Working in-house feels like watching my puppy grow up. In design speak, it’s incubating your product and building it from start to finish.
Working as a consultant, on the other hand, feels like seeing your friend’s doggo occasionally, but having very long play dates every time. Like intense bursts of engagement.
The benefits to working at a consultancy are the exposure to a variety of industries and products. Love it? Sustain the engagement. Hate it? It will be over soon. Easy.
#1 It Ain’t Freshman Year
The thing is consultants often get thrown in the deep end right away. It’s not like university orientation where they give you a welcome kit and throw you an inauguration party.
It becomes your responsibility to download the project’s background as quickly as possible. I’m often embarrassed when I ask clients questions and have them politely redirect me to the documentations. (Sorry!)
What I’ve found helpful is running alignment sessions to get everyone on the same page. Don’t assume. There were instances where if I hadn’t raised my voice, we wouldn’t have realized that no one was on the same page.
More importantly, it’s knowing where to get these information and from who. Which brings me to stakeholder mapping.
#2 Relationship Management
Stakeholder mapping is basically relationship management.
Just like user research, you want to understand the pain and delight points of internal and external stakeholders, which are my consultant peers and clients respectively. Whether it’s internal or external, you want to identify the key influencers, decision makers and those who see your value — your allies.
When you want to influence decisions for the product, knowing your stakeholders will help frame your pitches for buy-ins and that’s when your allies are your best advocates.
Building robust relationships with key stakeholders and finding the right allies will fast track the path to trust.
#3 Finding Your Value
When I was freelancing as a consultant, I had to learn many things on-the-fly.
I once took on additional project scope I understood conceptually but never done at scale. I binged on a book and many articles for a few days, and came up with a solution that the client was happy with.
Your value changes for each project and I realized it’s about finding your place. When I was tasked to craft a Developer Experience (not the end customer’s experience!), my peer actually advised me not to brand myself as a designer and he was right. Limiting myself to my expertise actually created a barrier for myself to fully understand my users — the developers.
Given my intermediate technical literacy and relatively good people skills, I found my place as the bridge between technical and non-technical stakeholders.
#4 Being Good at Your Expertise is not Enough
Even consultancies need an innovation lab of some sort, even if it’s an innovation consultancy.
It’s great to hone your craft and establish your rep. But don’t lose sight of what’s happening in the market and find opportunities to grow in those emerging areas.
UX design is often misunderstood as mere beautiful interfaces. But as user behavior shifts, it’s important to be mindful and adopt emerging trends and technologies in your practice. Learning is a lifetime practice and if you don’t upskill, your skills will become irrelevant.
It’s important to carve out time to explore emerging technologies or expertise that you aspire towards as both an organization and individual.
Consultancy or In-House?
It’s a personal preference. The point is knowing how to make the best out of every opportunity and maximize your learning curve.
The only thing I know is that when my learning curve starts to plateau, it’s time to take on new challenges and move on.