Digital consultancy Symbility Intersect has worked with some big names. The Toronto firm, founded in 2008, recently revamped Second Cup’s app, and counts Facebook as a past collaborator. With such an influential client roster, keeping projects on track and on time is crucial.
To make the work easier, Symbility worked to automate its internal processes. The company created proprietary software that allowed employees to easily collaborate and track projects, eliminating the need for designated project managers. The new system had a surprising secondary benefit: Symbility could grant anyone the ability to look under the company’s hood.
So about a year and a half ago, Symbility did something unusual for a consulting firm, a class often maligned for operating as black boxes—CEO Peter Crowe opened up his company’s projects-in-progress for clients to see.
Despite all the potential pitfalls of this radical transparency, the strategy has been good for business. Bnotions—the company that became Symbility Intersect after it was acquired by fellow Toronto firm Symbility Solutions—took the #39 position on the 2015 PROFIT 500 Ranking of Canada’s Fastest-Growing Companies.
It was a calculated risk, says Crowe. Here’s why and how he did it—and what other entrepreneurs stand to gain by opening their books.
1. Clients will trust, but verify
Letting clients see your company’s inner workings opens you up to clients who like to micromanage. But that hasn’t been the case so far, says Crowe.
Symbility was started to help established firms act more like startups and re-invent their digital brands. In addition to its consultancy services, Symbility regularly builds websites and apps. It’s transparent operating philosophy allows clients to get a up-close look at how the digital design process works. They often don’t understand what the designers are doing, admits Crowe, but that’s okay.
“We’re not in the maintenance business,” says Crowe. “We want them to internalize the information so that they can take care of themselves. We want our clients to fully understand what’s happening.”
The access that Symbility gives its clients is rewarded with their trust. Crowe guarantees that “a project will never be more than 24 hours behind [schedule],” and his clients have a reason to believe it’s more than just a sales pitch, because they can see the work in progress.
2. Employees will save time
Employees might initially find it nerve-wracking to know that the client is hovering over their workflow. But in the long run, it’s good for the company, says Crowe.
Automation has cut down on meeting times, and eliminating “a hundred of those conversations a month” does wonders for everyone’s productivity. Plus, there’s a lot of great coding talent out there employed by Symbility’s competitors, he says. “If we can move a few weeks faster and cheaper, it’s going to keep us improving,” says Crowe.
3. Billable hours will fall—but that’s okay
A system where clients can see every moment Symbility spends on their projects cuts down the number of hours the company can bill. That’s okay, says Crowe, because, ostensibly, they’re aiming for a higher volume of work. “Initially it was biting the bullet of pulling a lot of people off billable hour work,” he admits. “There’s a lot of licenses and fixed cost that you have to invest in. And on top of that you have to train your entire team.”
For 12 to 14 months, the company’s net losses surpassed the $1 million investment in the new automated platform. But after the system became a part of daily life, it’s paid off ten-fold.
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What do you think of Symbility’s radically transparent strategy? How much information about your internal timelines and processes are you comfortable with your clients having? Share your thoughts by commenting below.