Today I have blocked my calendar as a day to do heads-down work. This is one of those days that feels like being a doctoral student because I am spending the day immersed in data. We often launch surveys as a way to get to know our clients and to hear from as many of their people as we can. If we are working with a corporate client, our surveys will explore a range of questions about work patterns, workplace satisfaction, and other variables that are specific to the project we are doing. If we are working with an academic client on a learning space project, our surveys will explore a range of topics around the courses that professors teach, or they will be aimed at students to understand where they spend their days studying or interacting with other students.
Our projects begin with questions or challenges that the client is looking to address through design. Similar to academic research, we use research design to address big questions. We balance rigor with practicality to ensure that we are getting insight that is both valid and useful to our clients. Our research is inductive. My team works at a critical information-gathering (or discovery) stage of the design process. The outcomes of our research create “guiding principles” that – like hypotheses – are tested through iterations of design concepts. It is our clients who ultimately judge the results of these tests, because our design has to tell their stories. So at the discovery stage, we work to understand that story through research and strategic briefing.
This afternoon I am working with data that just came in from a recently completed workplace survey. I don’t have a lot of time to work with it, because the client needs some key highlights to share in an executive meeting at the end of the week. For this project, the survey is one of several sources of data from our discovery process – much like any mixed methods research design. Several themes are beginning to emerge about this client, so I structure my survey analysis for today to narrow in on seeing what the survey data says about these specific themes. With limited time before the client’s meeting at the end of the week, I must be efficient in my analysis. When designing this survey, I knew which questions were intended to explore specific themes, so this is where I devote much of my energy today.
At the end of the day, I have isolated some key findings that I pass along to one of the people on my team who specializes in data visualization. When most research findings get published in a peer-reviewed journal, the results are typically structured in fairly bland tables that are difficult to decipher without a stats background. However, in a consulting project, it is imperative that the most relevant data are presented in the simplest way so that a busy executive can quickly grasp the key learnings. This process is no less important than the research design and analysis. So I spend some time at the end of the day working with our data visualization expert who does an awesome job at making data look beautiful. We discuss the findings and the message, and then she will work tomorrow on the presentation.
The rest of the data will be analyzed and presented to the client at a later date, but for now we have worked together on delivering key findings for an important presentation.