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The importance of a flexible mindset for research success

Written by Alida

Published July 08, 2024

Rob was excited. He had a series of In-Depth-Interviews scheduled with product users to get feedback on new features. 

Then, the first participant didn’t show, despite having confirmed the day before. 

The second participant turned out to be the product buyer, not the hands-on user, and couldn’t answer his questions. 

Finally, he was able to hold an IDI with participant number three. Unfortunately, the beta product was taken offline for a software update and no one told Rob, so he couldn’t get the feedback.

He had to tell the product manager he wouldn’t have results before the next design sprint. 

Poor Rob.

If this scenario – or parts of it – sound familiar, you’re not alone. Maybe your study didn’t go completely off the rails like Rob’s, but if you’ve been in the field for a while, you’ve certainly experienced projects that didn’t go as planned. 

The truth is, there is no “perfect” research. In fact, as advisor Cory Lebson shared in his keynote at Alida Activate 2024, “You’ve got to be adaptable to be successful as a researcher. Expecting perfection and rigidly sticking to a prescribed approach can reduce your ability to have an impact.” 

In this blog you’ll learn how to build flexibility into your research process so you can roll with the punches and still deliver results.  

How to build flexibility into your research process

Experienced researchers are proactive about reducing risk. Planning ahead is key to keeping your cool if things go wrong. Here are some things to consider: 

  • Don’t pack the calendar. Chances are that some projects will have delays that may be out of your control. You’ll need some room to shift the research schedule. 

  • Build in buffer time between interviews. Leave 15 to 30 minutes between qualitative interviews, so you don’t have to stress if people are a bit late or sessions go over. 

  • Pressure-test your discussion guide. Run through your discussion guide with a small sample. Make sure they understand the language you use, and the questions are relevant, and adjust if needed. Remember that your guide isn’t a checklist of questions to rush through. Make sure you’re listening to the responses and be ready to ask follow-up questions for clarifications and more detail. 

  • Bring a co-pilot. If you’re using a market research platform like Alida to moderate live focus groups or IDIs, you can set up a behind-the-scenes chat with others. This allows one person to focus on the discussion while the other takes notes, sends suggestions of follow questions, or reminders of things to cover. And, if something goes wrong, you can communicate to address it. 

  • Have an off-line backup. Murphy’s law says technology always fails at the wrong moment. Ideally, you can run a usability test with a live version of a product, but it’s a good idea to have prototypes or mockups available offline as well. 

Prepare your stakeholders for imperfection

Stakeholders who haven’t conducted market research themselves aren’t experts in the process and may have unrealistic expectations. Cory recommends, “start early, repeat often, but do it gently. You can only push people so far if they have a core belief but at least you can push iteratively, a little bit at a time, to do what you can to create a culture of flexibility.”

Budget and time constraints mean you can’t always run extensive studies. Understand your stakeholders’ goals and align with them. While you can't do everything, you can address the priorities. That may mean you execute research in stages, or with focused samples.

Set expectations with stakeholders that the schedule, process, or research methodology may need to change, and that any research will not yield perfect information. Explain why different methodologies are suited for different outcomes and why you’re recommending a certain approach. 

Make sure your research timeline is aligned with the timeline for decision-making. Ideally, you can embed research into every stage of the innovation lifecycle, from ideation and discovery to testing and validation, rather than coming in at the end. In Agile, you’ve got to stay ahead of the game,” says Corey. “You need to be one or two sprints ahead. If you’re only doing research at the end of the lifecycle, “you’ll only get the answers to what the team has already concluded, if you’re very rigid,” he warns.

Expect to be surprised 

Many research studies start with a hypothesis and validate assumptions. That’s a good thing, as confirmation gives decision-makers more confidence and reduces risk. 

On the other hand, market research that yields surprising results can also be a good thing. You may find that beta testers don’t like what you thought was a significant improvement. Or, customer interviews may reveal hidden motivations or barriers to success you hadn’t accounted for. Either way, you’d rather know before you launch. Your findings may call for a shift in strategy or changes in goals.

“Just because you’re surprised doesn’t mean you failed. It goes with the territory,” Cory reminds us. As a researcher, your role is to stay open to all possibilities and avoid assumptions and confirmation bias. It’s all the more important that research become embedded in business decisions early and often. 

When life hands you lemons….learn to juggle!

Don’t let perfectionism be the enemy of success. Do what you can to remove obstacles, but also be ready to adjust along the way so you can extract the most value possible from your research efforts.

For more recommendations and best practices...

Watch Cory Lebsons’ keynote from Alida Activate.

Watch now