From Agile Software Development to Agile Market Research

programmer at keyboard with numbers flowing down

Market research has been around awhile, and some would say it is long in the tooth. Yesterday Matt Warta of GutCheck and Jeffrey Henning of Researchscape decided to illustrate what market researchers could learn from software firms.

Agile development is the rage in the software development world. There are other methodologies for software development, but Agile, as the name implies, is a swifter route to creating software. Swifter, however, does not mean there is a lack of quality control. The methodology is based on iterative and incremental development. The requirements and solutions evolve through collaboration between teams that are self-organizing and cross-functional.

A particular method that market research hasn’t embraced to its fullest extent is the use of iterative processes, where a group of interviews is conducted, the results are used to refine the test, a second round of interviews is conducted, and the second iteration results are used for refinement and so forth. This “agile” method of product concept testing allows for rapid development of a viable concept (days instead of weeks). Just as agile is being increasingly deployed in software development, Matt showed the results from a Google search on “agile market research” conducted in 2013 and then in 2014 with the latter time point showing a substantial increase in articles.

The agile market research approach contrasts with the more common approach known as the “waterfall method” of specifying objectives followed by project design, followed by implementation, followed by deliverables. According to author Clay Shirkey, “The waterfall method amounts to a pledge by all parties not to learn anything while doing the actual work.” This method does not foster collaboration nor learning along the way. Customers only get the deliverable at the end.

By contrast the agile method aims to gather feedback from the customer (the internal or external client) through early and continuous delivery. The “aha moment” actually occurs several times along the way, allowing for learning to take place continuously. Feedback that is provided during an iteration informs the next iteration. The advantage of continuous learning, one of agile’s hallmarks, is that it prevents you from reaching the end of the study wishing you had asked a different slate of questions. This is a particular problem with large-scale annual studies, where once the wheel begins rolling it is difficult to stop.

Agile is expanding into the broader aspects of marketing including exploration, co-creation,segmentation, brand tracking, product innovation, copy testing and public relations. As the pace of change continues to increase in the market so does the need for companies to shorten their response time. Agile is one method of quickly adapting to change.

Greg Timpany directs the research efforts for Global Knowledge in Cary, North Carolina, and runs Anova Market Research. You can follow him on Twitter @DataDudeGreg.



  1. anne-marie o'sullivan says:

    Really great to see some discussion of a more agile approach to MRX – it is so much better this way but demands a confident client and a strategic MR advisor

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