The THINKerry

Scoping for Success:

10 Tips for Improved ROI


By Kerry Edelstein
December 4, 2019


“If only our budget were bigger!”

“Perhaps we can squeeze more out of our budget!”


One of the most common fallacies we hear in project success is that ROI is entirely a function of budget. To be sure, budget is inextricably linked to success outcomes like quality – quality of the data, quality of the data collection platforms, and quality of the personnel staffed to a project.

But money isn’t the only road to ROI. Proper scoping is equally important to the impact of a research engagement.

So how can we properly scope for success? In this blog post, we outline 10 strategies for effective success scoping. And some of it might just surprise you…



Tip 1: Start by positioning and reinforcing research as an investment, not overhead.

Getting the most out of your budget means cultivating a culture where colleagues don’t think of research as a cost center, but as an investment in learning. That investment can lead to many outcomes – reduced overhead, avoided mistakes, sales growth, more effective marketing expenditures, and so on. You’re investing in those future efficiencies and growth opportunities, not pulling funds from them.


Tip 2: Double check that you’ve aligned a project scope to your goals.

This many sound profoundly obvious, but it’s surprisingly common to see misalignment. If your aim is to understand the psychographic differences and mindsets of TV viewers across the U.S., a “quick and dirty survey” is an inadequate scope that’s almost guaranteed to lack depth and color – and ultimately disappoint. Likewise, there’s no need for six markets of focus groups when the study objective is to surface high level considerations for a new marketing campaign. A great strategy we use at Research Narrative is to write the goals, write out a methodology, and then revisit both:

  • Is every goal covered by this methodology? If not, what needs to be added to the research?
  • Does this methodology cover things that are not in this scope of goals? If so, do we need to cut something? Or modify the methodology to better fit the goals?


Tip 3: Think Goldilocks.

Are you doing too much, and spreading your budget and effort too thin, relative to the objectives at hand? Are you doing too little, and shortchanging the opportunity? It’s important to find the right balance of not too much, and not too little. Not unnecessarily complex, but not too simple either.



Tip 4: Likewise, know when to say, “No.”

When you’ve done the legwork to engage a variety of stakeholders in research, a wide range of ideas can arise. Enter scope creep. It can be tempting to “add this” and “add that” when scoping a study. Sometimes those additions are meaningful, if not mission critical. But sometimes they’re just out of focus. It’s hard to have ROI when you’re spread too thin and can’t do everything well, so give yourself permission to give something a “no” or a “next time” when the scope creeps beyond what’s manageable. That means….


Tip 5: Choose your battles wisely.

We hate to say it, but not every research study is necessary or a top priority. Scoping doesn’t just take place at the project level, it takes place at the “research roadmap” level. And sometimes the best thing you can do to get ROI out of one study, is avoid taking on too many studies. Which brings us to…


Tip 6: Don’t take on research you’re not ready for.

We know – that big brand positioning or segmentation study is super interesting and really sexy. It’s FUN to work on those big, juicy projects. But is your team prepared to use it? Do you have the bandwidth and resources to implement and execute on what you learn? Does your organization have the infrastructure in place to activate the insights? It’s critical to lay the groundwork for success before making that investment in the research. And that, in turn, leads to our next tip:


Tip 7: Recognize when you’re facing diminishing returns.

We all go into research with the best of intentions. But sometimes that tracking study reaches a point when it’s no longer telling us anything new and can be scoped back, or even eliminated. Sometimes that syndicated research tool isn’t being used often enough to merit the cost. It’s common that an investment made one year, isn’t as effective in the next year. It’s okay to stop spending money on things that are no longer adding the level of value they once did, so that you can make room for emerging research investments that will bring new value.



Tip 8: Scope across an entire budget, not just within a project.

How often have you heard, “Well, we have X amount leftover, so let’s just do what we can with that?” Money’s often a finite resource – and sometimes we’re just doing our best to make do with what’s available. But that can lead to improper amounts (both too much, and too little!) being allocated to a project based on “what’s leftover.” Spending a fraction of what’s necessary can lead to wasted money altogether, and spending too much can give the impression of subpar ROI. Instead, we find it more helpful to think about our priorities for a quarter, or even a fiscal year, and scope out what’s necessary at the outset. Sure, money might still be left at the end when priorities evolve – but important research priorities won’t be shortchanged, or be at the mercy of unreliable budget leftovers.


Tip 9: Prepare for “lift off.”

Conducting research doesn’t just mean “doing a research study.” That’s sort of like building the most beautiful plane and then forgetting to invest in fuel and a pilot – you’ll get stuck on the runway. Getting return on that investment requires thinking about what it will take to get the insights into “lift off”: getting the knowledge activated and woven into an execution plan. Consider what this will take. Who are the stakeholders, and how have you cultivated their buy-in? What other financial resources will be required to “market the research?” What team members and skill sets need to be in place for the project to take flight? How rigorous does this engagement need to be for everyone to buy into the insights, and have you budgeted for that degree of rigor?


Tip 10: Decide if it’s more appropriate to build or buy.

There’s been a DIY movement over the past decade to move research in-house. And that can require not just technological platform investments, but significant staffing costs. Scoping requires thinking about what makes sense to bring in-house and what would be more efficiently completed by outsourcing with a partner. If you’ve scaled a team to the point of doing surveys multiple times a month or focus groups every week, then it’s probably time to invest in that panel and/or in-house facility and a veteran researcher to manage that workflow. But if something requires a significant personnel investment that can’t be amortized – or if the work would benefit from an impartial, third-party viewpoint or the subject matter expertise of a partner – it’s often better to “buy” than “build.”


Interested in a more nuanced breakdown of effective scoping? Click here to check out our podcast – Getting the Most Out of Your Research Budget: Scoping for Success.

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