When clients and consultants tackle MBI and MDP projects together, there can often be an assumed "one right way" to get the job done. This myopic focus on the presumed solution comes both from the consultant and the client side. Oftentimes, consultants may feel pressure to conform to industry-based solution templates, while clients may have their own preconceived notions about the problem they’ve articulated as well as about the type of solution it requires. But in either case, we believe there's benefit in taking a step back and examining the context behind every articulated problem in order to find the best - not necessarily the obvious - solution.
The Client's Perspective
There's an old and admittedly worn out adage that goes "when your only tool is a hammer, every problem becomes a nail," and it's even more relevant to data consulting than to carpentry. As Khalsa and Illig describe in Let's Get Real or Let's Not Play, consultants often have the temptation to enter an engagement with a solution in mind and overlook or actually try to mold circumstances to fit that preconceived notion, even as the situation demands they start with openness, familiarizing themselves first with the environment and the problem at hand.
At BlueGranite, we recognize that every client's industry, organizational structure, people, and history will interact with functional criteria to define a unique set of needs and success criteria. A solution that's worked elsewhere may appear to fit perfectly at first glance, but in fact always need to evolve to fit the unique circumstances of each client’s environment. For this reason, we always approach a problem with the humility to see it from the client’s perspective.
Sometimes, it is the client’s expectations that can benefit from evolving – with the same humility we build a relationship of trust based on listening, from which we communicate opportunities to approach the problem from a fresh, new perspective together.
Understanding Each Client Stakeholder's Jobs-to-be-Done:
A framework we're fond of for tailoring our approach to the needs of the client's specific circumstances is Jobs-to-be-Done. It was pioneered by Tony Ulwick at Strategyn, and developed in his thought leadership as well as by Clayton M. Christensen in Harvard Business Review. Jobs-to-be-Done involves analyzing any stated problem by outlining its:
- Functional Requirements - the stated needs as expressed by the client stakeholder
- Client Considerations - the client stakeholder's motivation in getting this done
- Environmental Considerations - the motivations, pressures, and opportunities or challenges to collaboration present in the client's organization
Client and environmental considerations may not always be known or articulated up front; in some cases, they're not readily acknowledged in the client's organization. They often emerge as subtext in conversations about functional criteria, felt more at an emotional level than articulated openly. For example, in the Job-to-be-Done outlined here, the consultant and client together discover through requirements gathering that the success of the project is built as much on delivering two wins for the department's reputation in the eyes of its peers, as it is on the specific functional requirements.
You may ask, what does this matter? If the functional requirements remain the same, why do we need to emotionalize it? If labels like 'emotional (social)' strike you as overly psychological, please understand we're not recommending consulting engagements become therapy sessions! We simply believe that the most successful consulting relationships rest on a deeply held trust, and that sometimes requires being open about the elephant in the room. Moreover, in long term business relationships, projects and their functional requirements usually do not stay the same no matter how well defined. They will evolve to meet the moment as outside circumstances like the economy and organizational strategy change. But the underlying motivations - what's going to make this successful for you - rarely change significantly. They are the anchor that sees the team of consultant and client through changes in resource allocation, timelines, software vendors, or company strategy directives, and on to the next Job-to-be-Done.
Examples of Our Client-centered Consulting in Practice
We recently worked with a medical device manufacturer whose financial data estate integrated ERP data from many independently operated overseas subsidiaries. The functional requirements of our engagement included a sprawling list of technical enhancements to streamline the ETL work of the finance analytics team responsible for gathering, consolidating, and reporting on the regional data.
We learned quickly in our engagement that a key motivation for the client was competition with the finance analytics team at its sister company, which would be won by demonstrating to leadership that they were operating closer to the BI 'state-of-the-art'. At the same time, both teams were under pressure from a leadership culture that prized internally-developed solutions and viewed outside consulting expenditure with intense skepticism.
As we built our relationship of trust with the client, we were able to address their competitive motivation and pressure to minimize consulting expenditure directly and openly in our Engagement Leadership conversations. To help them demonstrate an alignment with the 'state-of-the-art' and cost-effectiveness simultaneously, we scoped 'bite-size', easily replicable pilot projects that each implemented a specific ETL enhancement with a quick release to production, rather than engaging in a long requirements gathering effort that fully re-imagined their BI environment. Showing rapid, cost-saving wins that could be reproduced for other teams in their organization bolstered their 'expert' reputation, while demonstrating a relatively quick path to value built trust with their leadership. This eventually allowed them the budget and freedom to address larger-impact projects that more fully re-imagined their ETL solution, with a longer time-to-value horizon.
Other Examples of Successful BlueGranite Consulting Projects
- Replacing a legacy reporting system with Power BI reporting environment, which broadens the opportunity for self-service data consumption while safeguarding sensitive data through robust Row Level Security
- Utilizing an Azure SQL database and either DataBricks/Azure Data Factory or Synapse pipelines to move source data to a robust business intelligence environment
Bring BlueGranite Along for the Ride!
Sometimes, it can feel like your MDP or MBI project is like a cross-country road trip. There will often be several routes to get from your starting point to the same destination. At BlueGranite, we are here to help you identify and chart the course that is most optimal to your goals. Then, join you as the trusted passenger who joins you for the ride.
Recognizing the bigger picture behind the project at hand, we help you navigate to your destination along the path that is optimal for you. In some cases we are an attentive navigator, riding shotgun to read the map and keep an eye out for unforeseen obstacles. At other times, we'll take the wheel to get you safely and efficiently from point A to point B along a path we've driven before.
Most importantly, while in many cases we might be the more experienced driver, at the end of the day it's still your car, and we never lose sight of the fact it’s your journey, and your destination.
At BlueGranite, we have experience discovering and implementing best practice Jobs-to-be-Done procedures within your organization. If you need advice and guidance on the current standing or future enhancements of your setup, let BlueGranite offer some words of wisdom, contact us today!