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  • Writer's pictureStephen Bohnet

Myth: You Can't Have All Three (Speed, Affordability, Quality)

Early in my market research career I often heard it said that you can't have all three. When considering Speed, Affordability, and Quality of a research project, you can choose only two and will sacrifice the third. If you want a project to be fast and affordable, you have to let go of quality. If you want high quality and fast, you have to let go of affordability.

Project Triangle

This idea has come up again and again over the years, often brought up by clients light-heartedly acknowledging they'd have to pay more or get less. The problem is, this is a myth. It's totally untrue. You can have the trifecta. We do it all the time and we encourage our clients to do more of it.

It is possible to run a research project in under a week or even in a few days with a large sample size for $15,000. With reduced attention spans for respondents (let's face it, for nearly all human beings), we could argue that most research should be handled this way. But for this to work, we have to be very good at prioritizing:

  1. Zero in on the business question. What MUST we know in one week for the upcoming meeting or business decision? Answer that. Answer only that.

  2. Plan for a 5 to 8 minute survey. You can't kitchen sink the research. In market research, we're used to loading up surveys with a whole bunch of stuff we might want to know or (worse), stuff "we always ask" or "we have to do it this way". You're going to have to break the rules. "Nope, we can't include that." Get used to saying it.

  3. Drop your 5 to 8 pages of segmentation questions. (Side note: can we, as a market research community, stop making gargantuan segmentation algorithms that leave no room for the main survey?)

  4. Plan to recruit groups that have 10% incidence or above. Let go of the excruciatingly difficult groups that you usually target because somewhere in your organization, someone thinks it is possible to get deeper penetration into that 1% target audience.  If it’s a problem finding them in a market research study, it’s a problem finding them in the market.

  5. Take some extra time (that's right, slow down for a minute) to write the survey so that it requires less programming logic (skips, piping, etc.). This will speed up program development and quality checking immensely so that you can get started right away in field.

Sound tough? It's not. It's easy, and once you get a taste, you'll want more of it. Surveys can be written, reviewed, and approved in a day. Answers to business questions can be shared the day after fieldwork is completed, and a report can usually follow within a day.

We've used this approach for startup companies with limited budgets, the fastest global tech firms needing material for a C-suite meeting next week, and to get immediate feedback on a product launch or marketing campaign that isn't going as planned. But our favorite application for the trifecta is helping a new researcher on a business hit a grand slam on their first project: keep it simple, keep it low cost, and deliver the right information when it counts.

PS: Some of you may have noticed I really screwed up with this perspective piece on the iron triangle, or triple constraint model. I'll beat you to it. It’s true. I messed it up.  The iron triangle construct comes from project management theory and it states that you must choose between Speed, Affordability and Scope (not Quality). So I guess, in hindsight, I am reinforcing the original theory, as my points above are all about reducing scope. But we need to challenge the fallacy that is common in research. Quality is not a trade-off.  Go for the trifecta.

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