“…and then the consultants leave.”
This is a phrase Lane Becker said to me in 2005 when my project with Adaptive Path was winding down. It was at the completion of a 3 month project in which Adaptive Path helped Princess Cruises start to build an online booking engine.
I didn’t think much of it at the time. The result of this engagement was to set off a year’s worth of work for my team and me. I was starting to think about how we could make something of all this good research and ideas from these consultants.
Once they left, I found myself facing many of the typical in-house issues. The consultants had the credibility, even though they were saying the same things my team was. The consultants could challenge the status quo thinking and engage in meaningful dialog, whereas my team was told “that’s just the way things are”. So, despite alignment within our organization on what had to be done next, we faced serious opposition when it came to getting things done.
Now I find myself on the other side of this coin in my work with the Zappos.com User Experience team. I get to work with bright, talented people who know what they are doing, know what needs to be done and have the desire to do some real good for their users and company. But, like any in-house team, they face obstacles along the way.
To be fair, these obstacles are not all evil. There is only so much time, budget and resources that a company can dedicate to their endeavors. This is why roadmaps and plans exist – they help navigate the compromises that companies must make.
My role on this project is to provide leadership, help redesign key experiences of the site and instill some methodologies that will become part of the team’s workflow in the future. But, it’s not enough to simply provide wireframes and walk away. As a consultant, it’s my job to set up the team for success.
There are a couple of things we can do to help ensure the work continues. After the final presentation, it’s important to grab time with your client’s boss to brief them on the project. This gives you an opportunity to talk frankly about any obstacles that you’ve identified. These issues could be personnel, technology, time, etc. Preparing this person for what his organization be up against can go a long way in smoothing out the road for the in-house team. Honesty is your friend, but avoiding any office politics that you’ve noticed along the way maintains your credibility. However, you’re not an informant, so make sure your team knows you’re doing this ahead of time.
Before the in-house team encounters these obstacles, try and work out plans B, C and even D. Even the best conceived plans meet with unexpected challenges. Discuss how the roadmaps could degrade gracefully when met with problems. If time becomes an issue, how can the team decide what features of Phase 1 make the cut. Or, if Development pushes back, what alternative interactions can be designed to achieve a similar effect? Compromise is a virtue, but it’s most effective when you enter it with both eyes open.
As a consultant, you’re their sword and shield. In-house teams are filled with fantastic and talented people, but you are in a unique position. Don’t do them a disservice by not setting up an environment where success can happen.