Before joining Columbia Road, I had worked only as an in house designer. Now, three years later, I thought it might be a good idea to reflect on the things I’ve learnt working as a consultant. If you are an in-house designer, or a developer, and have been wondering how green the grass is in the consultancy world, I think this blog post is definitely worth reading!
Being a good consultant is not only about the design craft
By craft I mean the work designers are usually associated with – visuals, interfaces and prototypes. Knowing your way around hands-on design is definitely a must-have skill – but solely, it’s not enough.
Being a good consultant is about helping your client succeed. Very rarely, the success of a client is determined by, for example, the finesse of a prototype. As, perhaps one of the most quoted people in the field of design, Steve Jobs has said “ideas are worth nothing unless executed”. The true value of a beautiful and smooth prototype is reclaimed only when (and if) it gets implemented, pushed live in front of the users. And if there’s a roadblock on why your prototype implementation is pending, it’s your job to push it forward and to make sure the result is what was envisioned. Until that, it is an idea in a visual form.
The challenges client organisations face are rarely something that hands-on design, or development, can fix on its own. Usually, the problems are bigger, deeper and a lot more complex.
In some ways, consulting is customer service
A consultant has to be able to jump outside of their comfort zone whenever help is needed somewhere else. Sometimes it can mean that a consultant whose forte is development, needs to take the role of a project manager, or that a consultant whose expertise is design, needs to help with copywriting. For a consultant, it should feel like a “want”, not a “need”.
Consulting is customer service, and just like in any other customer service job, the most important thing is serving customers. You succeed if your customer – or typically in our case – stakeholder succeeds.
There is one critical difference between traditional customer service work and consultancy work. It is the “customer is always right” mantra. In addition to the hands-on help, clients usually hire consultants to challenge their thinking and ways of working.
Challenging someone’s (especially if that someone pays your paycheck) view is always a walk on thin ice, but done in a respectful manner with good arguments that are, in the best case, backed by quantitative and qualitative data, the conversations are often the most fruitful ones. Having said that, no one likes an arrogant consultant who comes and tells how things should go. Usually, there are technical restrictions, budget limits or politics that prevent things from going as smoothly as they could go in the mind of a consultant.
This classic scene from The Simpsons pretty much sums up what a good consultant is not.
There are no one-size-fits-all solutions
Before joining a consultancy, I remember always downloading various agency materials such as “design sprint in practice” ebooks and design canvases, thinking that agencies have a one-size-fits-all silver bullet process figured out that magically solves any organisation's problems.
Well... let’s just say I was a bit naive.
All clients are unique and face different kinds of challenges, from organisational structure to personal problems and from ICT systems to GDPR regulations. Because the challenges vary, there is no one-size-fits-all silver bullet process and consultants need to be prepared for identifying, validating and solving problems of endless varieties on the go. In many cases, we help clients in situations where they are facing huge changes, and working in that kind of an environment requires a mind that can tolerate, or even embrace chaos. It might even be that as a consultant, you were actually hired to help with overcoming the chaos.
Is consulting for you?
Before considering becoming a consultant, you should ask yourself this question: do I take greater pleasure in my client’s success, or the freedom to work with the things I enjoy?
As long as you are honest with yourself, it doesn’t matter which one you gravitate towards – both are correct.
If you're curious to see what it's like to be a consultant at Columbia Road specifically, be sure to take a peek at our Culture Code book. Columbia Road is constantly hiring nice and skilful designers, developers, martech professionals and sales people, so if consulting is for you, apply and join the gang 👇