Research Pet Peeves: Surprise Objectives

Research Pet Peeves: Surprise Objectives

We believe success is defined by business growth, and business growth stems from actionable, confident insights — which brings us to why we’re here today. Last month, we introduced a series on research pet peeves – those industry problems preventing impactful insights. Naturally, we turned to research to discover what was standing in the way of success, and sure enough key trends emerged in the data. Now we are on a mission to offer our tips for avoiding these pesky burdens.

What’s Standing in the Way of Impactful Insights?

It’s no surprise that ‘surprise objectives’ came up as a research pet peeve, but we were a bit floored to see how often it came up among those we surveyed.  For researchers, not much ruffles feathers more than brand new objectives popping up in the midst of a carefully crafted study.  What’s hardest about this pet peeve is how helpless we all feel when it happens. We work hard to ask the right questions and mitigate this issue, but our ability to build strong client relationships matters just as much as our research skills. The best way for researchers and stakeholders to both avoid the disappointment of surprise objectives is to focus our efforts on building trust, openness and common ground in addition to designing great research.

How to Avoid Surprise Objectives

When expectations aren’t clear, neither is the impact of insights across the entire board. Here are some tips to steer a clear path to the ultimate business goals.

Define success at the beginning of the project – and write it down: The definition of success varies from person to person, leaving gray space for misinterpretation. Work backwards to establish expectations of a successful outcome, and set the bar to this standard.  The project goals should always tie back to the objectives, so this reiterates the purpose of the research.  Document this in writing and be sure the definition of success is clearly stated on all collateral.  If objectives change as the project evolves, update them and be sure they’re clear and present at each stage of the project.

Press for details: No question is a stupid question, especially when it comes to forming a partnership based on mutual agreement and understanding. Ask for as much detail upfront as possible. Perspective is subjective, and ensuring you are thinking on the same wavelength is vital. When stakeholders and researchers begin to assume, we run a considerable risk of misalignment when the project ends.  As curious, inquisitive researchers, our job of collecting information begins well before the first respondent engages – we must engage our stakeholders from the start by asking smart questions, clarifying any lingering assumptions and confirming that we are meeting expectations.

Check-in early and often: Throughout the project, plan check-ins at key milestones where important information is shared efficiently. This gives ample opportunity for reaction, response, and redesign if needed, or to bring to attention that initiatives aren’t aligning with expectations. When everyone  participates in a well-designed, efficiently executed process, we can all share in the successful outcome and diminish the potential of surprise objectives coming to light too late.


Time is valuable, and no one wants to miss opportunities to fuel business growth by wasting it on damage control from surprise objectives. Have any tips that have worked well for you? We’d love to talk further about how to avoid surprise objectives or simply discuss your research needs –drop us a line! We are here to help.

Stay tuned over the next couple of weeks as we share our take on more of the industry’s top research pet peeves!