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An Easy Way to Upgrade Your Consulting Firm’s Projects

Could a single, 60-minute step improve the quality of your consulting firm’s projects—for your clients and for your internal initiatives?


Let’s say your consulting firm has won an engagement to transform Log Manufacturing, Inc. As often happens, you’ve been tapped to apply your exceptional ability to clarify complex situations (i.e., see the forest for the trees), develop compelling solutions, and affect meaningful change.

How can you ensure that the output of your consulting engagement is right on target, that the founder/CEO, Anna Log, is happy and that your recommendations roll out smoothly?

By incorporating a simple exercise near the outset that requires under an hour for your consulting firm and your client to complete.

Develop and agree on Design Principles.

Design Principles are a set of rules and parameters that guide how you construct the policy, process or other product of your consulting firm’s efforts.

While most people associate Design Principles with graphics or branding, the concept applies to anything that your consulting firm designs.

Imagine that part of your consulting engagement with Log requires a plan to relocate their employees to the wilderness of Canada’s Northwest Territories.

You have many possible solutions. You could call all branches of Log to a meeting, pile everyone into a shipping container then airlift them en masse beneath a Chinook helicopter.

That’s not a good solution. But how do you know, other than that it’s hard for the employees in the back of the crate to reach the refrigerator you installed near the swinging doors?

Because you and your client collaboratively developed Design Principles for the relocation, such as:

  • Minimize the number of trips.
  • Separate the senior management of the company during the move to mitigate risk. (And fighting.)
  • Keep all personnel in a department together, if possible.
  • Transport conditions should be humane.
  • Avoid thumping downdrafts during the journey.

Since Log’s senior team participated in drafting the Design Principles, they buy into the list. And when your relocation recommendation reflects the Design Principles your consulting firm and Log developed, your clients are happy campers. In the middle of nowhere.

Design Principles confer numerous benefits:

  • They help your consulting firm stay Right-Side Up in your approach and your solutions.
  • They ensure you align your outcome and deliverables to your client’s expectations.
  • They involve your clients in their own experience.

Virtually every project, process, or policy with any degree of complexity—for your clients and for your own consulting firm, benefits from up-front thinking about the guidelines that will govern the output.

For instance, inside your consulting firm you could employ Design Principles as you rethink your delivery approach, your marketing process, your organization structure, your compensation plan, your hiring roadmap, your subcontracting model, and more.

You can even utilize Design Principles for simple, important outputs such as a presentation. (Under an hour. No Jargon. More than two puns, but less than seven.)

Developing Design Principles

To develop a set of Design Principles, answer two questions about the outcome you’re striving to create:

What do you want to be included?

What do you want to be excluded?

You can use the template below to brainstorm Design Principles.

For instance, on your project with Log, seed the matrix with a few examples before your consulting firm meets with Log’s team, then thin the ideas to a manageable number of Design Principles before the group leaves.

Have you applied design principles in your consulting firm’s work? If so, where? If not, do you see the value?

  1. Eric Bakey
    March 2, 2022 at 6:07 am Reply

    This is probably going to make me sound very much like a consultant because I don’t know how to simplify the language without visuals like you do in your excellent article…

    But, in a word: yes.

    Overlaying (cyclical) Design Principles with a linear innovation pipeline helps keep all stakeholders on the same page — especially when you line the walls with whiteboards 🙂

    Sales Meeting/Business Case > Alignment Workshop > Research > Analyze > Insights Workshop > Ideas > LoFi Prototype > Test > Iterate > Test Again > Envision Workshop > Implementation > Scale

    • David A. Fields
      March 2, 2022 at 8:00 am Reply

      Good point, Eric. The very nature of a linear program or project can lull participants into thinking forgetting larger, evergreen principles that must be observed every time. Your innovation example points that out.

      Thank you for providing the specific example of the idea in action, Eric!

  2. Mike
    March 2, 2022 at 6:40 am Reply

    I need to trigger my client’s realisation that they have taken some actions that are simply not congruent with their stated intention (the ‘why’ for my work). A conversation around design principles using this grid seems like a great way to talk around permission to address those actions. I’m thinking that if they’re ruled in, great. If they’re excluded, we can talk about the presumption that the actions are contributing to the why.

    Obviously I’m interested to know if anybody here is thinking “No Mike, don’t do that”!!

    • David A. Fields
      March 2, 2022 at 7:55 am Reply

      That’s a very good idea, Mike. Design Principles and the discussion around them are an excellent opportunity to surface issues and discuss inconsistencies.

      One request: when you incorporate this approach into your next (or current) project with a client, please let me know the impact and outcome.

      I’m very appreciative of your sharing your smart thinking on the topic, Mike.

  3. Tom Wagner
    March 2, 2022 at 10:32 am Reply

    Check out Making Numbers Count by Chip Heath to help create urgency.

    • David A. Fields
      March 2, 2022 at 1:10 pm Reply

      Tom, all of the books by the Heath brothers are excellent, and their book on communicating data effectively is no exception. I could see a Design Principle in many situations that requires all messages that include data to tie that data clearly and meaningfully to the audience.

      Thanks for joining the conversation, Tom.

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