“No CEO ever says, ‘Damn it, we need to increase research!' I want to encourage them to do that."
That comes directly from Nathan Paul Myhrvold, former Chief Technology Officer at Microsoft.
Why this passion for research?
Because research fuels innovation, bolsters creativity, enhances productivity, and above all asks and answers data-driven, market-tested questions. The problem is research is hard … especially within teams and across organizations.
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However, when done right, collaborative research not only simplifies the information gathering process, it leverages the amazing and diverse talent within teams and across departments.
To do that, here’s simple three-step formula to research as a team … without losing your mind.
Identify the Problem
Clear problem identification is the most important -- and the most difficult -- step of the research process.
"A problem well-stated is a problem half-solved," said Charles Kettering, the eminent American inventor and founder of Delco.
Ironically, many team leaders or project managers rush this phase by failing to narrow their research efforts on a single problem. Facing multiple problems at once or failing to state your problem well both lead to frustrations among your team, sub-optimal solutions and a tremendous waste of resources.
Problem statements define the pursuit of your research. Because so many of us struggle with this, here’s a simple acronym to make sure you get it right ...
1. Briefly explain the problem.
2. Add facts and stats that make the problem concrete.
3. Measure the financial cost of the problem.
Explain the Problem
Relevant Facts & Stats
the Problem’s $ Impact
|Online sales have fallen ...||X% since last year||Contributing to a $3.5 million reduction in cash flow.|
Short. Sweet. Powerful. Researchable.
Problem Statement Do’s and Dont’s
Do: Pose the problem as either a statement or as a question, but make it unbiased.
New app ROI is low, at 50 percent of projected, does this app cost more than budgeted to retain?
Do: Focus on a problem that can be directly observed and data driven:
Online sales have decreased 14 percent since Q1, reducing year-end revenue by $1.2 million.
Don’t: Combine multiple problems into one statement:
Email subscriptions and app downloads are down 15% in total, resulting in $1 million worth of leads lost.
Don’t: Assign blame anyone or build in assumptions to the problem.
Hotel occupancy is down 45% because housekeeping service is poor.
Remember, research shouldn't be conducted to verify your assumptions. It should be conducted to find the best solutions.
Pick a Collection Tool
Sameer Bhatia, founder and CEO of ProProfs.com, stressed of tool selection when it comes to successful research: "Using an online knowledge base to enhance product R&D puts you more in control of the outcome."
The problem is collection tools -- i.e., “online knowledge bases” -- abound.
Just among the top contenders, there’s Evernote for articles and notes, Pocket for video, SlideShare for presentations, Oktopost for social media, GetResponse for emails, productivity apps for to-do lists and workflows, and a host of cloud-storage solutions to catalog everything else.
Unfortunately, dispersing information across multiple bases can lead to information loss, corrupt files, and disorganized inboxes.
Combining these distinct curation and sharing tools into one secure and shareable platform dramatically simplifies collaborative research.
Memit, for instance, is an integrated mobile and desktop application that lets you clip, store, label, and share content. Unlike the other tools mentioned above, however, memit integrates directly with popular cloud-storage providers to create digital copies of all your saved content in the place your company already stores its data.
Moreover, as McKinsey & Company discovered, social collaboration tools can raise productivity by 20-25 percent. That’s exactly why a unified collection tool built for sharing information, not siloing it, is essential in your research and problem-solving process.
Select a Gatekeeper
Another major problem of collaboration is summarized perfectly by the old truism: "Too many chefs in the kitchen."
When several people contribute to a research project, it’s easy to fall into one of two extremes. First, each person may have their own preferred method of collection and try to take control of the process itself. Or second, if clear instructions and deadlines aren’t established, each person may simply assume, “Well, I’m part of a team. Someone else will take care of it.”
Either way the result is the same: chaos.
The best way to restore order is assigning one member as the gatekeeper.
This person oversees the research project and is responsible for:
- allocating tasks and monitoring deadlines;
- organizing and prioritizing collected information;
- addressing any questions that crop up during the research process;
- ensuring that the information follows research guidelines;
- getting in touch with the individual team members for additional information;
- mitigating conflicts and overlaps
Rather than discourage collaboration through consolidated power, the gatekeepers primary job is to keep the process organized, focused on the problem, and moving forward.
A successful team research project hinges on well-defined problems, unified research tools, and a collection process that welcomes input, rather than inhibits it.
However, it could also fall apart without a workable system in place.
What are your favorite tips for a genuinely productive (and enjoyable) collaborative research process?