By Hassanelsayadd [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

With rigour and collaboration, the combined efforts of different firms can achieve greater results than single consultancies alone.

Improving delivery practices requires a wholly capable team. But enterprises must often build teams from multiple, competing consultancies because relationships already exist in complex business domains. It is vital these consultants put aside commercial differences and take a methodical approach.

One Australian Government department built a coaching team by drawing consultants from a number of different firms. Each had their own ideas, pet theories and mode of operation. “With three providers we all did things differently. At first, we thought the approach might never work,” explains Joel Madden the lead coach. “Some thought culture was the priority, while others put technical practices first. We had Scrum evangelists and Lean advocates.”

Differing opinions joined through strategy

“But over time, through retrospectives and co-creation, we’ve combined the best parts of everyone’s practice. We actively encourage experimentation, and this has created a culture and commitment to collaborative work that enables us to deliver value to the client as a cohesive, single team.”

The success was down to the strategy. “We took a systematic approach to coaching driven by an initial capability measurement, a transparent plan for uplift and frequent progress reviews and evaluation.”

It’s rigorous and it takes time to perfect, but “nothing is left to chance”, says Madden. “Coaching is targeted to specific technical or cultural behaviours that we’d like to improve. We operate evidence-based coaching and can easily explain our actions to the program sponsors.”

Understand what you can do

The delivery teams first take a snapshot of capability using a comprehensive maturity model. The model covers Leadership, Organisation, Delivery and Technology. This‘baselines’ the team so later interventions can be measured for success.

Madden has been most surprised by the honesty of teams in self-assessing their current level of capability, and their willingness to engage with coaches to improve their capability. In fact, seeing skeptics slowly change their opinions is one of the most enjoyable parts of the job, says Madden. “The buzz you get from converting negative-nellies and disengaged staff when they get a chance to actively participate in building a better future for themselves. It’s a great feeling.”

Put the teams first

But teams only achieve this self-awareness if they are well led, are allowed to measure their own capability and suggest improvements. Currently, the teams are continuing to ask for coaching and have arranged coaching agreements extending into the next financial year.

IQA and its partner consultancies have achieved great results even when vested interests seem at odds. It has required patience, honesty and facilitation from experienced coaches. But the effort is doubly rewarding with its focus of broad experience and the collapse of partisan, sometimes polarising, advice.

“Looking back,” says Madden, “Iterative development of the joint practice model is what made things work. It took the best elements of the provider’s work and experience and built a slick coaching engagement and practice model that clients have really engaged with.”