The Fundamental Principles Of Consulting: Part I
October 13, 2016
This is the first post in a series on the fundamental principles of consulting. Building software is a creative endeavor that has no guarantees. Rather, we at stable|kernel aim for designing an interface and user experience that is engaging and efficient. We aim for building applications that empower businesses and consumers without sacrificing the human-centered experience. We make no guarantees on points or the number of features, but we do commit to delivering value.
For our clients, that value manifests itself in user acquisition, initial and returning revenue, and an experience that helps secure investment. Typically this involves pleasing the users by providing them with an application that addresses the problem they set out to solve. To put it simply, we’re committed to hitting our client’s outcomes for success.
To Consult Is To Human
In order to deliver on our client’s outcomes for success, we embrace a set of four principles of consulting that best embody our values, culture and approach:
For Part I of this two-part piece, we will be focusing on the Adaptive and Empathetic principles of consulting.
Every client is different, as is every product and project. Therefore, in order to address the needs of each client, our approach should be adaptive based on several factors or likely areas of need:
- Roles and Responsibilities
- Project Setup and Modeling
- Understanding the Business Case
- Tools and Processes
“The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.”
~ Albert Einstein
Roles and Responsibilities
At stable|kernel, we begin by staffing your project with the appropriate amount of developers, designers and a project manager, designating a technical lead for each platform and a design lead if your project calls for more than one designer. This is the first step towards creating the specific product team needed to deliver a high-quality application that delivers on the needed business value.
We look at how other project roles might be filled on the client side. We ask ourselves: Is there a designated, experienced product owner? Is there a Dev Ops or IT Ops team that we should coordinate with? Will we be working with a marketing or brand advisor? By asking these types of questions, we can determine where our team might need to adapt to fill in those areas of need while also considering the best approach to educating our client along the way.
Project Setup and Modeling
Traditional, regimented project management and sometimes even scrum, can actually create barriers by resisting the need to adapt to unique project or client requirements, challenges, values and discoveries/validations that happen along the way. The first two weeks of every project are critical to the long-term success of a project, which is why we like to spend this time establishing and testing with clients, the tooling and process workflows that will be the backbone of the project.
Understanding the Business Case
Great consultants know that there’s a gold mine of context to be found in working closely with clients, which is why we’ll be using the project setup and kick off time period to gain as much insight and understanding of the business you want to build or support. We neither assume nor propose that we are experts in a client’s business or industry. However, our adaptivity as problem solvers makes us unique and valuable to our clients and their products. In the case of startups venturing into new or unknown territory, we love the adventure of Discovery, which focuses on understanding the business case/problem to solve, identifying risks and unknowns and uncovering user and feature assumptions to validate. We take what we learn and use that to create a living product and project roadmap.
Tools and Processes
How we work efficiently and effectively together is often determined by the framework of tools and processes we establish for each project. We’re ready and willing to recommend a suite of project tools that address common areas of need on a project, but we’re also open to considering alternatives or adopting your tools if it’s critical to a successful collaboration. What we like about the tools that we use, such as Pivotal Tracker, Slack and Active Collab, is that they’re flexible. There isn’t one set way to use them, which again adds to our ability to be adaptive to a client’s and project’s needs. Sometimes even sharing documentation can be tricky due to a client’s company privacy restrictions, so we’re prepared to consider what tools and processes meet privacy requirements without creating unnecessary bottlenecks in collaboration.
Empathy is important not only in understanding a client’s product but also in understanding the PEOPLE we’re working with and the problem we’re trying to help them solve. The 3 paths to understanding our clients and their product are as follows:
- Empathize with the client
- Empathize with the user or customer
- Uncover: what does success look like?
“What separates a good consultant from a great consultant is often not skills, but empathy.”
~ David Bland
Empathize with the client
Empathy means we take the time and forethought to consider how the client got here and we ask the following questions:
- What motivates the need for the application we’re being asked to help build?
- Does the business need to improve an existing customer experience or create an entirely new one?
- What attempts have been made to solve this problem? What worked and what didn’t?
- How are these problems making it harder for the business to succeed?
- What does this application mean to you, your team, your company?
Photo credit: TechMorich
We take the answers to these questions and think about how they should influence our empathy and relationship with the client. Our clients are our partners and delivering successfully on a project means that we not only want to help clients navigate the development and design of an application, but also that we want to empathize with each person on the client teams, with stakeholders, and with users, be they internal or external. Our clients and our ability to empathize keep us grounded in what’s important to the product.
Empathize with the user or customer
An empathetic approach means we consider not only how a user or customer should feel when the app solves their problem, but also how they were feeling before the app was there to help. During Discovery and project setup, we seek to learn more about the market the users exist in, as well as uncover who the users are and might be. We ask the following questions:
- How might using this application factor into someone’s day or week?
- What does the rest of that daily or weekly journey look like for that user?
- How do problems manifest for different users or customer personas?
- How long have these problems existed?
- How might each user persona vary in acquisition, usage patterns, retention, attrition?
- What barriers or realities does the client/business face in introducing this app to their customers or users?
As with clients, empathizing with the user is a continuous, evolving practice, and stable|kernel loves to take advantage of any opportunity to test ongoing development and design with current and potential users. This might be the single, most important factor to validating the product’s value and usability for market release.
Uncover: What does success look like?
Empathy doesn’t have to be just the warm and fuzzy stuff. It means we understand what success looks like internally. In order to determine internal success, we ask ourselves: How many different departments’ own goals depend on the delivery of the product? When it comes to stakeholders, we want to know who cares about this project and why? How are they accountable to the business objectives that the product needs to address?
Communicating and demonstrating progress to project and company stakeholders is important when bringing in a consulting team to work on a critical project. We can help provide high-level project documentation, attend status calls with stakeholders and even conduct ongoing product demos so stakeholders can see progress firsthand. Linking the context of what internal success looks like to the success of the product in market strengthens that partnership bond and ultimately leads to the creation of a successful product.