This hypothetical consultancy’s primary expertise is cloud strategy foundations. This includes operating models, landing zones, cloud platforms, compliance automation, process engineering, financial operations, and data engineering. Essentially, the cloud infrastructure that facilitates the deployment and operations of applications and data rather than the applications and data itself. The latter is largely commoditised and can be a significant time-sink rather than a short, impactful problem-solving engagement.
The consultancy would provide application modernisation design services and migration planning, but only for two or three “first-mover” applications intended to provide and guide the customer in using the cloud platform. It would not provide mass migrations, managed services, or long-term support, and handover is generally avoided by having the customer engineering teams heavily involved during the engagement.
A successful consultancy’s philosophy is 'people first', emphasising delivering customer value and ensuring staff happiness. This requires competitive salaries, a healthy work-life balance, and work-from-home or hybrid.
To manage risk as a young startup, the business would adopt an incremental approach to growth, where specific phases determine salary bands, bonuses, and maximum utilisation targets. As the business grows, everyone benefits, and the specifics of this are shared transparently within the organisation.
- Top-Tier, Onshore Talent
The consultancy should hire only the best, top-tier, onshore professionals. Traditional firms balance costs by recruiting a mix of low-skilled and offshore staff, supplemented by a few high-skilled consultants who manage these teams while striving to maintain acceptable quality levels. These highly skilled consultants often spend most of their time micromanaging such teams out of necessity and in presales to make the best impression on new prospects. They spend little time executing cloud strategy or delivering engineering due to their high value and cost.
By hiring only top-tier talent, this dynamic is flipped. Each consultant is a high-performing individual, allowing for a learning-rich environment, fruitful idea exchanges, and the establishment of peer and mentoring relationships rather than managerial ones. The similar, consistently high level of competency makes it easier to delegate and trust colleagues in engagements. This environment enables the consultants to focus on problem-solving, coding, and architecting, with little involvement in presales or a need to micromanage others.
- Competitive Edge
The consultancy can compete with the incumbent large consultancies. While the day rates will be similar, high-skilled teams of 3 or 4 consultants can solve highly complex problems within 2-3 months, whereas larger consultancies often propose teams of 10 or 15 working over 6-8 months. Each consultant should be both engineer and consultant, providing that broad view combining business understanding with hands-on technical outcomes, further distinguishing and creating competitive value compared to the more theoretical consultancies.
- Accommodating high-functioning low-attention-span personalities
The consultancy should focus on solving complex problems and avoid managed services and long-term engagements extending beyond six months. This isn’t to say the consultancy can’t have long-term relationships with clients. The teams conclude one engagement having effectively solved a particular problem and will then transition to tackling another challenge, naturally and without any pressure or sticky sales tactics. Simply deliver value, and the customers will keep you engaged. This approach keeps teams fresh and rotating through different engagements and clients to provide new challenges and learning experiences.
To further support these personalities, every engagement will have a full-time assigned delivery manager who manages the project, agile activities, scheduling, budgets, travel, stakeholder management, and any admin overheads. This enables the consultants to focus on problem-solving and delivering value.
- Culture Centricity
Recognise the significance of culture in attracting and retaining top talent. Understand that competitive remuneration is necessary but not sufficient on its own. Craft a work environment that balances productivity and personal growth, offering generous annual leave, team building and lunches, opportunities for learning, a training budget, free certification exams, and a hard stance against overtime with very few exceptions. This culture fosters a work-life balance that allows intelligent team members to thrive and be at their most productive.
These aspects will create a self-sustaining cycle of attracting the best talent, which makes it easy to trust, delegate, and learn from each other. Hiring the best will make the consultancy expensive and unsuitable for long-running engagements. Engagements and people should be rotated frequently, which is generally preferred by highly skilled consultants who often get bored easily. These factors ensure a continuous cycle of learning and development across different challenges.
It’s important to have good core values and ensure that every staff member is intimately familiar with them and naturally leverages them in their daily work. Strong values are essential for building a successful and sustainable business. Hiring individuals who share and align, or are able to align, with these values is critical for maintaining a positive and productive work environment and culture and attracting top talent in any given market. During the hiring process, the consultancy must strongly emphasise identifying candidates who demonstrate an ability to commit to these values.
The following are my recommendations for strong business values that suit a consultancy.
- Integrity, in a practical business sense, means being honest and ethical in all dealings with clients, colleagues, and partners. It means following through on commitments, delivering what was promised, and managing expectations for any challenges or issues that may arise.
- Humility means acknowledging that there is always room for improvement and being open to feedback and constructive criticism. It means recognising that no one has all the answers and being willing to learn from others.
- Empathy means putting yourself in our clients' shoes and understanding their unique needs and challenges. It means listening actively and responding with compassion and understanding, not only to clients but to colleagues and partners too.
- Transparency means being open and honest about all aspects of our business, including pricing, policies, and procedures. It means providing clear and concise communication to our clients and being accountable for our actions.
Core principles are at the heart of the business — the driving force behind what the consultancy does and how it operates. Principles are derived from the values and further guide how staff should engage with clients, partners, and colleagues, as well as how each team member should grow as an individual. By upholding these principles, the consultancy can create a meaningful and lasting impact in the world.
- Manage expectations
Ensure clear communication with clients regarding project timelines, deliverables, and potential roadblocks to avoid any misunderstandings and ensure a smooth project outcome.
- Always deliver value
Strives to provide innovative and cost-effective solutions that meet clients' needs while maximising their return on investment. If anyone in the team does not feel they are delivering value, this needs attention and a realignment of assigned tasks.
- Enable informed decision-making
A consultancy’s job is not to make decisions for the client. It should be prescriptive, given enough experience in a particular area, but the primary job is to give the client the data required to make an informed decision. Remember that the long-term result of those decisions remains with the client after the consultancy completes an engagement.
- Make an impact
Aim to significantly impact clients' businesses by leveraging best practices, education, transformation and technology to improve their happiness, efficiency, productivity, and profitability. Aim to exit and hand over once things become “business as usual”. Then, move on to the next challenge, where an impact can be made.
- Solve problems
The consultancy is experienced in identifying and solving complex cloud-related challenges, enabling clients to focus on their core business and achieve their goals. The consultancy should not work on commoditised, simple, or BAU tasks, though guidance can be provided to subcontractors working on those tasks. Remember that sometimes, a bandaid is needed before the proper solution can solve the problem.
- Build lasting relationships
Prioritise building long-term customer partnerships based on mutual trust, respect, and a shared commitment to success. Every site and stream lead on an engagement aims to become their stakeholders' trusted advisor.
- Be honest and transparent
Aim to be honest and direct with feedback. While it’s important to be diplomatic, one should not sugarcoat or hide uncomfortable truths. Whether problems the consultancy takes accountability for or when helping organisations align their views to the reality of their cloud competencies, communicate clearly and truthfully on the identified issues and work towards solving them.
- Work-life balance
Consultants are most productive when well-rested and enjoying a healthy personal life. This means staff must not exceed 40 hours a week unless there are highly exceptional circumstances for which they are compensated and provided time in lieu. This also means that full-time assignment to a client site means slightly less than 40 hours a week to ensure they have time for some admin overheads and internal responsibilities.
Make tiger teams the standard mode of engagement
Tiger teams are agile, cross-functional project teams that combine skilled consultants with the customer’s staff. In some cases, there may also be members from partners, such as managed service providers or the cloud service provider. These high-performing teams are formed to tackle complex business challenges and deliver innovative solutions swiftly and efficiently.
The concept of tiger teams originated in NASA's Apollo missions, where an elite team of engineers was assembled to troubleshoot specific, mission-critical issues. Drawing from this inspiration, tiger teams bring together experts from various disciplines to focus on each customer’s unique challenges.
The benefits of tiger teams are manifold. Firstly, they combine diverse skill sets, experiences, and perspectives to provide comprehensive problem-solving capabilities. By blending consultants' expertise with the customer’s intimate knowledge of their business and teams, tiger teams can devise and implement solutions that are both innovative and perfectly suited to the business context.
Secondly, tiger teams help to minimise ineffectual handovers, a common issue in traditional consulting arrangements. In a typical handover, often rushed at the end of the engagement, there is a risk of knowledge and context loss, leading to delays and misunderstandings. However, in a tiger team setup, the customer is directly involved in the project from the start. They participate in decision-making, problem-solving, and implementation processes, and there is shared accountability for the tasks, priorities and deliverables. This involvement ensures that crucial knowledge and expertise stay within the organisation after the engagement concludes.
Furthermore, tiger teams facilitate on-the-job learning and mentoring. The consultants do not work in isolation; they work closely with the customer staff, sharing their skills, methodologies, and industry insights. This collaborative approach fosters a rich learning environment where the staff learn and grow professionally. They gain new skills and knowledge, which they can apply to future challenges, further enhancing the business's capability and resilience.
In essence, tiger teams offer a dynamic and collaborative approach to problem-solving. They leverage the strengths of both the consultants and client staff to deliver superior outcomes while ensuring knowledge transfer and fostering continuous learning within the organisation. This model is an investment in solving immediate business challenges and developing the organisation's long-term capabilities and competitiveness.