Having spent most of my early career in consulting and now being at a software company I’m realizing there were a lot of principles I picked up that I now readily apply in my daily happenings. As I find myself interacting with most of my colleagues, many of whom have only been in software companies, these principles are as evident.
1. Listen to the problems not the solutions
Often times in early interacting with a customer people will ask what do you need. As a consultant I would never ask what they needed, if they knew this I wouldn’t be there. Instead, I ask about their problems. It’s then my job to take what they tell me about their problems, their environment, and then steer them in the direction of an appropriate solution. While very basic this is the key to consulting, asking the right questions to steer your customer so you can provide value.
2. Take ownership of the process
If you develop on a project and follow exactly what the customer tells you, spending the time they tell you on each feature, but in the end have no single full functioning piece the customer is likely to hold you at fault. Even if they do not, they’re not going to exactly be happy and have a successful project. Once you’ve listened to their problems and gotten an idea on the solutions there has to be careful management of this process. A customer is going to be wanting every potential feature to be delivered, it’s up to you to ensure each early stage feature is delivered with quality and value. It’s better to deliver 80% of the features at 100% completion, than 100% of the features at 80% completion. Again, a simple concept, but a tight rope to walk when the customer wants you to simply follow as they say.
3. Don’t talk about the solution, talk about the value
Perhaps this is only because where I’m currently at is very engineering centric, but I hear so many times the discussion about the particular implementation. In consulting finding value in something was extremely simple, in fact I believe I learned it in one of my very first business courses. If it doesn’t make something better, faster, or cheaper, you’re not going to be successful with it. It’s your job to determine how you take the implementation and arrive at the value, but when the customer is getting down to the details of implementation there’s a good chance you’re not making best use of their time. It’s absolutely true at a point you’ll want to discuss all of the implementation details, but don’t do that until you’re absolutely required to, your first job is to sell them on the value.
While all of these are very basic principles, actually enforcing them is something that comes very gradually over time. Every interaction with the customer is going to be very unnatural to what you’re already doing. However, you’ll find yourself in more control of the full process, and having more satisfied customers when you follow these steps.