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Not every problem is a nail, so use your hammer wisely

Consulting firms can help companies grow by bringing the right tools to each job

Not every problem is a nail, so use your hammer wisely

You’ve got a loose board on your front steps. What do you do? Grab a hammer and a few nails and haphazardly pound them into the wood. And if that’s not enough to fix the problem? Time to call a handyman to assess the situation, suggest solutions, and make the right fix. After all, they’ll know exactly what to do—they’ve done it hundreds of times.

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Consulting firms are often brought in to help companies with problems they can’t fully assess or fix with a simple tweak or twist. But even the way these solution-oriented organizations solve problems has evolved, as they now focus on delivering faster, reusable solutions with quicker, wider adoption. Consulting companies are also beginning to solve problems differently, with subscribable tech-fueled products. While building products isn’t the same as changing a sink connection, there are steps to make the process easier.

STEP 1: ELEVATE EMPLOYEES

Good ideas aren’t plucked from a hat. And they can’t be “just” ideas. They have to be relevant and actually solve a problem at scale. After all, if it doesn’t solve a problem, why bother? To get to this point, though, you need a workforce capable of swiftly responding with not only intellectual capital, but also technological know-how. Upskilling is a term that might seem overused, but it’s exactly what’s needed to empower your people with new skills and innovative ways to solve business challenges in an ever-changing world.

Make time to build these new skills in the latest technologies—AI, robotics, bot-building, and more. Once your people begin to solve problems differently, their ideas on how to solve them with, say, a piece of software they can help develop, increases exponentially.

STEP 2: BREAK DOWN BARRIERS

Every organization has its fair share of inefficient silos. But purposefully breaking them down to work across functions, divisions, and office politics leads to more creativity, more informed decisions, and faster results. Driving toward the same goals—solving a problem, developing a best practice, growing revenue in a specific program—is crucial, as is giving every person accountability and ownership.

Start simple, with better communication. Openly share processes and get rid of traditional barriers by modeling this behavior and working across functions, which builds trust among teams, departments, and individuals. In this “shared space,” information and solutions become common property, allowing more savvy employees to do even more with what they know.

STEP 3: ASSESS BEFORE YOU SPEND

Many companies jump into a new investment because they see a market need—even if they’re playing catch up. But catapulting into any process—whether it’s for a product, service offering, or other innovation—halfway through doesn’t usually work in the long term. Assess whether the investment makes sense for the company. Will it generate positive ROI/value? How fast can it go from idea to useability? Is the market and value broad enough? Does it complement existing solutions you already deploy? Is it repeatable and scalable?

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Once those questions are answered, lean on design to value (DTV), the process of reviewing which features customers need. Then, think about design to cost (DTC), which analyzes all costs while developing rigorous models to cut the fat. Implementing these approaches early on helps reduce expenses, drive growth, expand ROI, and manage risks.

STEP 4: DO IT FAST

The pace of technological change is so fast that most companies can no longer afford a two-to-three–year development cycle. Instead, aim for six months to create the “first lovable product,” explains Jeff Baker, a partner at PwC Digital, who is helping the consulting arm of the firm turn its ideas into products. Don’t compromise quality, but stick to an aggressive timeline and avoid productizing ideas if they can’t match the pace.

Next, outline the process—which shouldn’t be boring. Tap into that creative spirit and develop the best way forward. Assemble a team that will see the effort through from start to finish. Clearly define roles and responsibilities, and task employees with consistent planning and reporting. Make sure to involve product owners in every step of the process. It may sound mundane, but it’s often forgotten and helps prevent lost functionality and scope creep, while also keeping customer satisfaction at the center of your solution. Above all, avoid handoffs. Handoffs kill innovation, as a brilliant idea can be quickly watered down during business or departmental transitions. 

STEP 5: TEST AND IMPROVE

Think about it: Flip phones were the gold standard—for a while. They morphed into pocket-sized computers with 24-7 internet connectivity that now have voice-summoned digital assistants who can organize your day and order household essentials.

Imagine stopping at the flip? Once you’ve got a “first lovable” thing in production, assess how it is being used, its features, and any quick upgrades that are needed. Focus on key points that are used the most, and improve those first to help evolve a product toward greater relevance. Look at your product through the lens of a customer, and don’t shy away from making changes. Ask your workforce to chime in and test the new solution and give honest feedback. Tweak as needed and be willing to invest—and stop investing—as needed.

Keep in mind the best product ideas often blossom from the stickiest problems, so don’t be afraid to mine ideas from the ways you solved internal issues. And remember that the key to shifting gears is to consider problems holistically. Not everything is as simple as a nail needing a hammer.

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