Redundant, by design

I’ve been willingly doing myself out of a job, and it feels great.

Since 2013 I’ve been on the design integration coaching team for Better By Design, and you’ll see on this page why I’m humbled by the company I keep.

So, who are Better by Design? in their own words, they:

Inspire and enable New Zealand businesses to success by design. Our mission is to assist companies increase their international competitiveness through the process of design integration.

Each ‘design integration coach’ has a specialism. Mine is customer insights and user centred design, a core part of my design research consulting practice.

So how does this mean I’m doing myself out of a job? the answer is right there in the word coaching.

The programme exists to build design capability within the staff companies already have, rather than make them reliant on external consultants.

Design often begins with design research, so this is where I step in as a coach – taking people away from their desks to learn new skills while gaining valuable insights for their business.

This is a new way of working for me, and has me thinking about what I do from a fresh perspective.

I’ve been consulting for 12 years – starting with being what I now see as a ‘hit and run’ gun for hire, then moving towards a more collaborative approach, involving clients where possible to help them benefit from the process.

…but coaching is about more than collaboration and as the crude graph above shows, it feels like a step up in value to client and satisfaction to me along the way.

I’ve been taking teams with no experience of design research out into the field to run ethnographic studies with their end users, dropping them in the deep end, and the driver’s seat as much as possible. If it’s scary for me, it must be even more so for them but the fully immersive approach is engaging and it works. Here’s a case study from this project, (about craft brewing)

Learning design research by osmosis

My first client in this programme is now able to plan and run their own projects. Next step is for those involved so far to coach their colleagues to their newly-found skill level. Despite the feeling of being less useful to the client over time, seeing them make increasing use of the skills like this is a real buzz.

All ‘teach a man to fish’ proverbs aside, I’ve found this to be a hugely rewarding way to work, with lasting value.

If you’re a freelancer or consultant and have a client who could benefit from bringing the skills you offer in-house, take them on the journey. It’s a win-win.

7 thoughts on “Redundant, by design

  1. Shane

    Nice, Nick. Some of my clients have an appetite for this kind of learning, but some just want their problems taken away. I take it yours come to you with that appetite in place, or do you do specific things in the collaborative phase to encourage/create it?

  2. Nick Post author

    Hi Shane.
    Yes, I too have both types of client, and you are right, it helps when the appetite is already there.

    With Better by Design, the clients go through an initial phase of hands-on activities where they discover the value of various facets of design. This process usually installs the ‘appetite’, then gaining empathy for their customer works brilliantly as a first step to quenching it.

    There’s certainly a ‘process’ which can be used to ‘on-board’ clients to this type of working approach, and it can even work with the cynical ‘cold starters’. In the broadest terms – demonstrating value, then gaining trust, not only in yourself as a coach, but a greater trust in the process.

    A client’s willingness to question their own assumptions and a spark of curiosity do help, but I’m yet to come across a better way of satisfying both of these than the client coming face to face with the end user of their product / service.

  3. Zef

    I agree – way to go Nick. I also like to involve my clients in the actual process so they come away with not only deliverables, but insights to UCD techniques and hands-on experience.
    It’s actually essential so the project or service continues to serve users (as consultants we’re only involved for a short time).

    Shane – the trick is not to tell them you’re coaching them – just get them involved as much as possible anyway!

  4. Nick Post author

    I agree Zef, the goodness does rub off by osmosis when you involve the client, but coaching (under, or over the radar) means striking the right balance between education, perspiration and inspiration.

    It’s an amazing feeling when you see that a certain approach has ‘infected’ a group, and they’ve adopted it, start applying it to other problems etc.

  5. Kat

    Hi Nick.

    I completely agree with you – there is something so inherently satisfying in coaching and mentoring others! Definitely something I enjoy doing when the opportunity arises.

  6. Jane Strange

    Great Nick. I think building capability (even if you do it by stealth and they don’t even realise they are learning!) creates so much more value for customers than the traditional consulting model.

    We constantly hear that “consultants come in, don’t really understand us, give us a cookie cutter solution and then leave us with a big bill and no idea about what to do next.”

    A coaching approach empowers people to solve their problems using processes and tools you’ve taught them – but there is always scope for the coach’s input on this journey.

    I like the idea that you are more of an on field rather than a sideline coach – you are in there doing it with them as part of the team rather than just yelling from the sidelines – so it combines the best of both worlds of “taking away my problem” and “helping me solve it myself.

    We are also aiming to do ourselves out of a job at BBD by creating a thriving industry of coaches who are valued by customers – but I think the first people to feel the rub will be traditional consultants!

  7. Nick Post author

    Hi Jane… The sporting metaphor you’ve used is a good one. On-field versus from-the-sideline coaching – That really fits with what it feels like.

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