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July 16, 2012

Herding Cats…The Art and Power of a Well Run Debrief

posted by  Gary Kash, Owner/Consultant in Definitive Strategic DirectionQualitative Research

Cowboy with LassoSo, I received a request from a new Client the other day asking if I would be willing to spend 60-90 minutes after the last group to debrief the project with the rest of the team.  Two things struck me immediately about this question…and, hopefully, you too.

First, I was astonished she felt a need to ask; a solid debrief immediately after the last group should be expected.  Reality is, people often leave groups having heard what they needed (or wanted) to hear, and they are off and running ready to execute.  Having a good debrief is, in our minds, mandatory so there is clear agreement regarding:

  • What was really heard and what was learned.
  • The critical implications of these learnings.

And, not only should we be part of the discussion, we are probably the best choice to lead the discussion as we:

  • Were in the room feeling what consumers were saying or not saying.
  • Have no vested interest in a particular outcome other than to move a project forward.
  • Have senior level experience and can leverage that experience to further the project.

Second, I was surprised it would take 90 minutes; honestly, if it does, something is amiss.  When I asked why it could take up to 90 minutes she said everyone likes to talk and getting the team to focus is not always easy; "it's like trying to herd cats and the cats like to run wild."

This lack of focus is inefficient as there is often commentary that is not relevant, detail oriented, or is simply off strategy; it can be frustrating for some, especially after a day of qualitative.

Debriefs Done Right

The power of a great debrief is "bringing order to chaos," having all on the same page, management receiving one message, and the project moving forward with everyone knowing exactly what to do, when and why.

Getting it done efficiently is the art, and there are 4 steps to a masterpiece debrief.

1)  A great debrief starts with the setting of specific objectives at the beginning of a project.

2)  Reviewing objectives the day of groups (yes, again) with all key players so there is focus.

3)  At the end of groups, using a disciplined approach that:

  • Reprises objectives so all know specific questions to be discussed (which helps limit meandering).
  • Focuses initially on articulating critical learnings by target.
  • Leverages these learnings against specific objectives.

4)  Gaining agreement to next steps, who is responsible and timing (Client-led).

Powerful Debriefs In Practice

By example, if your project is to identify optimal package graphics for a new or existing brand, oftentimes project teams like to review pros and cons of each execution and then agree to which is optimal.  If we follow the guidelines above, the debrief should:

  • First, articulate key target learnings based on reactions to all stimuli, creating a paradigm that identifies design needs to communicate benefits that are relevant, differentiated, and motivating to consumers.
  • Review individual designs against the agreed to paradigm.  It is amazing how fast this part goes once you know what to evaluate from a strategic perspective!  And, importantly, everyone will know why a design does/does not work based on key consumer learnings versus reacting to design elements.
  • Decide which designs, if any, are worthy of further development based on their ability to communicate critical, relevant benefits.
  • Determine changes necessary so a preferred direction delivers the agreed-to paradigm.
  • Identify specific next steps, who is responsible, and when it should be completed.

This approach focuses the team, keeps the discussion at a strategy level first and an execution level second.  Also, it has proven to be highly efficient and effective by limiting a lot of the back/forth commentary while focusing the team on what is really important.  This approach works for all research projects from advertising evaluation to concept testing to positioning and more.

Herding Cats…The Art and Power of a Well Run Debrief ...it's just a matter of Insights in Marketing.

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2 Comments

July 16, 2012 12:50 PM
Very informative - I really like it!
Posted by Harriet Levy
January 10, 2013 8:01 AM
very helpful, extraordinarily important, and often handled casually by industry. thank you, ms
Posted by mn saporta
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