What Similarities Do You See Between Action Research and Lean?

In my practice of Lean Marketing, I differ from the thought of Traditional, even Agile Marketing approaches. The more traditional methods of segmentation and appealing to the general masses narrowing people down through some sort of funnel or stages has never been what I might call my style. Even the Agile and yes Lean lingo of cycles and phases though applicable might not be in the same vein. Don’t get me wrong, my idea of marketing is very iterative but more in the sense of what I have always called knowledge building and research orientated.

The Lean Thinking cycles of CAP-Do followed by SDCA, PDCA, and EDCA create a structure to follow but even at that adherence to those as templates may be somewhat deceiving. It is the iterative nature of moving backward and forward between data collection, monitoring, evaluation and reflecting that is important. Taking no ownership of the term, Marketing Action Research is my way of cataloging my material and hopefully others in this field of study.

When combining Lean as a knowledge building exercise and research eventually led me to practice Action Research, or a further extension of it called Participatory Action Research. One of the leaders of the idea of Action Research is Richard D. Sagor who has helped form much of my initial understanding of the subject matter.

Sagor in his book, The Action Research Guidebook explains:

Action research is a small idea. It involves examining data on one’s work to help improve one’s performance. Although there isn’t consensus on a single set of processes or steps that constitute action research, as presented here, action research is a straightforward four-stage process. The four stages of the action research process are as follows:

1.. Clarifying vision and targets
2. Articulating theory
3. Implementing action and collecting data
4. Reflecting on data and planning informed action

My takeaway from these steps are from the related questions that Sagor derives from each and I paraphrase from a marketing perspective below:

1. What do you want to accomplish?
2. What approach do I believe has the greatest potential for helping us to realize our goal(s)?
3. What data/information will we need to collect if we want to understand the effectiveness of our theory of action?
4. Based on this data/information, how should we adjust our future actions?

Sagor says the steps are not as important as the idea of the practice of them or the action that takes place.

Traditional and Agile Marketing will display some of these characteristics, but it is the combination of these actions with a continuous cycle of Lean/Improvement and development through research that distinguishes Marketing Action Research.

For example, One of the key components of Lean Marketing is the idea of experimentation, forming a hypothesis and testing. However, Lean is also fundamentally a system of developing standards. Surprisingly, Action Research is not that far removed from that premise when engaging in the idea of descriptive research. Descriptive Research is a method of seeking to understand what is occurring, the current state. I think of Standards (SDCA) in Lean, as a fundamental understanding of way the work should be done. It is not prescriptive by any means, though it could be.

What similarities do you see between Action Research and Lean?

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