Much like “digital” some years ago, “agile” is the new buzzword in research today. Whilst the idea itself is not new by any means, its implementation presents a challenge. There is a constant demand to do more with less, to drive engagement and deliver results faster and more effectively. Our clients require us to be more adaptive to the changing environments and to keep ahead of new innovations. Sounds fantastic in principle: but these needs are constantly evolving whilst timelines shrink presenting the almost-impossible challenge of staying ahead of the game. Adopting an agile mindset as an organisation, as well as being able to use its principles in everything we do, has become more important than ever. So, what is our philosophy?

Finding the right fit

Not every project can be agile, but you can adapt elements of iteration and agility to many scenarios. If your project has a lot of unknown or moving parts; requires more input from various people at different stages; and has an element of unpredictability, an agile mindset can be just what you need to keep up with decision making on-the-go.

For example, at a recent conference, a presenter commented that it took him 18 months to agree on new website content for a large pharma company. By the time the content was agreed, it was no longer current, and did not meet the needs of the customer any longer. By contrast, Amazon update their website every 11 seconds, thus offering customers the most up-to-date and customer focused solution they need in that moment.

These examples demonstrate where integrating an agile culture and mindset can excel- versus sticking with the more traditional research approach.

Partnership and collaboration

The key success factor to being truly agile is the engagement of all relevant stakeholders from the start. Setting expectations, aligning roles and responsibilities as well as agreeing clear milestones throughout the agile project lifecycle will make all the difference between seamless execution and a logistical nightmare.

Getting in-the-moment insights requires in-the-moment decision making and close collaboration of everyone involved. As a group, you share successes and work through failures together. That makes the end result all-the-more meaningful.

The importance of meetings

Key milestone discussions and regular touchpoint meetings are an absolute must. The trick is to have the right people in the room so that your touchpoints remain productive. Whilst this is not rocket science, if you commit to an agile approach, your calendar becomes your treasure map, guiding you through by focusing on the most important tasks and ensuring decisions are made as needed: bringing transparency and harmony to the execution process.

“We can’t do agile, I am a compliance manager”

Yes, it is true, our industry is highly regulated. These regulations also mean that stringent approval processes, compliance considerations and medical sign off can be challenging and lengthy. Considering these aspects early on will help you decide between an agile approach versus a traditional ‘waterfall’ one.
Approvals and sign-off can be a huge stumbling block in the agile process and this needs to be considered. Having input and involvement from medical and compliance teams as early as the project kick-off is invaluable as they can ensure necessary steps are built into the process when drafting project timelines. Most importantly, their early and deep involvement can reduce the number of iterations later down the line when materials are submitted for approval. All-in-all, once again, engagement of the right people as early as possible will definitely pay off later.

Other things to consider

The success of an agile study relies heavily on the full support of an expert Operations team, who play a vital part in moving the project along. On a recent agile study, managing our fieldwork partners could have been a real challenge had it not been for the expertise of our Operations team: bringing partners on board early, setting relevant and realistic expectations, as well as making sure they were aware of the level of input required from the start. Making all partners an extension of our team is crucial to encourage a ‘win together, lose together’ mentality.

All this engagement may sound overwhelming at times, and this is where technology and automation will help. Knowing exactly what to automate and which technology to use will evolve over time: but, for example, tools for planning and milestone management should be one of the first on your wish-list. HRW have adopted a few that not only help us manage tasks and their flow, but also update different parties when they are complete. The use of many of these tools are becoming second nature in our organisation, helping support our regular team huddles.
If an AI can take some of the administrative load, we can invest that time to coach and empower others to embrace an agile approach and make the most of it!

Nothing is impossible

In summary, embracing an agile mindset and applying it to our projects has become our mission! It is hard to ignore that the benefits can be truly remarkable. Yes, it requires us to think outside the box, but it injects energy and focus into getting truly valuable insights for our clients – within an increasingly demanding and competitive environment.


By Yuliya Fontanetti

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