Management Concepts: The Business World’s Equivalent of the Literature Survey

As I mentioned in the introductory post to this series, my goal is to look in greater depth at chemical engineering concepts and their parallels in managerial fundamentals. This time, we look at the relationship between chemical engineering’s literature survey and the business world’s equivalent: market research.

With many things we do in our lives, the first step is some sort of research. Whether buying food from the market, or selecting which shampoo to try on our hair, we often look at what’s available to make choices. There are also external factors that can influence purchases, but many of us largely rely on conducting some sort of research—even if it’s simply a casual assessment of what’s on the shelf—before making a purchase decision.

This basic process is similar to what we do in chemical engineering in a literature survey, and it’s also a mainstay in business. How? Let me show you.

Literature survey

Anyone who has written a dissertation before graduating is very familiar with a literature survey. It’s a starting point that allows a chemical engineer to gain more information in the area he or she is going to work in during the next few months. It also shows what kind of work has already been done, who has done it, and what conclusions they were able to draw. It helps a researcher to understand a certain part of his upcoming investigation and create a strong base of knowledge before going further.

As engineers and researchers, we may scan 100+ research articles, store them in our computer, spend time with them, eat with them, sleep with them, all to find out what has already been learned, and what has not yet been discovered or fully understood.

Market research

In the business world, things are both similar and different. For one thing, the general pace is often much faster, yet the basic goals of the search area similar.

As with engineers, businesspeople use a research phase to gather a lot of data, but for them, the data is generally about the market environment for their product or service. And just like a literature survey, the goal is, at least in part, to gather information about what others are doing or have already done. There is also the need to collect information about general trends in the market, such as what customers want, what they are pleased with, or what they currently dislike about available products or services. They may also want to know about other trends, such as relevant technology being developed or recently put on the market.

Like a literature survey, this phase helps identify areas the researchers need to focus on, but in the business world, the findings often help direct how they researchers can then develop or modify their product, or how they can best reach their audience with their current product. For example, if you are a businessperson operating in sector ‘X’, then your market research might be focused on identifying what your competition is doing, or what the requirements of the market are. Whereas chemical engineer might ask, what areas have other researchers not sufficiently covered?, a business researcher may ask, what weakness does a competitor have? Or where lies the value proportion opportunity for a given product? Or what kind of product is there an obvious need for? This research phase can be used for product development, product refinement, creating an initial business plan, for example.

What's next?

So, if a literature survey is similar to a key concept in the business world, it makes sense that there may be parallels in the steps that follow. And, in fact, my experience shows that this is true. In my next blog post, I will talk about another important business concept and how we engineers can easily master it, by looking at it from the perspective of chemical engineering.