I’ve spent a good majority of my career both as a consultant to a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and types of businesses. From startups looking to get off the ground. To larger headcount industry leaders who are seeing specific struggles with certain aspects of their execution and looking for a specialist to help resolve it. And I’m about to share some of the best ways I’ve seen success both on a client level as well as a consultant working to meet the expectations of the leaders who hired me.
Traditionally, consultants came to be when you had a particular problem and needed an expert. With technology and how we’re moving our new organizational structures, consultants can provide more than an expert opinion. In fact, they can provide something of an eye-opening moment for the leadership of the business, if they use that advantage. We’ll get into that in a moment.
When you start to look for a consultant you may be wanting someone who has had prime industry experience in your category. That’s often a mistake. Because on the product design side in particular, what you are really looking for is someone who has been in a wide variety of categories so that they can give you the best possible data on what your options might be. For instance, we’re all still human, we all have similar behaviors and thus there are certain ways we interact with machines that contain patterns. Lets really give a prime example of this, it doesn’t matter if I’m in mechanics or if I’m in beauty, we all read email, right? See, there are certain common threads between us that a product designer, in particular, can use to their advantage.
Consultants get to learn a few things that you won’t, as a leader. They get to learn how multiple companies operate, at a management level. And they get to learn what trade secrets one company has versus the other. Very quickly, because they are interacting with many types of businesses, they develop a playbook of the best techniques. I would use this to your advantage both on a visual design, aesthetic and user experience level. And then on a strategic level as well.
How can you use this to your advantage on a strategic level? Well first off, you can ask the product designers opinion. It doesn’t have to be on something complex like your financial forecasts. It can be something relatively close to home. For instance, what they think of a particular solution that your product team came up with. If you are in the consumer space this makes it even easier. Because they can relate to it more closely. I call this the “fresh eyes” approach. When you can use something for their point of view and have that R&D style user interview directly with the person about to produce for the output of the company.
Having fresh eyes isn’t the only thing they can provide. Because let's be honest, all employee’s start to see the same thing over and over on a daily basis and begin to get slightly stale with the strategy. But they can be nimble and work cross-functionally. Yes, there’s a time a place for seasoned veterans who know a particular role and responsibility really well. But when you are seeing these lagging components to your operations workflow, a consultant can help to bridge and connect them. They can be less defined, and thus play a much needed educational role. Both helping to improve the work of others by providing a new perspective on their active projects and mentioning strategies and techniques they witnessed elsewhere.
Having said all of this, there’s still the output part of it. The actual product and visual design nature to the work. I like to start with the ephemerals you can garnish from engaging with a product design consultant because they work so well. The output for this style of role can also be very rapid. For instance, if you are a larger company, sometimes you need to be working faster than you currently are. And that can throw things for a loop. You can’t alter the way your company is managed just to meet the expectations of a single need that’s short term. It simply won’t work. You’ll end up creating too much volatility and that’s not great. This is yet another place a consultant might fit well. They are strategically moving the needle of a short-term need. Thus playing a role in the long-term need of the company without wreaking havoc on employee chemistry or work in progress.
You can choose to use this person in a variety of ways, to benefit your long-term vision. I hope I mentioned a few ways you haven’t thought of.