Silver Works Ltd – Approach to consulting

Silver Works Ltd – Approach to consulting

If you use Silver Works to look at your technology delivery process, what will you be getting?

Most consultants’ approaches are superficially the same: ask people questions, note the answers, propose solutions based on experience and answers, and implement the solutions. The critical differentiator, then, concerns the consultants’ experience and prejudices. We all arrive with our own toolbox and our own techniques to apply our tools. If you want to know about experience then take a look at some examples in leadership, delivery and hands-on. If you want to know about the approach, tools, and techniques, read on…

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1. One-to-one conversations

Workshops with staff are effective to draw out common themes around problems and strengths. But one-to-one conversations are most useful to dig deeper, and find out about problems which people may not feel comfortable airing in public. Typically we use paper notebooks, not laptops or other technology, to record these, because that makes it more human.

There are some important techniques at play here. One is to always ask “why”. This makes people’s end goals clearer, and so opens more possibilities for alternate solutions. It also allows us to question if pre-defined solutions are achieving what’s needed. Another is to ask about behaviours. In the end, what matters is what changes in the physical world around us. Having people express their ideas in terms of what they see, or what they would like to see, helps clarify problems and define solutions. This also helps with another aspects of the assignment: confirming that the problem initially stated is recognised by other stakeholders.

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2. Identify common problems and solutions

Once all the conversations are completed, common themes need to be pulled out, and solutions proposed. If you ask ten consultants for solutions to the same problem you’ll get more than ten answers. So to give you a steer on what you’re likely to get from us, here our prejudices — because we’ve implemented them to successfully solve problems before:

  • Sustainable development. We all want to keep talented staff, deliver to our clients’ expectations, and meet our own predicted deadlines. So any solution must be sustainable, something the organistion and individuals can continue for the long term, without risking burn-out or firefighting.
  • Focus on value. Brilliantly engineered technology which produces no tangible benefit is less useful than acceptable technology which does. Technology is great. But it has to be about something.
  • Consistent delivery. To make projects successful the delivery has to be consistent. This ensures it’s predictable. Projects that are broken into phases of different kinds of work cannot be predicted well because the work and the problems are entirely different at each phase. Predictability becomes possible if the work is divided into many small pieces, each of which is delivered and adds value individually.
  • Bringing people together. Communication is easier, messages are clearer, decisions are smarter, delays are reduced, and relationships are stronger if technologists and non-technologists work closer together. In practice this means more face-to-face conversations, and judicious use of documentation.
  • Quality is key. If you need people working sustainably and consistently delivering value, then you need them delivering high quality work continually. Without this they will periodically have to backtrack and fix major problems, which means the delivery has stopped (no longer sustained) and your people are no longer positively delivering value.
  • Avoid premature technologification. Until a process is proven and stable it’s better to implement it with the minimum of technology. Then it can be adapted and adjusted. And only then should it be cast into tech.
  • One size fits no-one. Off-the-shelf methodologies invariably don’t work for anyone. To be fair, the most mature pre-boxed methodologies will always say they represent tools to be used selectively. We will always find a solution that we think works in the situation at hand.

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There are all kinds of practices which support the above ideas. It’s critical we bring in the ones that are right for that group of people at that time.

3. Present the proposal

The proposed changes — and the messages about what are good and should remain — are presented to stakeholders in order of strongest veto. At a minimum this allows changes in language to avoid any potential misinterpretation. Typically we won’t advocate a single named approach, but rather a small selection of specific working practices.

One important factor in the presentation is to show where different practices support each other. Thus the people hearing this know that by doing all these things together, they become collectively easier.

4. Implement the changes

Where Silver Works is asked to implement the changes we do that, too. See elsewhere for experience here. After all, what matters is what’s delivered. In these scenarios the focus is on helping people understand the reasons for new practices so that they can perform them intelligently, with minimal guidance, and make them their own.

One way we measure success is being able to walk away from the assignment. That is a sign the people in the organisation have really taken on ownership of the practices, and can evolve them intelligently in the months and years to come.

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