Changing Careers, Changing Locations

history of leavenworthI recently moved on from a wonderful long career in design anthropology to my latest adventure. I joined the Army’s Human Terrain System program and for the next few months I’ll be living near the Ft. Leavenworth area. How much I’ll be writing about my HTS training and work is unknown at this point. Over the years I have tended not to write about any of my professional work directly, but who knows. In the meantime, I wanted to pass on a couple of my personal learning’s for clients and consultants from over a decade in design anthropology. Here goes:

Clients: Please, please stop demanding that you want or own the raw video recordings from the fieldwork.
If your consultant is smart, they have written in the contract that you do not own them. But there are very good reasons that you DON’T want them. To start with, clients want the raw video in the mistaken belief it can somehow be reused later to answer other questions. This is very unlikely and I can count on one hand the number of times I have gone back to the raw video after the program is finished, and that usually yields nothing new of value. Look, do you really want to spend the 3 to 5 viewing hours per actual hour of video trying to pull new meaning out of video shot for a completely different question? Also, that video is a Liability to own. As a rule, there are releases signed with the participants that the video will not be used for anything other than that project and viewed by a limited group of people. Those videos contain people crying, telling off-color jokes, admitting to seeking divorce without a spouses knowledge. Are you really interested in taking the rap for when this shows up on YouTube? Unless you are planning on hauling all those tapes with you all over your company to keep them safe, you really don’t want them.

Consultants: Take your clients into the field, always.
Your clients know their business better than you do and will make connections you don’t. Also, they are going to be your most important voice within the organization that vouches for the process and credibility of the final work. They are not going to watch one interview and change the company strategy based on this. Take the time to show clients how they are expected to act in the field, debrief field visits with them and treat them as research partners.

Clients: Fieldwork is not a vacation or a time to be a tourist.
Fieldwork is hard work, long days and people you were expecting to interview changing schedule, canceling outright, or turning out to be downright strange is par for the course. This is NOT the time to just drop in with a VP unexpectedly to let him or her experience fieldwork once. Researchers work hard to plan activities and schedules to get the best data we can. The only people allowed in the field should be those that will be contributing to the insights in the long term. Your sightseeing VP is not one of them. They get to watch the clips reel.

Consultants: Never forget the “why should they give a sh*t?” rule.
When you think you have come to an interesting route to investigate, or interesting insight, always ask yourself and your team “Ok, Great… now why should our client care about this?” Even if you realize in the conversation that they don’t really care about your insight, that’s fine, you have just pushed ahead. If you do have a great why they care moment, write it down, that’s going to be your lead!

Clients: Little can save you from a poorly scoped program, and that’s squarely in your court.
I can’t mention how often a client has shown up with a project that asked the team to “boil the ocean.” Even worse, I have had to lead a couple of those projects and they rank on the top of my list for worst professional experiences. Boiling the ocean is when the client refused to limit the scope of the project in any way. I once had a client that scoped the project as virtually any topic or business they were not in at the time. Space Tourism? Sure, we might try that! Building toasters… sure, we’re up for that. Never mind they had zero intellectual, professional, manufacturing or research assets in those areas. Work collaboratively with your consulting team to scope the project to your needs, timeline and be sure your consultant has the resources to do the job. Its not all the clients fault, its the consultants job to know when to walk away from the project and let the competitor have it.

Just some thoughts for the moment.

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