Successfully achieving scale at a global consultancy without an acquisition
This spring, in what was just another regular monthly call, my national CEO made a quick remark that meant a lot to all 40+ of us, that we had made it, we were scaled. Now I talk about this earlier as well, but now operations at large will begin taking on all tactical responsibilities of the practice it's both a big milestone and something that I will also miss giving up. My job will now focus exclusively on staying competitive in the market with out product and design consultants' skills and methods, as well as focusing on client work work (of course!), and supporting other global regions in their experience design scaling. North America, is the first region to successfully scale in our global consultancy and I consider it a huge sign of respect for the original culture to do it without acquisitions, from the ground up, in an engineering - centric culture. This isn't to say other scaling methods, or some combination of them, are wrong, but that this journey was much more rewarding because of the hearts-and-minds approach. It enables us to truly craft holistic team to go from idea to launch, centered around strategy - design - and engineering, rather than having phases or segments like most companies, who then do not create a holistic culture around software production - bringing in a variety of people from all over to create a successful product.
Connecting with a family business
Although in many ways, "just another consulting opportunity" I was lucky enough to work with a special client. We had an inbound call, and I went with an account executive to meet a new opportunity. I hit it off with them immediately. I had the opportunity to do strategy consulting for a successful family business who was considering an investment in custom software, in order to cause a disruption in their industry, for the first time. This was important to me, because I come from a family business (well, I could have, I'm the first to do something different) and so working with this company, and this family, was a particularly special experience. I worked to drive their strategy, market positioning, and led their cross-country research program while traveling nationally with the CEO and SVP of strategy to meet their clients. In the big picture it was a "small" piece of work, but one that really stood out to me.
Part of why this last year was so important to me, was that I was gifted with the opportunity to go through our partnership application process at my consultancy. Many people make several attempts and I was lucky enough to get through the process this year. It was a humbling experience to be recognized for my practice entrepreneurship, skills and strategy leadership, and most importantly my client relationships and successes. At 29, I was one of the youngest partners ever at the firm.
Launch of a full ecology account (GB)
Spring of 2015 I continued consulting as a partner and VP for my client in London. I supported the on boarding and worked directly with the Chief Experience Office, now a close friend of mine, to focus on a drive strategic goals and take the largest VAT tax refund company in the world, completely digital while re-inventing a western customer experience and establishing the benchmark for one based on Chinese tourists. Once he hit his stride I became the right hand man as we worked together to launch an ambitious ecosystem within the client company consisting of: marketing, creative, products, ethnography, and customer service design initiatives. I worked with other in-house VP staff to support them as they developed the skills to take their own traditional methods into a digital competitive space.
On top of coaching executive leaders, running a global research program, and leading the customer strategy of several new digital products, I also created and established a new partnership model with a major credit card company. Developing the service design strategy and working with my client and the credit card partner to create the roadmap of software products and backend systems needed to make the vision come to life. I developed the concept materials, and gave executive presentations globally, to four major credit card and digital payment executive teams.
Executive Strategy Workshop Product Development
I worked closely with my friend and mentor Patti Purcell, to develop a 1 and 2 week version of an executive strategy workshop for companies seeking to compete and enter the digital space as well as address internal IT product and service issues. Together, we created a workshop that crafts a roadmap for both market disrupting innovation and operational efficiency in the B2B and B2C retail industries. We leverage Patti's subject matter expertise and my service design skills, with our combined management consulting abilities to get the job done. I have to say that these works are very intense but also exciting. We bring together executive teams to reach across an organization and use game-storming, presentations, and facilitated discussion to not only drive, but crowdsource a plan that comes from the group. Teams leave excited and able to take action. We will either exit the engagement if no longer needed, or join the team in the long term as management consultants in business strategy and customer experience.
Speaker at GoTo Con - Chicago
I worked with my colleague, Coleman Collins, to present at the solutions track at GoTo Con Chicago. Below is an interview after our talk.
Taking a business offering from start up to scale
After my project in Toronto ended, I was offered the opportunity to manage the Experience Design practice full time with the challenge of taking the last two years of experiments and making them business-as-usual North America Wide. This was a unique challenge as our start up efforts provided all of the raw materials and successful consulting and product experiences, but every time we did one it was like moving Mount Everest, internally. It was still so new, organizationally, after all that time. I recognized this moment as actually being one of the times in my career I have leaned on my design thinking education the most. It was strange to think it wouldn't be the largest product challenge, but now that I look back, on every project and engagement, I had a team of other leaders to support or offload to. I buckled down and confronted the challenge having to leverage an outside in viewpoint and really look at our practice, which I was much to close to, as someone who had never worked with it before. Below are some of the artifacts, outcomes, business and program level thinking I leveraged to succeed this year.
Tracking, Radiating, and Sharing a program level of work
This exceedingly ugly tree map represents what has essentially been my bible in scaling efforts for the last year. On here it is just an image, however, it is the product of an google spreadsheet doc that can be hovered over and interacted with to get more information. The best part is everytime there was a new initiative, need, or update, it was immediately reflected with all who shared access - in this case my executive sponsors. I began to have very different conversations with my leaders that were less about "I need X by Y" and "What is going on with Z" but we spoke as a team about the big picture, could discuss when initiatives weren't moving in the red, and could share on-going updates more often with less time, rather than milestones every quarter. My sponsors could see the program not only grow, but actually progress, and they could visit it ay any time via the shared google doc - which meant I didn't have to spend all day managing their expectations and more time establishing organizational change.
Finding the right hiring model to compromise with the industry
We had a cultural and financial challenge at our company around how designers are traditionally hired. In the current creative industry roles are highly specialized. For example: information architect, graphic designer, UX researcher, user interface designer, front end developer, etc. There are many different roles. This was a large cultural clash to ThoughtWork's founding principal around generalists. The clash happened for quite some time. Our internal teams were struggling with the notion of designers not doing "everything design" and designers would laugh at our recruiters (yes, laugh!) when we explained this. When we did get new hires, ready for a challenge, they became quickly overwhelmed, or even worse, when they were rockstars in multiple areas on their project the project inevitably needed something that individual couldn't deliver on, and guess who's reputation was hurt most? We need a solution, one that still gave the value proposition designers here wanted (no specialization but not unicorns) and to mesh with our generalist cultural already established across engineering and analysis. I call it the bucket model, really it's just a focused generalist.
Making Awareness Accessible
It was obvious from the beginning that one of the difficulties of growing influence and organizational integration would be communication. It is at any company really, however, this is further complicated by us having ~400 people constantly traveling every week doing their job. It answer was surprisingly simple after a communications survey, e-mail. A newsletter. However the key component to success is that the newsletter was expertly scheduled and structured by myself and Fiona Lee, our internal reporter and professional journalist. She helped me create a content plan with a structure that went like: National Leadership authorship once per quarter, and a co-written article by a designer and non-designer once per month, across a central theme. This helped to show the North American region that we had consistent executive support, but most importantly, that design and product skills, knowledge, and experiences were relevant to them at 9 a.m. on Monday. Below is one of my favorite Newsletters.
Our First Comprehensive Outreach Strategy
We have a great copy writing and digital marketing team in our organization. However, there was a real need for direction and strategy on top of the excellent execution already happening. I crowdsourced the many different digital properties and spaces we should be targeting from our 40+ person design practice, then curated and strategized them as a portfolio for our marketing team to execute against. Below is an excerpt page from that overall plan.
Empowering demand teams and joining sales as needed
One of the areas of scaling I was least prepared for was sales. For some reason at the time I thought this would be easy since I had a few projects under my belt related to our new value propositions. I couldn't have been more wrong. Sales team culture and members think and frame opportunities and problems very differently. I had to do much more than create decks and frameworks, but also spend lots of face to face and personal time with them...and I thought designers were emotional! I traveled North America meeting, presenting, and explaining our services and partnership opportunities with clients at the earliest stages of engagements. It turned out to be one of the best experiences I've had, and I have made some great relationships with colleagues in the process. All of this led to me empathizing and respecting how difficult sales and account management can be. Aside from leading North America's first portfolio creation (a basic for most companies so I won't list it) I gave many face to face presentations, workshops, and on boarding with sales team members. Below is an excerpt from one of those presentations.
Client - Natural Markets Food Group
A bold client taking an ambitious approach. I had the honor of working directly for the CIO at the time and running user experience for their organization as a consultant. I managed three vendors, my own software delivery team, six work streams, physical service design, consumer research, and interface design.
Artifact - E-commerce property spread
Below are the three new digital products for which I managed the full design spectrum
Artifact - Experience Map
In order to better understand the service flow of the Richtree Eaton Center location, we studied how similar market restaurants operate and the experience of their customers to discover the weak points in the experience.
Artifact - Concept
Below is a "talking concept" I collaborated with a co-worker on. Showing is always better than simply discussing and idea, but it is important that is all it remains for now. This is not a blueprint, but a communication device around a new opportunity to service customers and improve our business. This is one page of a clickable paper-prototype.
Artifact - Foot traffic design
Even when designing software systems, it's important to understand the environment they will be used in. Below is the design we also did for the traffic and station locations to support the digital experience and make sure the physical and digital flow smoothly.
Client - Educational Company, Internal Start Up
The work and design of my project during the year 2012 is largely under NDA. However, I was granted permission to write a white paper about our user-centered process leveraging students from community colleges focused in health education and tying it directly into agile development iteration sprints. Co-written with my brilliant co-worker, Paul Nelson.
Lean and Agile UX Roundtable
Located in New York and jointly presented by Pivotal labs, Ogilvy NY, and Anders Ramsey
Founding a Practice - or - When the right people just click
After my project at Novawise, I was back at ThoughtWorks HQ in Chicago and met two people that would change my career, Ted Nielsen and Dan McClure. We had a theory, based on our individual project experiences that real experimentation, driven by customers, and real-product pivots made possible by world class engineers, would identify valuable market plays for clients who did not know how to compete in technology or simply needed some direction. From here on out, all the work we did over the next three years was to build a community around this theory, which quickly became our first strategy-design-technology market offering for ThoughtWorks North America. This lead to rapid growth, even more complex value propositions and expansions on the model, and some of the most brilliant people in the industry joining TW for this type of creative technology challenge.
The initial model is simple, but requires teams at the top of their game in each area. The trick is that we avoid the "overhead" or documents and prototypes, and experiment directly in real product. Getting us to launch significantly faster than large design and strategy firms, while giving our already exception engineering practice a new space to lead.
Client - Novawise
On my first assignment for ThoughtWorks, North America, I spent five months working with two entrepreneurs in Halifax, Nova Scotia designing their first software release from concept to launch. It was a four person team with a product manager, two developers, and myself. While not only running design, I supported their product strategy, consumer insight, investor presentations, and sales team. Below is a white paper that I participated in writing based on the project. This project was about eight months long.