A new and unique alternative to the ‘discovery’ phase  employed by consulting practices  

This paper has not been written as an attack on [organisational] consulting practices, but it does make a strong case to suggest that some activities such as the cliché of ’30 graduates crawling over a company with their clipboards’ is now so ‘analogue’ as to be in the throes of redundancy. On a positive note we do, however, draw attention to a fit for purpose solution that enhances the consulting offer, rather than detracting from it. 

Leaders are gradually accepting that a business landscape shaped to some degree by uncertainty and disruption is now more of a norm than an exception. The speed, quantity and scale of major changes have all accelerated over the last decade. We are experiencing many events which are seen as exceptional in our recent experience – Brexit, a global pandemic, roaring inflation, a major war in Europe, a fuel crisis and turmoil in the UK’s political landscape. It is natural and perhaps even comforting to accept the assumption that each event is a one-off, and we’ll go back to the more stable situation to which we had grown accustomed. Yet on every one of those issues, it is more likely than not that this assumption is wrong.  

In sophisticated and dispersed organisations leaders will need to rapidly assimilate emerging trends and advice in order to take the correct and timely action; a classic challenge of organisational sensemaking amidst dynamic complexity in a novel situation. As operational effectiveness is reduced by the direct impact of virus, the market viability of products and services will become constrained and unpredictable.  

And yet at the very time leaders would wish to deploy some of their traditional assets (e.g. meetings/use of consultants, vertical surveys) to harness information and assess options, i) use of such assets is likely to be both cumbersome and expensive, and ii) the speed of change is, in any case, likely to outstrip the windows of opportunity. 

A further paper describes in more detail why we are excited that now is the time to use our software tool: Organisational Sensemaking™, and why we are passionate advocates for its adoption by organisations. Below, specifically for [curious] consulting practices we explain in more specific terms what (in addition to time, cost and disruption savings for clients, and therefore a consulting USP) the operationalising of  sensemaking can add to the repertoire of consulting firms. 

In the business world, consultants have used the discovery phase as a tool for understanding their clients and the problems they face. ‘Sensemaking’ has been a buzzword in the field of psychology, sociology, and information science for the past few decades. It refers to the process of making sense of complex, ambiguous, or unstructured information and situations. With the increasing emphasis on sensemaking, we argue that this approach could and should replace the discovery phase in consultancy. 

The discovery phase is typically used by consultants to gather data, perform analysis, and identify areas of improvement. This approach assumes that the consultant has a clear understanding of the problem and can provide objective, data-driven solutions. However, this assumption is often flawed, as the real-world problems faced by clients are often complex, multi-faceted, and subject to change. 

In contrast, sensemaking is a more flexible and holistic approach to problem-solving. It acknowledges that real-world problems are complex and dynamic, and that it is often difficult to understand them fully from a single perspective. Sensemaking emphasises the importance of considering multiple perspectives, including those of the stakeholders involved, and encourages the development of multiple interpretations of the problem. 

This approach is particularly relevant in today’s rapidly changing business environment, where organisations must be able to respond quickly to shifting market conditions, new technologies, and changing customer preferences. The discovery phase, with its emphasis on data analysis and objective solutions, is often ill-suited to this type of environment, as it can take too long to implement and may not be relevant by the time it is completed. 

In addition, sensemaking places a strong emphasis on collaboration and communication. This is essential in the consultancy context, where consultants must work closely with their clients to understand their needs and help them solve their problems. By encouraging collaboration and communication, sensemaking can help build trust and create a shared understanding between the consultant and client.  

Moreover, sensemaking recognises the importance of cultural differences and the role that culture plays in shaping perceptions and problem-solving approaches. This is important in the global business context, where consultants may work with clients from different countries and cultures. By taking a sensemaking approach, consultants can better understand the cultural context in which their clients operate and tailor their solutions accordingly. 

In conclusion, the discovery phase has been a useful tool for consultants in the past, but its limitations are becoming increasingly apparent in today’s rapidly changing business environment. Sensemaking, with its emphasis on flexibility, collaboration, communication, and cultural awareness, could provide a more effective approach to problem-solving in the consultancy context. By adopting a sensemaking approach, consultants can provide more effective solutions to their clients and build stronger relationships with them. 

Tensense.ai has developed the technology to offer unique utility to the process of sensemaking, through the software development of Organisational Sensemaking™ that is capable of taking an organisation-wide snapshot across functional and geographical boundaries in minutes, rather than weeks or even months. We assert that this is the tool that the next generation of consulting firms have been waiting for. 

Dr Mike Carter, Chief Scientific Officer, Tensense.AI

7th February 2023 

Photo by Sean Pollock on Unsplash