No Wanky Bollocks

A movement against bullshit in business

Interview with a Digital Strategy Consultant at Digital Juggler

 

This week’s interviewee is James Gurd, Digital Strategy Consultant and owner of  Digital Juggler.

James in an independent digital strategy and transformation consultant, with more than 14 years’ B2C and B2B experience. He spent 3 years client side as Head of Ecommerce, 2 years as Head of Client Services for a digital agency (clients included Newlook, Radley, The Conran Shop, Rymans and Nationwide Autocentres) and since 2009 has worked as an independent digital consultant, clients including House of Fraser, The Wine Society, Home Retail Group, Samsung and Rocco Forte Hotels.

James is an active part of the ecommerce industry. As co-founder and host of #EcomChat, he leads an Ecommerce networking group of more than 1,900 people, and also guest blogs for Econsultancy and PCA Predict, and is the Smart Insights expert commentator for Ecommerce Optimisation.

1. Biggest mistake you made in the last year & how you fixed it?

For a major client project, I made the assumption that key internal stakeholders had the required level of expertise and motivation to deliver work to the required standards and took my eye off the ball in pushing and cajoling to ensure deadlines were met without quality compromise. For example, we implemented new functionality on the website using a 3rd party Javascript plug-in and the QA team responsible for testing confirmed testing had been done. I failed to ask for the test process, scripts and outputs, instead assumed they knew how to do proper QA due to the size of the business, and focused instead on ensuring the project plan was being managed properly by the 3rd party for their integration work.

It soon became evident that testing was low-level and nobody had thought about full scenario testing – key browsers, operating systems, devices etc. Instead of a comprehensive test matrix with results and success validation, there were a few basic emails. The end results was a poor implementation riddled with flaws and the logic for the activity that had been approved be senior stakeholders wasn’t supported. So we had to stop the project, get a proper test script written and do the QA from scratch, resulting in a 3-week delay.

How did I fix it?

Worked with the client PM to define more robust processes with clear roles and responsibilities and a sign-off process involving the most relevant senior stakeholder, with me taking ownership of ensuring the process was delivered within the agreed timeframe. We then briefed the key people to let them know what the problem was, how we intended to resolve it and what we required from them.

I no longer make assumptions when I work with a new stakeholder. I’m much more explicit with instructions and ask for evidence of what’s been done and documentation where relevant.

This is what I should have done from the start, but allowed myself to drop the ball because I made inaccurate assumptions about internal capacity without doing enough validation (exactly what I advise others not to do!). We now have a much smoother process, although we recognise there’s always room for improvement.

2. A lightbulb moment

The realisation that myself and two other consultant friends had actually created an incredibly reliable and scalable model for digital transformation/strategy projects for SMEs through delivering strategy projects for three major clients. We had used our complimentary experience to devise a framework and structured approach to delivering the projects but hadn’t realised how easy it would be to turn it into a modular solution that could be flexible enough to apply to any Ecommerce business.

We spent a few days thrashing out how it would work, what the value proposition is and how we would communicate the product to potential clients, then launched the product with a new website and brand within a few months.

What it meant is that we could actually talk to clients on the same level as big agencies in terms of the product we can offer, but still have the advantage of being hands-on digital practitioners with a lot of experience in client, agency and consultant side. This was the lightbulb moment – we could maintain our key advantages (we’ve walked the walk, are agile and flexible, don’t come with big agency overhead etc.) and provide the structured framework-driven approach of more traditional consultancies.

We’ve since won a few smaller projects, have started to build out partnerships and have several open leads for 2017.

3. Tip for tomorrow

Focus on what you are best at, don’t stress yourself trying to acquire expertise that you can access by working with people who are way smarter than you in other disciplines. One of the most important eureka moments I’ve had since going self-employed in 2009 is a realisation that there are some digital disciplines that I will never be one of the leaders for, as my brain just isn’t wired in that way. For example, I understand the data and analytics picture in great detail from a strategic perspective (I.e. I know what is possible, what a client should focus on and what questions they need to ask), and can do basic analysis/modelling myself, but I’m not an expert at using analytics tools to answer complex business challenges. I used to obsess over being that person, reading lots of blogs and guides, but my brain isn’t naturally aligned to that way of thinking.

Instead, I now work with other people who know more than I do, can do these things quicker and more effectively, and enjoy learning from them. My network is as important to my business as my own intellectual capital, and my clients value the introductions I can make and the expertise I give them access to without having to spend time searching the market and doing evaluations.

Want to share your advice?
NWB confessional style interviews are posted every Monday from people in the business community. They are not self-promoting, or carefully selected quotes to make you sound good. They are full of useful, actionable insights from experience, not egos or bravado. If you like NWB’s style and have something useful to say, we’d love to interview you. Tweet @nowankybollocks or email katie [at] subjectconsulting.com.

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