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Human insight's role in agile product development

Most agile development teams are made up of three roles: product owner, scrum master and team member. If you’ve worked with an agile or scrum process, you’re probably familiar with this. But there’s a fourth role that agile teams could benefit from. One that few have the foresight to include from the start: The human insight specialist.

Check out this video of Steve Jobs talking way back in 1997. Back in the day, he was saying clearly that 'You have to start with the consumer experience, then work backwards'. Just look at the success that Apple has enjoyed and their trailblazing product lines.


You might not think of the human insight specialist as an integral part of an agile development team. But there are several reasons why they fit right in.

1. Agile teams iterate based on customer feedback

In the past, products were completely built out before they launched. There was a plan for building, testing, launching, marketing and maintaining a product. That’s not how most organisations do things anymore. Instead, teams constantly improve and iterate products based on user behaviour - and who’s better suited to observe and measure behaviour than a human insight specialist? Scrum masters and product owners can look at data and run surveys, but market researchers know the ins and outs of experimental design, as well as the best data collection methods for understanding users.

2. Market researchers specialise in observation

It’s easy to find out what users say they want. It’s more difficult to find out what they actually want. That requires observing behaviour, which comes with some complicated issues.The human insight specialist is trained in research, and especially in passive observation. Those skills, developed over years of training and practice, mean they can anticipate what users want and what they truly value. That lets the development team deliver better results faster.

3. Fast results mean fast deployment

Old research methods could take weeks or months to deliver insight. Focus groups and some forms of concept testing are slow and suffer from the problems mentioned above. Modern, digitally-enabled research methods not only get better results—they also get them faster. Using tools like mobile diaries, impact-feasibility tools, and real-world promotions gets better data and takes a fraction of the time. That means the development can get down to what they do best: development. And the faster they do that, the faster you can deploy new iterations.

4. Multiple teams benefit from human insight

Agile development teams aren’t the only groups involved in the process of creating and releasing software. There are also consumer insight teams, implementation teams, marketing teams and so on, and research can help them all. Every group involved in the successful release of software needs to know what customers are thinking and doing. And market researchers can tell them. Being involved in multiple teams helps researchers get a handle on the entire process, which is an added bonus. They can take a wider perspective that helps each team consider the others that are affected. In essence, they become a link between the disparate teams involved in the process.

Want to test this approach out with your agile product teams?

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