Week 75

A reflection on our process with details about our research at the beginning of a project and what we’re aiming for as the result of our strategy work with a client.

A reflection on our process

As mentioned in the last week note, I was in London a week ago to give a presentation at Ogilvy. My good friend Matt Gierhart had invited me after countless conversations to talk about how we approach strategy with Third Wave and give some insights on our process. I’m really enjoying opportunities like this as they feel like they give me an official mandate to meditate on how things have emerged out of our daily work. As I might have mentioned before, we have a pretty agile approach to our process. We dive head first into our work, relying heavily on our instincts and experiences instead of following a pre-defined formula. Afterwards, we recapitulate the whole development and look for patterns that seem to work for us. Our process comes from an abstraction of best practices from our work so far. I refer to this approach simply as “do & reflect.” This is how we came up with our social media strategy framework and this is also why it took us some time to carve out a clearer definition of what we actually do as Third Wave.

Learning about the client

So when Matt asked me to talk about our process, it was actually the first time I deliberately sat down1 to put it into words, to be honest. Nevertheless, the result was very insightful for us as a company and we’re already using the process to better explain to future clients how we work2.
The reactions and questions of the audience at Ogilvy further helped to figure out how we do things a little differently around here. They seemed to especially be interested in the broad amount of research we do at the beginning of a project to get to know the client inside out. We try to have as many interviews with involved stakeholders on the client side as possible as we’re not only interested in the details of the projects but also in the internal politics. We’ve seen too many projects fail not because of the wrong strategy or approach, but because of one person having a problem with another or one department’s goals not aligning with those of another. We also want to find the people at a client company who are the most passionate about the stuff we are hired to work on. They are our key allies to make sure that the developed strategy will actually come to live in the company.
And as it turns out, most clients realize quickly that the investment of a research phase at the beginning will save money in the end as it prevents endless iterations due to missed details and clients ending up with something unactionable because it’s too far off from the realities of their work.

The goal of our process

An other major insight came from Matt asking me how we deliver strategy. Thinking about it, I realized that in the end it’s not deliverables like a presentation deck, a handbook document or similar stuff. In the end, it boils down to a changed mindset in our client combined with a sense of ownership for the developed strategy. I’ve seen my fair share of strategic documents rotting in drawers, never getting implemented because the agency or consultancy developed something that was too far removed from the realities of the client. This is why we put so much emphasis on the upfront research and why we try work as closely with our clients as possible. If I want to make sure that a strategy can come to live, I have to involve the client. Not only to get the details right but also to make the client so much part of the process that they feel that they have developed it with us and want to see their own work being implemented. I have my proudest moments as a strategy consultant at meetings with a client’s management, where the strategy is presented and the people we worked with at the company answer the questions the management directed at us. I’ve seen people who were very reluctant to participate at the kickoff meeting. But after we went through the development process with them, months later they defended the created strategy with passion like proud fathers and mothers. This is what I’m always aiming at now. If I hear our partner at the client evangelizing the strategy, I know that my work is done.

Media attention

One of the bigger weeks for Third Wave in the media. Igor was featured on Germany’s public TV station ZDF in one of the major news shows, talking about the cloud. A radio interview Peter gave about the Quantified Self recently is also online now. Both interviews are in German.


Igor is in Moscow to be part of panel on mobile. I will be in Belgrade from Thursday to Sunday for the resonate.io conference.

  1. Stood in front of our whiteboard, to be precise. 

  2. We’re working on a visualization of the process and will publish it here when it’s finished. 

Author: Johannes

Johannes is a strategist and consultant for digital communications. His work is informed by his experience of working with brands like Deutsche Telekom, MTV, Postbank, Maggi and Nike and by his insatiable appetite for finding the bigger patterns behind current developments in technology and science. Holding a diploma in Media System Design, Johannes is a regular speaker at web and marketing conferences like Republica and the Social Media Summit.