2018 was a year of growing pains for me and for the industry I am in. I drafted 10 lessons that I learned the hard way, which I would like to share in case someone find themselves in a similar situation as mine.
Before I start, some context. I changed roles in 2016 when I decided to take my ethnographic practice further to design new services. While this move has been organic, given that research is a constant throughout the design process and user-centric by nature, I am still grasping the complexities of business transformation.
When consulting, the consultant generally immerses in the world of the client, their customers and business' needs. This is a thorough exercise, part of the consulting trade. Something that is not always taught, however, is that the job starts with the consultant immersing themselves first in their own line of business. In the case of service design and digital transformation consultants, this is particularly relevant as they are both, observers and actors, in the transformation process.
While a consultant offers to help the clients with new perspectives and knowledge, the same consulting industry they belong to is transforming at a pace that organisations and people don't seem to catch up to fast enough. The pressure of technological change and new ways of working is a constant, which doesn't translate in immediately visible mindsets and behaviours. The reality is that organisational culture and technology just simply don't evolve at the same speed. In light of this, conflict emerges because the clients look for some guidance to navigate these forces, while the consultants try their best to quickly adapt and provide advice based on their own lessons.
In an attempt to provide hope to those who aim at changing the status quo of their industries and are genuinely trying to help their clients, here are the ten things I learned to do and not to do:
Get your stakeholders on board with your approach. Whether they paid you to do the thing that you were hired to do, don’t take this for granted and try your best to engage them and lure them with the skills and possibilities that they can learn and apply.
Speak their language and be empathetic towards their business needs. If the meaning behind a blueprint is too complex find similar terms that they can relate to while transmitting the same message. Communicating things that they understand is half the battle.
Show them your progress early on, regardless of the fidelity. By sharing your work you ensure that what you are doing is not completely off the brief, or that it will take the clients by surprise at a later stage. Unfinished artefacts should also encourage participation and co-creation.
Focus on the outcome of the project and don’t fixate on the tools or methods.Generally, I am asked to produce a number of design artefacts which show the value of my work. While these are important, there should be some goals that the design should aim at achieving, more engagement with the users, decrease in costs or waiting time, etc. Make sure that regardless of your artefacts, your work helps achieve these goals. Clients often lose sight of this and it is the consultant’s job to remind them of the outcomes that they are after.
Aim at showing the clients a new mindset by sharing your knowledge and making people curious. Enthusiasm is a key characteristic of the design process as it allows collaboration and creativity. This curiosity and joyful attitude helps your team and your client in times when the end goal looks unclear and the morale is low.
Arrive with something to conversations with clients. I have learnt this the hard way because clients like seeing things. These don’t need to be high fidelity prototypes, but they can be a well drafted hypothesis, a list of assumptions or ideas from the insights. Starting from somewhere is far easier than starting from scratch.
Stand firmly by your process. If you follow a methodology that has worked for you in the past, trust this to be a foundation to help you solve a current problem.
At the same time, be flexible and adapt if the strict methodology doesn’t work every time. Use the elements that do work and adapt the rest.
Show that you have a vision, communicate this to the client and more importantly to your own leadership. Clients don’t always see things clearly from where they stand, if you do, try to communicate that there is a rationale behind your design decisions. Let them know that these are not random, creative sparks of your imagination. Know that if your arguments don't align to their vision, it will be a hard battle.
Be close with your own team and your company's leadership. The closer you are to everyone who makes your job possible the better. The myth of the creative genius is long gone and you are as successful as those around you. Leverage on different skills than yours and learn, share what you know humbly and hope that everyone finds a common north to strive for.