Adventures in Business Strategy

The amazing Emma Carroll and I just finished up an engagement this week, and I’ve been reflecting on how much smoother the process had been compared to the very first project we worked on together two years ago.

Adventures in Business Strategy

So what changed?

The proposal

Old way: Internally we spent a heap of time working to scope the proposal, and then spent even more time with the client detailing at length what we would be delivering. Our presentation was “here’s what we’re going to do” not “here’s some ideas, what do you think?”.
Better way: The proposal started with four dot-points in an email, over the span of four weeks it evolved into a fleshed out, co-written, signed-off proposal, delivered via our cloud-based system, Proposify. Overall, I probably spent more time with the client prior to signing (four meetings all up), but this gave me the scope to iterate the proposal based on our chats, resulting in a pretty good alignment as to what services we were going to provide, completely aligned to what they wanted to achieve.

The kick-off

Old way: We had a six-hour vision setting workshop. I spent, literally, five days preparing kick-off material. I shudder thinking about that now. This resulted in a really detailed Keynote presentation where I spoke at the audience for 75% of the session.
Surprisingly, we got limited insights.
Better way: We spent 30 minutes pulling together a Google Slides presso prior to kick-off to serve as our agenda. We then spent the first half of the session using Trello to refer to things like the proposal, timeline and budget sheet. Following that, we went straight for the butchers’ paper and Post-It notes. They did all the talking, we simply facilitated.
It made perfect sense, because they’re the experts on their customers or business.

Reporting back

Old way: Nine days later (literally), we presented back an insight report. We didn’t properly leverage stakeholder insights, we just spoke internally and produced a presso. Again, we generated a long Keynote document that was more about showing how good we were at Keynote, rather than actually answering our Client’s questions, or producing some meaningful insights and hypotheses to test.
Better way: We took our Post-It notes back to the office and rapidly transcribed them into Google Sheets. From there we imported them into our new favourite thing in the world, RealtimeBoard.

Dear God this tool is hot. (Emma rolls eyes).

Using RealtimeBoard, we discussed, reviewed, and then categorised the inputs into meaningful (to us) groupings.

In the space of four hours we were ready to create the deck, so it was back to Google Slides where we could work simultaneously, and then we presented back to the client – on the same day.

Within six hours we’d translated our Vision Setting workshop into a pack. The pack wasn’t perfect, I managed to copy totally the wrong text onto one slide, which we only picked up in presentation. But that’s fine, it wasn’t meant to be a deliverable, just a positioning piece for our client. We then reviewed with the client, collaborated, iterated, gained agreement and then over a quick pit-stop, made final changes before sending out.

What have we learned?

While we still produced great work in the past, it was time-consuming and outputs were slower to be delivered, resulting in a lot of unbillable time for us. There have been three big changes that have had a massive impact on the way we work:

  • Better tools and templates. The shift to cloud-based presentation tools like Google Slides, and management tools such as Trello, allows us to work in parallel, from anywhere. With more pictures and less waffle we’ve created presentations that are much more succinct and engaging – in less time.
  • Test and learn. I feel we’ve become so much more confident in the way we speak to our Clients. We’ve stopped trying to show how smart we are with decks and have got better at just having a chat. Which is funny you know – Em and I love a chat. We just needed to do this better in the work sense. Over coffee, in passing, over beer – you learn so much. Don’t be afraid to put a draft in front of the Client, ask a few questions, and then iterate.
  • Assume nothing. It has taken me two years to understand how dumb I really am (yes, I’m aware many others picked up on this much earlier). Ask questions, take the time to really understand, and then ask more questions. After all, we’re not meant to have all the answers. Producing results for a client isn’t about what we know – it’s about what we learn.

As Service Designers and Consultants, our core competency is not knowing our Client’s business or their customers better than they do, it’s about creating empathy, discovering insight, and outlining opportunity. We do this by repeating the methods and processes we have got f’n good at. This is what our clients are paying for.


Photo by Joseph Chan on Unsplash.

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