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Neil Harwood
01 May 2019

Agile problem solving

An exciting new approach to identifying the causes of issues in a product development and marketing context.
Let’s be honest. We’ve all been in a situation where we have scratched our heads for hours trying to identify the cause of an issue, especially when we believed our own solutions would meet the desired objectives, haven’t we? Agile problem solving in a product development and marketing context helps make this process more efficient — and keeps our scalps healthier.
Problem solving: a painful process
Identifying the root cause of any problem can be a painstaking endeavour. Often problem solving involves generating a list of as many possible causes imaginable. Then, through a process of elimination, each possible cause is systematically tested until the problem has been identified. It can be a time consuming, expensive and emotionally charged process.

There are situations, particularly when mechanics are involved, where the precise identification of the root cause is essential to implementing suitable solutions to achieve a desired outcome. However in relation to product development and marketing understanding the general thrust of a problem rather than the root cause is usually enough so that the necessary rectifications can be quickly found.
A new approach
Agile research tools offer product developers and marketing professionals an exciting new approach for identifying the causes of problems more efficiently. These tools allow users to simultaneously test the relevance of different variables on consumers. General thrusts of problems can now be identified faster and without having to go through a time consuming process of elimination.
An example
Company A wants to host an event at a specific location at a specific date / time. It didn't pre-test the event concept before launch but has decided to start the sales and marketing activities, nonetheless.

After the first month ticket sales are significantly lower than expectations. Identifying the underlying cause is therefore crucial to rectifying the issue — and making the event a success. Some possible factors holding back sales could be:

  • Event concept
  • Date / time
  • Location
  • Effectiveness / relevance of communications
Agile problem solving in practice
To quickly identify the likely cause in this scenario we would recommend that the company uses agile research tools to test the following stimuli:

  • 1 x current marketing content (the control concept)
  • 1−2 x same content but different event concepts communicated
  • 1−2 x same content but different dates / times communicated
  • 1−2 x same content but different locations communicated
The results would be available within 24 hours with consumers perceptions on each concept clearly reported so that a quick comparison on the performance of all stimuli can be made. In this case we would recommend testing the communication at a later stage if the results from this first test were inconclusive due to the additional costs and time required to obtain new creatives.
The benefits
Agile problem solving quickly provides organisations with initial indications on the causes of problems. It wouldn't usually identify the precise root causes but it does enable organisations to react quickly with any rectifications before the cost of failure escalates.

Agile problem solving also minimises the likelihood of having to undertake a more complex and costly exploratory research project to identify any potential underlying causes. Notwithstanding the additional costs involved these projects often require a lot of time and effort to set up, run and complete.

Finally, the underlying objective of agile research techniques is to eliminate as much emotion from the decision-making process as possible. Reacting quickly to problems in a calm, rational manner based on hard facts helps to maintain consumer, employee (and scalp) satisfaction. We believe this should be a key objective for any respect worthy organisation in today's world.
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