IT consultants must regularly satisfy clients who have different backgrounds, operate within wide-ranging industries, and possess drastically different budgets. Further, consultants must regularly help clients understand how new investments, systems, projects, sites, networks, operations, and platforms will be interconnected, managed, and maintained to solve business problems, enable production, introduce efficiencies, reduce costs, and improve profitability.
That's complicated. And that's how IT consultants spend their days. So, when I was perusing the business texts at my local bookstore, I was intrigued when I spotted a book offering a hands-on method for solving complex problems using simple pictures.
Before I purchased a copy of Dan Roam's Unfolding the Napkin, I flipped through the book during a couple of visits to the bookstore. Then I downloaded sample chapters from Unfolding the Napkin and The Back of the Napkin, Roam's previous book, on my iPad. But it was only after sitting in challenging meetings with several engineers working to comprehend how various networks, systems, or sites interconnect or where dependencies existed when trying to migrate email and BlackBerry servers with no downtime that I found myself mentally referring to the lessons presented in Unfolding the Napkin. Then, I purchased the book and went through its lessons on a Friday night (although the author recommends viewing the book as a four-day course).
The Back of the Napkin stresses the importance of learning how thinking visually helps us better understand complicated processes, and how asking specific questions helps us hone focus and better understand complex issues and identify effective solutions. Unfolding the Napkin is for attention-challenged professionals (know any consultants fitting that description?) who want a cut-to-the-chase interactive how-to manual. It's essentially a guidebook that presents principles advocated in the first Napkin text and shows readers, step-by-step, how to wield those principles in the real world.
And, while earning accolades from all the expected business magazines (Fast Company, BusinessWeek, etc.), these aren't fluffy, fly-by-night faddy business precepts — Roam knows his stuff. If you're skeptical, as I was, just give it a look. Check out examples, such as problem solving samples and data visual exercises, which you can download for free from Roam's website.
I now apply the principles in Unfolding the Napkin every day in my IT consulting work. From basic client discovery meetings to Exchange server migration planning conferences to white board sessions scheduled with the purpose of finalizing multi-site point-to-point VPN deployments, now I'm a believer.
As an IT consultant, you should be too. Roam proves you don't need to be an artist or a Microsoft Visio whiz to simplify complicated network, systems, or architecture issues. In fact, he argues for working with simple, basic shapes (circles, squares, triangles, and rectangles), lines and arrows and people and things (basic smiley faces, stick drawings, boxes, and cylinders) and, literally, a napkin if that's all you require.
Simplicity has its place. In the dynamic and complex world of IT, Unfolding the Napkin may help you assist clients in understanding complicated proposals, as well as help you and your staff better execute project planning and implementation. That's a pretty good deal for 20 bucks.Get weekly consulting tips in your inbox TechRepublic's IT Consultant newsletter, delivered each Monday, offers tips on how to attract customers, build your business, and increase your technical skills in order to get the job done. Automatically sign up today!
Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president of Eckel Media Corp., a communications company specializing in public relations and technical authoring projects.