Designing Solutions – Be in a Strong Position by Optimizing Your Starting Point

Photographer: Kevin Winzeler

Photographer: Kevin Winzeler

Those that have worked with me over the years know that I often talk in sports analogies due to my love of sports.   Many times with sports you hear folks say that it doesn’t matter how you got there as long as you have a successful finish.  The thing is, if you want to have successful finishes more often than not, you need to make sure you and your team are starting in the strongest position possible.  In my years designing digital analytics and marketing technology solutions, I’ve come across two schools of thought around starting engagements, either starting fresh with each new client or using the same prescribed templates each time.

The latter often comes from organizations looking to churn out a large amount of work as quickly as possible and the former often do not see the value in finding ways to scale.  I don’t agree with either of these positions; I have my own which falls somewhere in the middle.  I believe you need to find a way to scale so you start out well without losing the ability to deliver exactly what the client needs in order to maximize your engagement with them.

The Industry Template Approach

Going strictly the pre-built template route leads to providing your clients with a deliverable that is designed down to the lowest common denominator in multiple ways.  It’s designed to meet the broadest set of potential clients and be handled by junior level specialists.  It’s often something that a senior level consultant comes in and designs and once completed all of the collateral is then handed off to a specialist to stamp out with each new client that comes on board.  The specialist will start with a questionnaire that is loaded with closed ended questions that really don’t get to the heart of what the client needs.  The specialist will then take those answers, copy & paste them into a requirements document, and then hand it off to the client’s development team to code.

Did you notice how I didn’t use the word solution at all in that description?  That’s on purpose.  While that senior level consultant created a solution for a vertical the client may fall into, the specialist did not provide a solution that is specific to that client.  They provided something that somewhat fit what the client needed.  You end up scaling so much that you are providing something that is too general and broad.

This approach not only doesn’t deliver the best for your client, it’ll eventually start to wear on your team.  Solution designers are creative people.  Both those that are experienced and those that are up and coming, want to tackle problems that challenge their creative side.  These types of people will move on quickly from a team that works this way.

The Starting from Scratch Approach

Starting from scratch every time is completely inefficient.  While this will ensure that the solution is specific to the client it is still not without issues.  You end up spending much more time than necessary repeating many of the same steps that you’ve already gone through with past clients.  This is time that can be spent finding solutions to other business problems your client may have.  Depending on the client’s timeline, you may be rushed to complete your final deliverable as the they may have a compressed schedule which will lead to errors in what you deliver since you are reinventing the wheel each time.

The Framework Approach

At 33 Sticks we typically start with frameworks.  These are not templates; templates are pre-baked documents that require little modification.  These frameworks are not something that we can just “take off a shelf” and hand over to a client.  Discovery is still required to truly understand what the client needs and closed ended questions won’t work.  There is still a good amount of client-specific designing that we have to do.

These frameworks help us get to be at a strong starting point where the basic, rudimentary items are already taken care of.  This is everything from branding to basic specs on the best practices we’ve developed over the years.  They are flexible and allow for easy adjustment depending on the client’s specific needs and the way the engagement goes.

This setup enables us to spend our time with the client diving deep into their business problems, gaining deeper understanding of their ecosystem and tech stack, and designing the solution.  This allows us to be the most effective and provide the greatest value for our clients by maximizing the time we have with them as well as ensuring we’re delivering a solution that solves their very specific problems.


Jim Driscoll
Jim is a consultant on the Solutions Engineering team at 33 Sticks who brings 15 years of solution design and technology implementation experience, with 9 years focused on web analytics and digital marketing technologies.  He is a fitness enthusiast and avid sports fan.  He also thinks he can play golf.