizes sprints whereby every sprint takes the product one step closer to the ultimate outcome. During these sprints, the intermediary outputs are validated by stakeholders (customers, team members, etc.) and this iterative process continues until the project is complete. As it is much easier to change intermediary outcomes than the whole body of a project, catching errors early drastically reduces project delivery time and improves quality.
How can one use agile to achieve exponentially better results?
I was fascinated when I first heard about the Grounded Theory as a qualitative data analysis methodology. What most caught my attention was that it allowed grounding data into several sources of truth instead of only one.
For example, we were conducting research for a bank to find innovation opportunities revolving around fraud, and how to help customers to decrease fraud in their daily lives. During the in-depth interviews, we found that fraud is very common during second-hand car sales processes. Now, here comes the interesting part. This is just one hypothesis that we found among a dozen, but it was a powerful and widespread one. To gather more data on this topic, we turned to the internet as another source of truth.
We found a YouTube channel in the automotive category with several thousand subscribers. There was a single video on fraud during car sales that had been watched more than 2.4 million times! These behavioral consumer data indicated that we were tracking something valuable. Analyzing and clustering the comments and feedback with our anthropologist, we theorized which consumer segments would be more likely to use such a product. This is ethnography done on the internet; there is a name for this process, netnography. For the sake of this post, I will not take a deep dive into netnography, but according to Wikipedia, we can summarize it as a specific set of research practices related to data collection, analysis, research ethics, and representation, rooted in participant observation.
Utilizing the aforementioned data, we amended our questions. At the end of the research process, we even changed the research methodology! This is just an example of how research sprints can add value to qualitative research. We start as a tabula rasa, an empty slate, and fill ourselves slowly with the information that is provided by consumers. We don’t just shape the report, but also shape our methodology, ourselves, research participants and research questions according to the data that we capture, hence we slowly dive deeper into behavioral or psychographic consumer segments.
So how should I conduct my next research project?
Agile is not about strict rules or utilizing strict methodologies like netnography. Sometimes we just leverage in-depth interviews in our sprints or mix and match methods, such as metaphor elicitation, UX research, or diary studies.
The key takeaways for your next research project:
- You may want to divide research into sprints and iteratively try to optimize the questions, methodology, participant choice, etc.,
- use several data sources to validate assumptions, not simply rely on interview data,
- get creative to capture the most relevant insights and don’t be afraid to try new methods, mix and match.
About the author:
Batukhan Taluy is a born hustler, strategist, and an insights professional. Through his company Uservision, he consulted more than 40 Fortune 500 brands globally to make them more user centric, leveraging agile qualitative insights. He has created new generation market research methodologies and approaches, which have been published and elaborated in seminars & workshops which are organized by leading institutions and universities. He is also an avid technology, music, film enthusiast and a lifelong learner.