BY RUTH FARRAR, COO
Have you ever faced a problem that just seemed too big or complex to tackle?
Like contemplating a jumbled mound of jigsaw puzzle pieces, it can be hard to know where to start. When things are complicated, it feels overwhelming – and it goes without saying that this year has been overwhelming for a lot of us.
In business, that’s when management consultants are often brought in. When business problems span multiple departments, involve new technologies or processes, or are transformational in nature, it’s a good time to get some help.
In the case of a digital transformation especially, when an organization reinvents itself to thrive in today’s digitized universe, outside expertise is almost always required because the changes can span everything from business model and systems to structures and culture.
If you were comparing a digital transformation to a puzzle, it would be a 5000-piece picture of blue water or desert sand! Many people would dread the prospect of something so massive, complicated, and time-consuming, but management consultants—wired to be problem solvers—relish the challenge.
Problems take a lot of forms. Jigsaw puzzles are just tactile problems, physical manifestations of something that needs to be solved.
At Sendero, we love jigsaw puzzles. We have a dedicated table for them, and it has turned into a place to get to know people, shift gears, or just take a mental break.
Puzzles are also a great place to study behavior. We’ve learned there is no one right way to work one—some people work on floating portions, some separate pieces by shape or color, some place individual pieces approximately where they think they should go, and others won’t touch a piece until they know exactly where to connect it.
When working alone or when there’s no time pressure, the method of completion doesn’t really matter. Since we have a table dedicated to puzzling, individuals can work at their own pace using their own techniques. Collaboration is not required and there’s no pressure.
Business is different. Teamwork is the norm, and time pressure is inevitable. Productivity is always important. The key to being efficient is finding a way to create order out of what feels like chaos, a skill that is critical to being a successful management consultant.
After years in a consulting career, most of our frequent puzzlers can’t not do that. As they turn pieces face up, they separate out the edge pieces. Then they build the border to bring the size and shape of the puzzle into focus. Only then are they ready to start filling in the body, at which point they start grouping colors or shapes.
Most work to complete a small section each time so they can walk away satisfied. It’s a quick win that does wonders for the psyche.
Similarly, when facing a business problem, you first have to understand what you’re dealing with. You listen to different perspectives and gather and analyze data to understand the problem. Then, like building the frame, you need to start shaping up potential solutions.
Soon, you’re ready to implement. At that point, methodical approaches become very useful. Allowing each team member to devise their own approach and work at their own pace can lead to confusion; in contrast, building a holistic plan, standardizing processes, and defining roles enables collaboration and efficiency.
Business problems, like puzzles, come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Increase your value by bringing order to the chaos. Use structured approaches, consistent processes, and defined roles, and look for quick wins along the way.
Approach your work like a puzzle-master and watch your career in management consulting take off.
We miss puzzling in person with our team, but look forward to being back in the office working puzzles together again soon.Ruth Farrar, September 2020