In the centuries since Ben Franklin said that “time is money,” the cost of time—in both financial terms and foregone opportunities—remains just as relevant to innovators today.
“If you’re considering an unproven idea, which is inherently risky, you need to learn quickly whether you’re on the right track with your hypothesis before you can identify and take the next steps,” says Director of Design Strategy Michelle Zassenhaus. “It’s all about the time to value. You can’t take long runways for experimenting and thinking through bold ideas that may not work in the real world.”
Rapid research (sometimes referred to as research sprints) provides a framework for innovators to maximize their time to value. Rapid research is less in-depth and immersive than typical research exercises but offsets these drawbacks with speed.
“Rapid research is more indicative and directional. You get a few answers really quickly, which can then inform additional research and help focus energy on what’s next,” Senior Design Strategist Gayatri Mohan says.
At Giant Machines, we see rapid research as a means to delivering a minimum viable product. The research needs to quickly and concisely illuminate product-critical learning gaps so that the product team understands what it needs to discover or do next to iterate towards a successful solution. GM takes a four-step approach to conducting rapid research:
- Lead a discovery session with the client to align on and identify key objectives and learning goals
- Design a plan to gather data around where learning gaps exist
- Conduct rapid research to fill those gaps
- Deliver actionable insights geared towards product development and iteration
Discovery, planning, research, and actionable insight
The time constraints of rapid research makes the discovery phase essential to understanding a client’s core problem and identifying the people you need to speak to, be they internal users, external users, or customers. “The strategic alignment exercise unpacks and articulates the key questions to investigate,” Gayatri says. Some frequently asked questions include:
What is the problem?
How does the problem impact the business, and what does success look like?
How does the problem impact users or customers?
Who has the problem?
How are they solving it now?
What about the solution doesn’t work and why?
What would have to be true if we were to solve it?
Following strategic alignment, GM devises a plan to identify what and how to learn about the key issues. Rapid research sometimes features market or survey research, although user research with a small, targeted group—sometimes featuring as few as four people in the sample population—is the path most frequently taken.
From there, GM conducts the research by observing current user practices, rather than relying on users to self-report on their behavior.
“Observation removes the biases that can seep in with self-reporting, like users providing answers that the questioner may want to hear,” Michelle says. “Observable research also democratizes the process by giving every client stakeholder first-hand access to what the user experience is really like.”
Finally, GM delivers actionable insights, with product development in mind. Because we build products, we know how they need to be developed. As a result, our insights are thematic but also guided by how these learnings can be incorporated into developing the actual product.
Altogether, a typical GM rapid research engagement takes roughly four weeks from start to finish, compared to eight weeks or more for longform research.
Why clients use GM for rapid research
Giant Machines’ emphasis on observable behavior during the rapid research process is a key area of differentiation for clients.
“The ability to make sense of the user experience and journey through observation instead of just asking users to report on it is an expert skill that many researchers don’t have,” Michelle says.
In addition, GM brings structural advantages to the research process by providing impartiality as a third party.
“If clients tried to do this research themselves, they would have to navigate organizational politics and potentially competing interests, whereas we come in with a totally fresh perspective,” Gayatri says. “We also have the time, space, and expertise to focus on making sense of the user journey, which a client may not have the bandwidth to do themselves in addition to their own job responsibilities.”
Clients also choose GM because they know that the rapid research process will lead to tangible product outcomes, with humans at the core of wherever the research may lead.
“Our rapid research process puts human needs and problems at the center of our work,” says Product Director Nicole Rufuku. “It helps us surface product insights that drive development, and it establishes a sense of shared understanding and empathy for the customers we’re building for. It’s this teamwide empathy that makes groundbreaking deeply impactful products possible.”