As a software developer, turned market researcher I’m always confused when I hear someone say “agile research.” Given my background in software development the word agile makes me think of a particular software development methodology. That’s summed up nicely by the agile manifesto from 2001. This means the agile development process is nearly twenty years old, but agile market research doesn’t have any resemblance to it. Hence my total confusion as a software developer. Especially, when it seems so many research projects could benefit from an agile approach.
What is agile development?
Different software development projects require different approaches to maximize success. The two major approaches most organizations use for software development are: agile development and waterfall development. Waterfall development moves in one direction while agile development moves cyclically.
The waterfall model moves in a straight line and caters to the needs of enterprise software development. For example in the pharma industry each piece of software can require legal approval. This requires a waterfall approach to software development. Startups on the other hand need to adapt based on changing requirements/circumstances. Agile development solves this type organization’s problem extremely well.
It does this by providing a more dynamic approach that allows organizations to shift between development stages based on business requirements. Ideally, agile lets organizations harness flexibility to build more innovative software. But it only works in certain environments like a startup. Different environments require different software development methods.
What does this have to do with market research?
David Harris explores an ideal market research process in his book “The Complete Guide to Writing Questionnaires.” His book sets the standard for how you should write questionnaires. Yet, one edition I’d like to see is what research framework researchers should use. Most researchers in healthcare follow a waterfall approach yet others in startups follow more of an agile method.
Different kinds of research such as qualitative/quantitative answer different questions. Research design processes such as the use of cognitive interviewing are contextually driven. Waterfall research means you are delivering a final product. Agile research impies on going to work and intelligence gathering.
In the end agile research means your “research project” will continue to evolve since the backlog of problems you need to solve might change.