An Engineering Approach to Problem Solving in the World of Consulting with Peter Duncan

Learning how to break down and solve complex problems is a core skill you need in today’s business world. No one understands this better than Peter Duncan, whose role as a Senior Consultant at Apis is dependent on his ability to quickly break down complex problems and develop effective solutions.

An Engineering Approach to Problem Solving in the World of Consulting with Peter Duncan

Learning how to break down and solve complex problems is a core skill you need in today’s business world. No one understands this better than Peter Duncan, whose role as a Senior Consultant at Apis is dependent on his ability to quickly break down complex problems and develop effective solutions.

We had a chat with Peter about the importance of problem solving in the world of consultancy.

 

What’s your background and how did you get into the world of consulting?

I started off in the private sector as an engineering consultant at a multinational. I was a process engineer working for a number of large public industrial and manufacturing sector clients in technically focused engineering and project management roles.

 

To broaden my professional skill set I moved into the public sector and attained my MBA. I worked in the Australian government, in government policy formation and implementation.

 

During this time I was put in touch with Apis through a colleague. I was lucky enough to be offered a job and that’s how I’ve got to where I am today. I’m back doing consulting, but on the business side of things rather than purely focused on the technical.

 

What drew you to work for Apis?

Definitely the people – I work with some extremely talented and bright individuals who are all very easy going socially. We compete against the bigger consulting firms of the world, and I think we’re on par, if not better, at implementing large programs of work of national significance. I also like Apis’ small business feel. There’s a lack of restrictive bureaucracy in comparison to some of the larger companies, which is something that really resonated with me when I first joined the organisation.

 

How have you applied your engineering know-how to your current role as a senior consultant, and how has it helped you become a better problem solver?

Engineering is all about pragmatic, critical thinking and problem solving. They’re all skill sets that are transferable and crucial to have in the consulting world. My background in engineering has allowed me to critically think about ‘wicked problems’, analyse them and break them down into smaller, actionable “chunks” and ultimately provide workable solutions for clients.

 

How important are these skills in the world of consultancy?

They’re massively important. Regardless of the content you need to be able to come up with logical solutions that can be easily understood and communicated to clients. Without clear and defensible logic, you won’t get solutions across the line or implemented by the client.

 

From an engineering point of view, optimised fit-for-purpose solutions strike the right balance between efficiency, rigor and effort. This requires a good understanding of the given business context and operating environment to make appropriate risk based judgments that will deliver the best outcome. The consideration and testing of all these variables lend themselves well to a systematic, engineering view of the world.

 

In saying that, problem-solving skills aren’t all that’s needed. You also need the management and people skills to be able to work with people who don’t necessarily think the same or are from the same background.

Could you give us an example of a project where you used your engineering thinking to solve a complex problem?

I was in the Apis team assisting in the establishment of the Clean Energy Regulator as a new government entity. It was compiled from public servants from three or four different agencies. It had no established business practices and we had to come together and figure out how to translate the legislation and policies put in place into actual operations, the business processes and operating procedures required to deliver the legislative outcomes.

 

It was a complex problem, which required a lot of engineering skills. It involved process design, systems thinking and configuration management. It involved defining and building and guiding key organisation aspects – people, processes, organisation, information and technology – and configuring them in such a way to make the processes we designed function efficiently and effectively and deliver the necessary business capabilities.

 

And finally, what advice would you give to an engineer thinking of transitioning to consulting?

Do it – it’s great to get out of the technical side of things. It gives you a better understanding of and access to the business side of organisations, where high-level direction and strategy decisions are made, and allows you to work with other people who may not necessarily be from the same background. It affords you the opportunity to become well rounded, not only professionally but personally as well. You can see how your work impacts an organisation and witness the change it has instigated. That’s something I really love about working at Apis.

APIS CANBERRA INTERNATIONAL 2017