Gaining 20% productivity. Number 1. Wholesale Value Destruction – how organisations reduce the value of their hard-won data.

I’ve pondered for the past 20 months how Market Research organisations can add value to their offer and therefore deliver better ROI for their clients as well as for themselves. I’m going to talk about this subject from time to time because I am firmly of the belief that most MR firms could easily achieve a 20% lift in productivity. During this recent period I was with a large research firm and nothing dissuaded me that a 20% lift is fully achievable.  All they had to do was challenge their own status quo. That is the hard first step, and I look forward to the day they take it.

Meanwhile I’m going to establish a few battlegrounds on which the value/productivity equation needs to be fought.  The most obvious area, I think, is the question of what we do with the data. Do we add value to it? Or do we destroy the value of the data we collect?

By and large I think we do both. Value-wise, our analytics routines have the efficiency of a boat that is taking on water – so half our effort goes into powering the vessel along while the other half goes into bailing water water from out of the bilge.

If you did a time and motion study of a typical analytics functionary you’d see too little of the Power-Up activities, and too much of the Bail Out. Let’s itemise these.

Power-Up Analysis

  1. Pre-planning the analytic process for the project.
  2. Constructions – creation through recoding and other calculations – of variables that matter. (By and large, most demographic variables are of little consequence by contrast.)
  3. Exploring for new discoveries of underlying principles. These give strategic direction.
  4. Developing dashboards that allow the client (not the researcher) to quickly look up every little detail. (Sales by region X)
  5. Developing what-if scenario models, so the client can keep on using the data even when their plans, or situation changes.

Bail-out activities that destroy value.

  1. Analysis without a plan. Few minutes spent this way will be fruitful.
  2. Drift-net analysis (running crosstabs of everything by everything in search of those nuggets.)  This process actually multiplies the time it takes to find answers.
  3. Descriptive research. Did you know males buy more than do females? Not interesting unless you can tell me WHY.
  4. Producing hundreds of slides.
  5. Any activity that makes the story more granular rather than less granular. My old metaphor: less sand please, more sand-castles.

I’ve watched many projects where the Bailing-Out activities outweighed the Power-Up activities. In other words if these were boats, then they’d be afloat, but going nowhere. That’s not what the client wants.

There are several cures for this problem. One is to rework the existing project planning process so that the team spends one more meeting with the client – asking how the research is going to be used.  Think about that carefully.

Another way to address the problem is to equip the analysts with better tools. I know a number of senior researchers who think crosstabs are fine and should form the backbone of all research analysis. Well, not in my books. They deliver only moderate value – relying on luck rather than intellect to deliver anything of use

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