Every Engagement, a Puzzle

A foray into puzzle-building teaches us about what makes client engagements successful.

by Julie Gibbs

On a whim, I recently purchased a puzzle.

It was a super colorful, 1000 piece puzzle where each piece is the size of your thumb nail and the end picture is 20”x26”.  Pretty intense. When I started working on “the puzzle”, I was excited to dig in. Looking over the cover photo again I thought,

“Man this is going to be hard. Look at all the repeated colors and look at all the black/gray parts!”

I had a friend with me and commented to them,

“Well, it was only $3 so if I end up trashing it after a little while, no biggie.”

After opening “the puzzle”, I dumped the pieces all over the table and started to flip them, ensuring the image-side was facing up.  My friend asked me how I was going to go about tackling “the puzzle”. 

“I’m going to group all similar colors together first, then go from there.”

My friend’s approach was a little different; they would have picked out all the edge pieces first.  I agreed that that was an equally effective and common way to go about tackling puzzles.  In fact, one I’ve used before.  In this case, since the colors were such an obvious grouping to me, it made the most sense to start there.

Over the next few day, a few hours at a time, I worked through the color groups and built little chunks of “the puzzle”.  Once I had enough of these various color chunks, I was able to better understand the bigger picture and arranged the color chunks in their approximate location as related to the final picture.

It was starting to take shape!  WOOHOO!

Unfinished puzzle

During the next few puzzle making sessions, I had a good understanding of the single pieces that needed to be placed into the bigger picture, so in some cases I was able to look at the in-progress puzzle and almost in rapid-fire succession, go right to the single pieces and masterfully fit them into place.  I wasn’t always on target with my puzzle piece slinging, but it was a quick find to realize the piece didn’t fit in that part of the picture.

When I got down to the last 80 or so pieces, I had to change my approach to complete “the puzzle”.  All the brightly colored pieces were gone, so the initial and obvious visual cue I relied on… was gone.  Looking over the remaining pieces, they were all gray in color. I was touching and retouching the pieces while I tried, unsuccessfully, to fit them into the picture.

Now what??

Shape.  Since these pieces are so similar in one way, shades of gray; their shape is now what distinguished them.  After reorganizing my approach, I was quickly able to fit the last remaining pieces into “the puzzle”.  


Finished puzzle

I got caught up a few times along the way, even had to take a step back a few times and walk away. But I pushed through, changed my approach, and FINISHED.  Finishing “the puzzle” gave me such an awesome feeling of success and accomplishment.  And if I’m being honest, probably a greater sense than it should have, but hey, call me a geek.  I’m okay with it.

Around the time I had to adjust my approach to complete the puzzle, I realized how much building this puzzle aligned to my work as a consultant.  Now re-read this little puzzle building story and replace “the puzzle” with “the engagement” and in most cases, you could even replace the word “piece” with “requirement”.  

When an engagement starts, it’s a time of organized chaos.  There’s a lot of information coming from various channels: internal and client team meetings, new processes, systems, and programs to learn, and documentation to read. It’s really exciting and fresh; the energy just… buzzes.  But it can also be daunting.

“How should I tackle this? How can I best help?”

Engagements have scope, “the final picture”, which details the expected outcome.  How that outcome is obtained, however, is not typically defined.  That’s when collaboration with teammates happens. Much like my friend would have started the puzzle by finding all the edge pieces as opposed to grouping by color; our different experiences influence the techniques in our bag of tricks.

“Quick wins” are something I always keep in mind while working.  The ability to efficiently and effectively deliver little successes throughout the life of an engagement promotes a sense of worth and helps in cultivating confidence for my clients about my capabilities.  While building the puzzle, the “quick wins” of creating the color chunks confirmed to me that I was headed down the right path to a final puzzle.

I COULD do this!

Throughout the course of an engagement, similar to my puzzle building, I have an unwavering persistence to get the job done and to do it well.  It’s the ebb and flow of movement during the life of an engagement which helps me achieve success; knowing when to adjust an approach and when to remain steadfast.

I recently revived a hidden puzzle building talent.

But the reality is I work IN puzzles every day and I love what I do.  It’s a rotating backdrop with a comforting blend of both familiar and unfamiliar pictures passing.  Each new engagement begins with a stimulating high of the unknown and only a snapshot of the end result.  My past experiences, a desire to learn, ability to adapt, and the support of awesome team members provide me with a solid foundation in the early project stages.  This solid start is a propellant for me, driving me into total engrossment of my client’s needs and a resolute desire to delight throughout the entire engagement.

Ultimately, successfully completing “the puzzle”...errr “the engagement”. 

Julie Gibbs
Julie Gibbs
Senior Consultant
Contact Julie

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