The co-op board told my friend her shower was leaking into the apartments below. She was instructed to under no circumstances use the shower until it was repaired. Faced with an undiagnosed amount of serious plumbing work, she began by going to the home improvement store to pick out some new tiles.
That was not the place to start.
Before the plumbing could be repaired, the entire structure had to be demolished. This took several days, producing hundreds of pounds of concrete and ceramic rubble that had to be carried away. Once the structure was removed, workers had to remove every bit of the old plumbing. Then they had to replace everything with new materials. This also took several days. As replacement often leads to upgrade, my friend bought new fixtures and all the little things that make them work. The workers installed all this, taking yet more days. Only after all the structural work was completed could the tiling begin. This, too, took days. With a brand-new shower, the rest of the bathroom seemed shabby, so she had the entire bathroom redone. Several weeks later, the end result looked great.
She began her shower project the very same way most people begin research projects.
Most research, especially when led by non-experts, focuses on the appearance of the end product, and not upon the crucial underpinnings that must be dealt with first in the appropriate manner and sequence.
Good research begins with answering two simple, yet critical questions:
- What do we want to know?
- How do want to be able to use the information?
Please note that good research does not begin with a fancy presentation deck where the story has already been written and awaits only some cherry-picked data to fill in the blanks. Note also that when you start at the right place – first things first – projects are likely to evolve beyond the initial oversimplified definition.