For consultants to stand out from the competition, research offers a unique point of distinction to increase project win rates. Pitching data-driven solutions can add value and credibility to strategic recommendations for better business impact.
Research projects are often dismissed as too labor-intensive or time-consuming. But with proper planning, effective and efficient collaboration is possible. For consultants passing the work to a research team who is not familiar with client details, an easy-to-consult project brief and plan should include written protocols to:
- Reiterate project brief
- Clarify desired outcomes
- Delineate task responsibilities
- Confirm prioritization of tasks
- Outline processes
- List contact information for all involved parties
- Set project benchmarks
- Assign tasks
- Provide examples of deliverables required
- Break down tasks into phases with timeline requirements
- Set communication standards for questions
- Set check-in meetings for project updates
This easy-to-consult plan document allows teams to perform needed tasks virtually and autonomously. A plan negates the need for constant delegation and avoids unexpected delays.
Additionally, before kicking off any project, review these Four A’s to promote uninterrupted workflow for greater success:
The most critical component of a research management plan is the scheduled work breakdown for each task. This information is often the central focus of a team’s agenda, yet they often lack the necessary specificity to prevent confusion. To ensure accuracy, include specific task instructions to account for the who, what, and when of each assignment as follows:
Who? - Naming specific individuals or research teams as responsible for the task is best practice. Alternatively, those overseeing the project plan could assign the task to a generic position title or a qualifier akin to “available researcher at the time.” Assigning one person to a task can provide clarity, but it can also create a bottleneck. Assigning two people can create confusion about who is ultimately responsible. The best practice is to assign a lead and a secondary whenever possible. This provides clarity along with accountability.
What? - Research project plans should reference the research methodology or methodologies employed. The Project may include any combination from quantitative data collection methods such as online surveys, microsurveys, or phone surveys to qualitative methods such as focus groups and in-depth interviews. Each of these have their own set of best practices. Sourcing helpful guides can help provide detail and ensure the explicit needs of the project are fulfilled.
When? - Work plans delineate specific times to accomplish tasks (e.g., Wednesday, March 9 at 10:30 a.m.) or start and end dates. The more discrete the desired task duration, the better completion progress can be monitored. It may also help to designate a “reminder” date for tasks to keep track of impending deadlines. Project phases can also help group tasks together for completion within a set timeframe needed to keep the project on track.
Task assignment is another critical research component of an effective work plan. For every discrete task or task group, a specific team member should be designated as the responsible lead. While they may not complete all of the work, they are ultimately responsible for coordinating completion. Field interviews, survey programming, and reporting should be assigned to the appropriate parties who are experts in that field or methodology. In the end, compiling the data outcomes and communicating completion of each task is the job of that lead. Without clear accountability, even small challenges can disrupt project success.
Project managers should audit ongoing tasks while mid-process using periodic assessment and reporting. The aim is to ensure that “completed” tasks are inspected and completed as expected. This auditor can also help summarize the data assembled so far in an easy-to-reference report to show consistent progress. Keeping tabs during ongoing research means discovering fewer unexpected oversights once data collection is completed.
Several small things can easily go wrong on any project, particularly one as complex and granular as market research. With focus on the details, often the big picture can get out of sight. Maintaining an awareness of progress against a comprehensive project plan allows organizations to manage risks and stay ahead of obstacles to keep the end result in mind throughout the project. A solid project plan should also include flexible contingency periods for “catch-up” research or alternative strategy planning. Built-in backup plans, such as having additional team resources available to step in if progress has been slower than expected may also be helpful. Project plans also enable organizations to learn what works and doesn’t work without reinventing the wheel with each new project.
Market research is essential to shape strategy and drive business growth. With careful planning, research projects can finish on-time, on-budget, and on-track for positive business impact. They can provide the guidance on strategic plans for clients and seriously increase the odds of success for both the consulting firm and the client. Download our free eBook “Communicating the Value of Market Research” to keep the client relationship on-track for long-term success.