Monday, 2 July 2012
Want a successful Information Architecture? Ignore your consultant's advice!
As part of the Information Strategy toolkit within our Information Management consulting practice, we have built up a range of governance, architecture and process frameworks that facilitate rapid client engagement, enable repeatable solutions and maximize the opportunity to get "sticky" with clients (not as unpleasant as it sounds). As well as as being useful tools "in the field" for paid consulting work, I also use these templates as base content when preparing to present at conference sessions, seminars and tutorials. For many situations, our clients will simply run with our template solution frameworks, perhaps with some minor adaptions of the model approach. Assess, configure, adopt. It's a genuine "win/win" - great for the client (simplifies the solution approach, reduces risk, enhances time-to-value) and great for our consulting business (market differentiation, genuine re-usability, and enables us to charge a justifiable premium on standard resource-augmentation day-rates).
A recent engagement with a major Australian Bank required my team to deliver some methodology templates for governing the bank's Information Architecture process. The engagement delivery process started off with a fairly standard discovery phase, where we did a quick-scan of the client's circumstances, using our Information Governance Frameworks as the baseline for the assessment. However, soon after we started tailoring the templates from our "magpie's nest" of shiny re-usable collateral, the client effectively ignored all of the pre-defined content that we'd tabled with them and started writing their own content instead. Pretty quickly, the outputs of the engagement were unrecognisable in comparison with the model content that we'd brought to the party. Indeed, it got to the point where our contribution to creating the final project deliverables was almost peripheral. Yet the client was still delighted to pay our consulting fees in full (to the point where they paid us the full T&M budget, even though we'd not consumed all the days allocated to the project). How could that be?
Where we got to was that the client got lots of value from the analysis process, stimulated by our template materials. By examining our best-practice frameworks, the client's Information Architecture team were able to assess their requirements in a way that they had not been able to do before. Picking apart our templates and models acted as an excellent stimulus to have the internal debate and achieve a consensus that had been missing. So, even though thto framework material didn't meet their needs, it served its purpose in the context of delivering value to the architectural aspects of Information Governance approach. Having started out with the expectation that the client wanted my team to just "provide answers to their problems", we ended up in a position where they discovered what they really needed was someone to come in and prompt them to ask the right (or at least, different) questions.
Go to market, hire some expensive experts to give you their best advice, and then ignore it. Perfect!
Overall an interesting exercise, and one which has also helped me re-evaluate my personal perceptions of what it means to be called upon as a "Subject Matter Expert". Hopefully, I'll be a better consultant as a result....
(Footnote: as a by-product, my team also got the benefit of stress-testing our template frameworks and we gained some valuable insight which is helping us to further iterate and enhance our Information Governance approach. A happy client and a happy consulting team. Win/Win).