The Workshop Method As Part of Strategy Consulting

Client workshops are elements that I have often seen as part of consulting engagements, but I have found little written information about them (unlike the topic of client interviews, which I discussed here). I have often set up workshops for engagements related to business or marketing strategy, but workshops are not limited to these scenarios.

Suppose a client is looking to enter a new business, and they want to determine a strategy for entering the business (in terms of business structure, channel structure, pricing methods, division of operational responsibilities, etc.). A consultant may structure a workshop where key elements are discussed in a management or executive setting with a client:

  • case studies of competitors
  • case studies of comparable companies in related sectors
  • consultant research and points of view on client issue area
  • client point of view and prior experiences
  • industry trends, unsolved problems, and/or sexy solutions

By engaging in a workshop, the consultant helps to level set with the client and to ensure that many points of view are brought in (especially to encourage "blue sky" thinking). Note that the workshop is also very focused on setting up a fact-based foundation. In this structure, any opinions can be framed within a structured environment. Such a structure helps consultants from giving and clients from receiving shallow advice.

Note that other frameworks can be weaved into the workshop structure. For example, suppose the consultant has specific methodologies for assessing whether a product development process can be improved and that this methodology covers four distinct areas. The workshop can be carefully designed to weave around those four areas.

The workshop needs to have specific goals in order to be effective. In some cases, the workshop may be a first step to get the client thinking about where they think priorities should be for their business. In other cases, the desired outcome of the workshop may be for the consultant to help the client with two to three focus areas that become evident during the workshop. Other outcomes might include performing financial analysis of different business scenarios/ideas generated durnig the workshop. The possibilities for workshops within consulting engagements are endless. But one of my favorite ways for thinking about workshops is as a way to stretch people's minds while facilitating a fresh start in attacking business problems within a fact-based framework.

Update (1/17/07): Phil's comment (#1 below on role playing) is very noteworthy to mention, especially since he is a very experienced consultant part of the inner circle of consulting (principal and partner+ levels within many consulting firms).

Update (1/23/07): Gautam Ghosh contributes to the workshop dialogue here. Thanks!

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