Solving problems in 58 hours. A new approach.
Author’s note: If you’ve ever worked in a service firm whether that is an ad agency, a consultancy or a law firm you’ll get what I m talking about in this article. If you haven’t worked in a service firm but you have at least once been against the clock to deliver that huge essay in your college years and you made it against all odds on the last minute, you’ll still get me.
Just a while back after leaving the digital agency we built with my Partner, we started daydreaming and brainstorming on our new venture that we just announced, REBORRN. We began by looking the market of consulting services, an industry that hasn’t changed a lot since its baby steps, and is starving for disruption. Day-by-day we were digging into what new can a boutique consultancy, like us, bring in the table, that hasn’t been done already.
In this process we focused a lot in 3 key areas; People, since it’s the fabric of a service firm; Pricing models, because it defines how a firm makes money; Ways of working, which is the cornerstone of client-firm relationships and also critical for the quality of work.
This article is about the latter, ways of working.
One day I was discussing with Costas, that one of the things we wanted to change in our next endeavour is how fast we do things. It’s a debate we used to have internally in our previous agency with our own people, that somehow we could be faster, but we weren’t. The debate was not about just delivering faster, that’s an easy one. The actual debate was about how can we be faster and deliver work that is equal or even better.
Don’t get me wrong here, as we were not slower in delivery compared to any other agency of our size, we just believed that everyone should be faster, but somehow we were all missing something.
During this discussion we had kind of an epiphany. We found out that there was actually one part of the business that firms aren’t just fast, it’s the part where most of a firm’s innovation happens. A part of the business where all the vendors, get their greatest ideas, come up with new services that move them forward, or tackle the hardest challenges. If you’ve ever worked in the service industry you’ve already guessed that this part is the Pitch Process.
During a pitch, one can see an ad agency at its best. The boldest ideas come to life, new strategy frameworks are invented, almost final movies are being shot, and huge proposals are drafted, all working like a fine-tuned machine. And all these just in a matter of days.
Then we asked ourselves, WHY?
Why is it that we are so fast and efficient as a whole when it comes to pitching, and the rest of the time we are kinda meh? We then started decoding the pitch process and we understood why.
- Clear straightforward challenge. During a pitch you work as a team towards a very straightforward challenge. To win. Nothing else matters.
- Top Talent in the room. In every company you have high performers and then everyone else. During a pitch you have your best talent in the room working towards winning.
- It’s not even a project. The deadline is usually so tight that the pitch process is not even considered a project. Thus not much asynchronous communication is going on. No approval layers, less middlemen, only the people directly involved to the project. In a pitch you rarely have co-ordinators and when you do so, you make sure they're also bringing more value beyond just their project management skills (like strategic thinking).
- Decision Maker in the room. There’s also this: During a pitch process there are almost no approval layers, since the decision maker (the guy leading the pitch) is in the room, and 24/7 available.
- Ruthless execution. Where you work, there might be a feedback process where all ideas are welcome, even the ones that are “meh”, and there’s this process where every idea gets its own space before it’s rejected. When pitching there’s no time for bul***it. Feedback is ruthless and ideas that are subpar, die instantly. It’s where radical candor works at its best.
- No Distractions. Working in a service firm can be chaotic. We always whine about the micro-interruptions, the change of priorities etc. However when pitching nobody gets to distract you. The decision maker will make sure nobody is getting your attention until you win this thing.
These 6 points lie behind the successful process of pitching.
After winning, everything gets back to normal, project plans, alignment meetings, approval layers, interruptions, lack of ownership and so on.
Inspired from these findings, we started thinking of creating a problem solving approach that eventually became one of REBORRN’s first products. We created the 58 Session. 58 comes with a bold but true statement: We solve problems in 58 Hours.
In 3 days (09.00 am of the 1st day to 7pm of the 3rd day) we tackle challenges that would take weeks or months for a traditional consultancy to solve.
Stay with me here for a pause:
This is not a problem solving workshop that we sketch ideas on 3M Post-its and it’s definitely not the design sprint you attended at some point with your team where it’s more about getting everyone on the same page, than actually solving a problem.
58 is a super intense working session where people work their asses off to tackle a challenge against the clock. Let me give you an example of what can be done in 58 hours to get a better understanding of the process.
One of our sessions came up after a C-Level exec of a leading private medical healthcare facility approached us in London. He posed a very clear challenge of significantly increasing the annual revenue coming from MRI Scans without increasing his investment.
After setting the key challenge in absolute numbers we carefully selected a team of world class talents.
The C-Level guy
A two pizza team as Bezos likes to say.
We had 1.5 week to do some prework to understand the industry, get access to the clients data and spend 2 days shadowing a patient and a consultant.
We then locked ourselves in a loft, we left our smartphones outside the room, and started working in 60’ or 90’ minute sprints depending on the milestone. We started with aligning everyone on the challenge and then we worked our asses off, the client included, in teams. At the end of each sprint we gathered everyone for a sprint review, to fine tune and set next steps.
In 3 days we did the following:
- Consumer Journey mapping. We mapped the journey of the patient and the doctor, getting a better understanding of their experience. We only focused on the important parts.
- After identifying pain points and opportunities that would affect the revenue whether by unlocking potential or by increasing conversion rates we designed 8 game changing solutions (ie a solution on how to partner with more consultants using the academic community).
- We did a UX Audit on their websites as part of the business came from digital channels, providing actionable insights into how to increase conversion rates in various steps of the funnel.
- We then deep-dived on their marketing activity, carefully auditing their media spend allocation. We found areas of improvements that let us suggest budget reallocations to more converting activities that saved tens of thousands of pounds annually.
- We also audited all the vendors, deciding to amend some of the partnerships or renegotiate some others.
- Finally we created a roadmap to implement all the above solutions within the next 4 months, and based on that we drafted from scratch a 12 month business plan, budgeting every solution to the cent.
We ve done several sessions so far and still every time we complete these sessions, the teams working with us can’t believe the volume of outcomes and the quality of work as a result of this process.
58 is not the end, it’s the best possible start. We do all the things that a decision maker needs to give a GO, before proceeding. We can do that because 2 or 3 days is the maximum attention you can get from a C-Level exec and that’s the reason our session lasts 3 and not 5 days.
After that, we appoint one of our people to stand by the side of the owner making sure that what’s planned in the 58 is actually going live — and not some version of it.
The above was a case that we used 58 to tackle a revenue-related business challenge but there are more use cases for this problem solving approach.
. The strategy mode, where in 58 hours we get to tackle a business challenge, like the one we described above.
. The prototype mode, where we get to validate a new idea about a product or a service in 58 hours. After 3 days you know how it looks like, you have a feasible go to market plan, you have a roadmap and a business case. You get all the things you need in order to decide to proceed or not, while you make sure you make a bold kickstart on your project.
. The last minute mode, where a selected world-class team gets to fix something against the clock.
You might think all this is very close to the famous Design Sprint process, but I would argue that design thinking misses one important part, which in the creative industry is called Crit. Crit is the chaotic process of brutal criticism when creating stuff. Design Thinking which is apparently the creative process the design industry follows for ages, reengineered for people that have no idea about design. This reengineered process misses this hard part of brutally rejecting 9 out of 10 ideas to come up with the right one. It replaced the trust in the Expert and the constant exploration excellence, with endless collaboration valuing everyone’s opinion no matter his background. So most design thinking in most cases is more about team building, rather than problem solving. Here’s a video explaining it better:
So this is 58. We didn’t invent the wheel here, we just took a few learnings from our past experience and re-engineered them for the problem solving process. We can’t solve problems like the climate change, but most of the challenges we face, can be tackled in less than 3 days with the right people in the room. Think of a tough challenge you faced in the past. I’m sure it took some time to validate your initial approach, but you most probably knew the answer way before you see it on a final plan.
This article is supposed to be a conversation starter. We’re sure there will be scepticism and critics about this new approach. That’s fine, go ahead and let us know what you think. If you interested to know more about 58 drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and if you are in London we’d be happy to meet and discuss.