Build Internal Capability, Not Consultant Dependency (Europe 2021)

Build Internal Capability, Not Consultant Dependency


Courtney Kissler

Chief Technology Officer, Zulily


Suzette Johnson

Northrop Grumman Fellow, Northrop Grumman



Thank you, John. Okay. I've mentioned many times that since 2015, we've assembled a group of about 50 people once a year, for three days in Portland, Oregon, to write guidance papers around the top problems that this community identifies as obstacles to their goals. And so over the years, we've published nearly one hundreds of these guidance papers, which have been downloaded over a hundred thousand times. This year, Courtney Kissler is now CTO of Zulily proposed our problem topic that generated a ton of empathy and groans, which is what do you do when a consultant who has had a decades long relationship with the CEO or one of the company board members starts giving advice on digital disruption, which has then inflicted on the technology organization. This is a situation that so many of us have faced. So she is joined today by Dr. Suzanne Johnson, who is only one of several hundred fellows at Northrop Grumman. I'm so excited that they're far enough along that they can share not only the problem statement, but some ideas and solutions on how to not only cope with the situation, but work together in a way with them jointly to co-create the best possible business outcomes here's Courtney and Suzette.


Hi. So as Jean mentioned in the intro, we're here to talk about a topic that we feel is extremely important for this community. And it's about how do we build internal capability, not consultant dependency. So I'm going to talk about a scenario that I imagine many of us have encountered your CEO has a very, very close relationship with a consulting company. And one day you get the email that they're coming onsite and they're going to help us accelerate our digital transformation and everyone collectively groans. And so what we're hoping is that we can really help with giving some guidance on how do we embrace that reality because that reality is not going away, but we can play an active role in helping to drive. And co-create the best engagement and opportunity to get the best outcomes for the organization. And so we're going to start by talking about what we believe.


So Courtney, um, it's great to be here with you. Um, and one of the things that we recognize, right, it's obvious that there's any for faster time to market and more responsiveness, um, 200 customers and users as part of that, there is an increasing need for DevOps and digital transformations. Can you tell us a little bit about who is driving your DevOps and digital transformation?


Absolutely. And I love this question that came out from Forbes because really, I think a lot of us have faced that COVID-19 has really accelerated our digital transformation. And I know my own personal experience is around not only accelerating what we're providing to customers in a digital landscape, but also ways of working a lot of the changes that we've made inside organizations around how we work together is going to remain part of our ways of working going forward. I also believe that we're all leaning on external help in order to really be successful in that acceleration. And as we come out of the pandemic, it will be even more of a need for us to lean on external help. And that's why I feel this topic is so important so that we're setting our organizations up to get the best outcomes possible. So Suzette, why don't you talk a little bit about what we think are the needs in order for us to have successful engagement?


Yep. So thank you, Courtney. The first deed that we want to talk about is the need for accountability. So we recognize that we want successful engagements and partnerships, right? Both sides, the consultants and the company, and the employees are looking for this, um, success. And we are putting in place a lot of time and money and energy. So we want positive results. So a love of accountability is really important, but how do we get there right there? That's a really nice word. Um, so we get there by establishing some clear expectations from both sides, defined roles and responsibilities, understanding who are the key decision makers and who makes final decisions. What is the opportunity for the collaboration? How do we collaborate regularly? Um, as a result, what we're seeing is the idea that we should be running these efforts also as a lean agile initiative.


So we can take advantage of the feedback loops, the regular visibility of progress, engaging all stakeholders in the initiative and the opportunity to provide feedback on what they're seeing and the results that they're seeing. And then we have the opportunity to base those next decisions on objective, evidence of work completed. Uh, in addition, these agreements need to be clearly understood. Um, and there's expectations established before we get started. And in some cases that might mean looking at your contract and making sure those expectations are built into your contract as well. So taking accountability and the need for that established commitment, um, for this partnership, Courtney, can you tell us a little bit about the dependencies we might experience?


Absolutely. I think that this is one of the areas that is extremely critical for consideration as we're engaging consultants. So I love what you said about accountability and how important it is for the organization to really be owning and driving decisions. And so within this dependency landscape, making sure it's critic or that you understand how critical is this new capability to your business outcomes, because if it is something that is strategic to your organization, it is important that the dependency is not created on the consultant. It really needs to become an internal capability. And so how do you engage in a way where you're building together and alongside and investing in your internal teams and talent so that when you've clearly defined the success and the consultant is no longer in the organization that your teams can thrive in the ongoing support and development of that capability.


One other thing that, um, I know that we've heard from a lot of our peers in the industry as well, is the critical need to not adopt a proprietary methodology. When you're engaging with a consultant, a lot of them will come with something that they've used at other organizations. A lot of our organizations already have established methodologies. And so whenever we're, uh, accelerating a capability, we will need to hire talent and retain talent and knowledge in the organization and proprietary methodologies make it very challenging for us to go out and find talent later and creates that dependency, which is exactly what we don't want. And so being able to have an established, um, I would say clarity around when are we going to use our own organizational capability and when are we going to lean on outside help because we have a gap, but not replace what we're doing today with something that will make it challenging for us to maintain once the engagement is complete. So Suzanne, I am, I'm going to turn it over to you. I'm curious to hear your thoughts on how do you really build synergies amid complexity.


Thank you, Courtney. Yes. So everything that you just said is so true. And at the same time, we want to ensure that we're building the synergy between, um, the consultants who are we're using to accelerate our transformation. Um, and yet at the same time, engage our people and making sure they're empowered as part of the initiative. Um, so this is actually a great opportunity to build those synergies, making sure that we are leveraging the best of what we all bring to the table, but to do that and develop this win-win situation. One of the things we want to start with is making sure we are listening to each other. So we wanted to start by seeking first to understand, right, that comes from Stephen Covey, right? One of the first things that we do to create a win-win situation is we need to listen and seek to understand each other's perspectives and come with a growth mindset because the consultants will come with a way that they're used to working.


The employees will come with their own ideas about how they want to do things and embed it within their culture. So we need to bring them together and engage and listen and start building this relationship and have the employees not only engaged, but helping them feel empowered so that they can lead and own some of the responsibilities because they will need to sustain it and grow it. Um, it's just like most successful relationships, right? We want to listen. We have the, um, shared opportunity towards a common goal and meeting that goal and the respect for people in culture. So Courtney, um, I've talked with a lot of executives and I know that's part of our audience here that we want to reach out to. Um, one of the things I get asked a lot from executives is like, this is all really great, Suzanne, but what's your, what's your ask? What are you asking from me? So can you tell us a little bit,


So I don't know how many of you are familiar with the, uh, it was created in the late eighties, early nineties movie phone, where you would call in and try to navigate a call tree to figure out what movies were playing at your local theater. And I did that. I told him, I remember doing it every Friday when the new movies would come out. This is one of my favorite episodes of Seinfeld when Kramer is trying to essentially be Moviefone. And at some point throughout the process, he's just like, why don't you just tell me the name of the movie that you want to see? And we thought that this would be a little fun humor to, to, um, to talk about because sometimes when you're in these situations and you haven't been clear about establishing the win-win and really what outcome you're trying to achieve, a lot of times our organizations and our executives and leaders and, and anyone potentially is looking for the answer they want, just to know, like, what movie should I be starring in? Like, what movies should I be participating in? And then on the consulting side, they're trying to answer a question. And so how do we avoid just getting the answer without really understanding what problem we're solving? So the real ask is build internal capability, not consultant dependency, and that's really what we want to ask of our executive team. So Suzette, I think we're going to summarize kind of what we wanted to share today. And so I'll turn it back over to you.


Thank you. Yes. So finding the win-win and creating a capability that can be developed and owned internally, um, having an intentional positive experience in which employees are engaged and actively, um, empowered and, and listening, um, and leading, having clear expectations with the level of accountability. Um, and again, going back to the foundation of it all is respect for people in culture and treating each of us as equals and having a voice in the initiative.


And as you mentioned to, um, being open-minded on both sides, like really being open to new perspectives, there's a reason why you're having this engagement and having that open dialogue in both directions is so critical and really listening to understand and, um, having a structure in place so that once you decided to engage and you've signed the contract and you're ready to go having a structure so that you can really understand the health of that engagement ongoing versus waiting until the end. And this is a, this is something we all believe in, in the community that you need to have frequent feedback loops and learning along the way so that you can adjust if needed and then having common language and vocabulary. So sometimes there can be situations where you're not aligning or talking about the right things because you're using different terms. So really being clear about that common language and vocabulary is super important. So in closing, as Jean said, we are working on a paper as part of the DevOps enterprise forum. So you got a preview of it through Suzette and my talk today. Um, but this will be coming out in our 2021, uh, forum deliverables. And we wanted to also include a link. If you haven't downloaded the papers from previous years, there's a lot of really amazing content and hopefully you're doing the happy dance. Thank you. Thanks.


Thank you.