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6 Ideas to Prevent Problem Projects

Posted On  September 11, 2013


We in the supplier business are dedicated to our clients’ success. Indeed, when clients succeed, so do we. And since you’re reading this blog, you know that insightful research contributes mightily to business success.

But, what about those studies that go wrong? The ones that under-deliver against expectations, are over-budget, or are late? Not only can they prove to be poor investments, but in the worst-case scenario, they can even derail a market researcher’s career.

LRW’s founder, Arnie Fishman, is fond of saying that successful market research invariably comes down to two simple but foundational requirements – 1) interviewing the right people, and 2) asking them the right questions. We couldn’t agree more that these are the two most important factors.

But beyond that, what can we do to avoid falling into the trap of designing and executing the wrong research? Based on having conducted thousands of studies that have succeeded – and more than a handful that have not – we offer these ideas for your consideration:

  1. Define the explicit purpose of your study and know the business decisions that it will drive. A lack of clarity at the outset is a near-certain guarantee that the final report and presentation will fall flat. Be vigilant in ensuring this definition occurs up-front and is sufficiently stakeholdered.
  2. Know your information objectives, limit them to 3-5 per study, and make them highly specific. Nothing sinks a study like vague objectives or too many of them. And nothing slows down the questionnaire development process as effectively as a lack of crisp objectives. Guardrails serve an important purpose.
  3. Define your relevant universe thoughtfully and exactly. Market research begins with a definition of the market, and too often we are quick to cut-and-paste from previous RFPs. Know who should be screened in and out, and why. And, use your research company partners to help you think this through. They live and breathe it every day.
  4. Unless entirely unavoidable, don’t allow timing to interfere with getting clarity on the points above. You will nearly always be forgiven for taking the time to get it right, but may not be if you execute the wrong study quickly.
  5. Disclose your budget, even if it’s just a broad set of parameters. The adage of “never tell the vendor your budget” seldom works to anyone’s benefit. Absent your guidance, your research company may unintentionally over- or under-design your study, leading to inefficiency and re-work. It’s no different than hiring an architect to design a house; it’s difficult or impossible for him/her to do their job efficiently without this critical-path information.
  6. Be clear on whether your most top priority is timing, budget, or quality.  It’s seldom possible to find a solution that checks all three boxes. Help your potential research partners to help you by knowing your decision criteria and conveying them to all involved. Remember that when “everything” is top priority, nothing is.

Perhaps you noticed a reoccurring theme in this post, which is essentially that clarity counts. Ensure the success of your next study through specificity and clarity of thought from the outset. Then, not only will you be an all-star client, but your results will serve as sturdy guideposts upon which you can depend.

Written by Eric Asch
Executive Vice President, General Manager
Eric leads a division that supports the strategic insights needs for clients across several verticals. He has been a marketing and insights professional for over 30 years. He joined LRW in 2000, following stints on the client side and with other research and consulting firms. Over the course of his career, Eric has enjoyed roles in strategy development, market research and competitive intelligence. He holds a B.A. in political science and a M.A. in organizational management.


  1. In my experiences, open and honest communication with client treating the agency as part of their team tends not only to avoid the pitfulls Eric mentions but creates a foundation for high performance – not just good but great research.

  2. This approach creates a win/win situation between clients and research agencies. This approach creates a road map for the research. It helps with the up front discussions, consideration of research goals – and ultimately sets the stage for the overall success of the project. Trouble happens when there is a lack of such clarity at the start of the project. Ambiguity is the road to ruin in our business.


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