Definitions of a consultant traditionally focus on providing one-way advice based on their expertise. However, the term consultant can develop into a negative association among some people. They see consultants as people who just highlight problems, or more specifically what the individual/team/business have done wrong without providing credible solutions to solve them.
So, how does a consultant move beyond this traditional negative association? And how does this benefit the client? The answer, they become a Design-Led Consultant.
A Design-Led Consultant can be defined as an individual/business whose sole focus is to design and deliver the best solution for their client, without 3rd party connections or representation influencing design choices.
In order to be a Design-Led consultant an individual/business must possess the below traits and be able to demonstrate this:
Solutions Not Problems
Firstly, a Design-Led Consultant must not only identify problems but go further and design full solutions to resolve them. These solutions must be based on their expertise, superior specialist skillsets and insights gathered from their assessment of the problems encountered. If a ‘consultant’ fails to do this they cannot claim to be a Design-Led Consultant, and will no doubt fall into that traditional negative association of consultants in the eyes of some clients.
A Design-Led Consultant is, in essence, the embodiment of the continuous improvement cycle – Identify, Plan, Execute and Review. Problem identification, in reality, is not even the minimum that must be delivered. The minimum that must be delivered is a solution(s) to improve the current baseline, however, the minimum is what the majority of traditional consultants can only deliver. To achieve the maximum value to a client, points 2, 3 and 4 below must be adopted when developing the solution(s). Only through being Design-Led can maximum value to the client be delivered.
Impartial and Independent
A true Design-Led Consultant must be independent and remain un-connected with manufacturers, supply products or sell additional services. Impartiality is essential, in both the assessment and the solutions put forward to improve a situation. ‘Consultants’ who receive any inducement, benefit or incentives from 3rd parties cannot be considered credible – they are not acting in the best interests of the client. An unbiased perspective with unbiased feedback is the overarching reason why a consultant is brought into a project to begin with. Those ‘consultants’ who accept 3rd party incentives are Self-Led acting in the best interest of themselves, not their client. Even the receipt of a small financial incentive will fundamentally defeat the purpose of bringing an impartial independent adviser on-board.
A Design-Led Consultant must be honest; this links heavily to impartiality but takes the notion a step further. Design-Led Consultants are willing to give the harsh truths, regardless of the ramifications to them, to achieve the best solution for their client. A supplier choice must be based on delivering best value for the client and nothing more. This is the case even if a supplier has previously delivered on multiple projects and there has been no financial gain/incentives from using them. If that supplier’s offering doesn’t quite fit the client’s exact needs, a Design-Led Consultant must be honest and choose the supplier that fits best.
Finally, the reason a specialist/expert was brought in – the achievement of a goal not previously possible with the original stakeholders involved. This could be the resolution of a problem(s) or even better, the prevention of a problem(s) arising. In the end, a Design-Led Consultant needs to be judged on the results they achieve for that specific project. As it states in the name, they must ensure the solution they design and implement meets the needs of their client – their sole focus. However, if the client’s expectations have been met, using this as the minimum benchmark, you could be led to believe that the consultant is Design-Led. Specialist knowledge puts a consultant in a powerful position. A client doesn’t know everything; with such a knowledge gap how can a client be sure they have the best solution possible and not one that just about meets their needs? A client doesn’t have the background to evaluate it and make an informed decision, meaning they are relying on the honesty of the consultant.
Therefore, to be a truly Design-Led consultant, the individual/business must be able to not only prove why the solution is the best for their client, but more importantly prove that it was chosen impartially, independently and honestly. Without this proof credibility isn’t possible; a client can’t be confident they are getting the best value for their money from the solution that was delivered, which comes down to a matter of principle.
In summary, although obvious it must be emphasised that in order to move beyond the ‘traditional consultant’, only remuneration from the client should influence the decisions that form the design of the end solution. Additionally, assessing performance to show more than simple problem identification is key. Design-Led consultants should plan the implementation, oversee the successful integration of the solution and finally review the outcomes. For your next build, refit or current project, consider the above and ask yourself – do I feel confident my consultant is Design-Led? Or based on the above are they Self-Led?