Agile Tops the Conversation at Quirks Chicago 2019

In recent years the word agile has infiltrated our nomenclature, drawn from the project management approach to software development that has been popularized in the last 10 – 15 years. It would be easy to dismiss the term as another buzzword, something that has been adopted due to its tech reference and being hip with the cool kids.

Certainly, it may have started out that way. However, there’s real value and meaning to the term as it applies to customer and market research.

Going back to the basics, Merriam-Webster defines the word as:

1: marked by ready ability to move with quick easy grace
2: having a quick resourceful and adaptable character

I think this perfectly encapsulates our task as researchers today. We need to move quickly, easily, and – ideally – with grace. To do this, we need to be resourceful and adaptable as part of our standard operating mode.

At Quirks Chicago, agile was mentioned countless times but I didn’t feel it was simply lip-service to the word of the day. I attended a number of sessions that presented case studies pointing to this as a new normal. Well, at least the aspiration of a new normal, along with the benefits, and some very refreshing openness around the challenges.

Johnsonville provided clear examples of how taking an agile approach to quantitative research has led to more research being done that provides irrefutable customer data (eliminating traditional challenges of personal preferences or the ‘case study of one’ winning through), along with reduced costs.

Similarly, Tillamook, who managed it’s first 100 years without an insights person (gasp) talked about how agile digital qualitative research helps business growth, illustrated by customer research to identify product descriptions on their shredded cheese packaging. As a side note, I stand with my Twitter plea, this is my kind of research!

We heard from a couple of insurance companies (Progressive and American Family) who have shifted their approaches from individual product to a full garage and from agent-centric to customer-centric respectively. Progressive is doing more with less and being more strategic, while American Family tripled the size of their insights team, doing research that feeds not just into marketing but many business partners, and also actively working toward data democratization by opening up access to the broader organization. None of this is easy, not least getting buy-in from stakeholders across departments and the executive team. Moving forward requires resourcefulness, adaptability, and grace. In short, being agile.

I left Chicago invigorated by all the changes happening in our industry and with my conviction intact that the role of the researcher is elevating within organizations. It is, of course, a journey. One with many twists and turns. But as we adapt our approach, embrace agility, we are making real progress.

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