Breakfast in the Sunshine

18 Mar 2014

When starting a relationship with a new client, a common issue is that you don’t get to start from the beginning. By the time you’re on the job, a lot has happened, and you’ve got a lot of catching up to do. The conversation has already moved away from discussing the problem to discussing the solution.

For many of us, our most valuable contributions come earlier in the process. We’re good at implementing solutions, of course, but we really shine when we can help figure out what the solution is. We’re problem solvers first and foremost.

Often, it’s best to take a step back and revisit the problem together, but it can be difficult to find the confidence to make such a suggestion, especially if you worry that it seems like you don’t approve of the solution. I think it helps to avoid discussing the solution altogether, and focus instead on the fact that you need to understand the problem. Humility is a sign of experience, so don’t be afraid to ask for the opportunity to catch up. If revisiting the problem leads to a better solution, then that’s a bonus.

There’s another benefit to revisiting the problem together. The more everyone can feel like a stakeholder, the better the work, and the less likely anyone will refer to the spec in order to defend a decision.

To help clients appreciate the benefits of asking me to solve a problem rather than implement a solution, I often use a simple metaphor. Don’t ask for a window in the kitchen if what you ultimately want is to eat breakfast in the sunshine. Focus on what success means to you.

If you can help me understand the problem, I can help you find the best solution. In other words, when all is said and done, you’re more likely to be eating breakfast in the sunshine.