The first phase of work consists of sourcing all the relevant data and rendering it into usable form. This is a bigger task than it might seem. Sales and customer record data are often in different formats covering different time periods and these need to be rendered into a common form for analysis. Doing this usually requires computer programs to be written and the results put into a new database. Different parts of the organisation may have relevant data that only they know about and these have to be located. Quite often, important data lies buried in questionnaires and has been overlooked. And then there are often tens and sometimes hundreds of reports to be considered. Finally, there is also data that may need to be sourced from trade bodies or government departments.
The second phase is analysing the data and reports, interrogating and clarifying them, often including discussion with relevant personnel on issues which are not clear. A core part of this work often involves analysis of the longer-term sales database that has been created, as well as designing new analyses for panel and survey research. Sometimes re-coding of survey questions is required to illuminate an issue. And in this stage we are quite often involved in creating new measures and new types of analysis in order to pinpoint what is actually happening with customers.
The third phase is the development of a full narrative, a complete account which draws all the facts together. The starting point for this is the development of initial hypotheses that arise from all the available evidence. These hypotheses are subjected to rigorous interrogation to prove their validity. Not infrequently this interrogation requires the hypotheses to be modified and sometimes radically rethought. It also can reveal gaps in the evidence that must be filled. Both of which lead to more testing until we can finally prove that the revised hypotheses are definitely correct. From this comes the answer to the original question posed to us by management in which they can have confidence because of the weight of evidence supporting it.
In rough terms each of the three stages above take the same amount of time. The whole process normally takes three months.