I was asked an interesting question recently with regards to what tools I used for carrying out strategy sessions or business requirements gathering. In truth, I use a wide range of techniques, exercises and software tools when carrying out that type of work. I assess what to use and how to use it based on the client and the nature of the stakeholders I am working with. Often, this is done on-the-fly, sometimes even in the midst of a facilitated workshop. The person I was chatting with was surprised by that, which is why I thought I'd flush out some thoughts regarding the topic.
The individual I was talking to seemed surprised because "as a professional, an expert, you should know what you need to use. It's like a carpenter, he know's exactly what tools he's going to need to build an addition to my home." I liked the analogy, and in part I agree, but still feel that my approach is what a seasoned professional must do in order to best meet the needs of his clients. The carpenter, for example, doesn't show-up on the job site solely with hammer and nails. He brings a variety of hammers, different sizes of nails, saws, drills, ladders of different heights. He does this things because, despite knowing exactly what he is doing that day, he doesn't know what he might find out once he gets there.
The same is true in consulting. I show up at facilitated working sessions with an array of different tools: flip-charts, 3×5 cards, stickers, markers, laptops, mind mapping software, Powerpoint templates, instructions for various exercises. Do I use all these things? No. I have an ideas of how the session will progress, but I wait and see how it actually evolves. If the group, for example, is really getting some momentum discussing and debating things, then I might record content in an audio format, I might capture things in a mindmap. If, however, I encounter a group that isn't as engaged, I might split them into breakout groups, give them each a laptop and tell them to respond to scenarios I've given them. It is dynamic!
While we do use methodologies to ensure success, those methodologies are flexible enough to meet the real-world needs of our clients. Trying to follow too much of a cookie-cutter approach leaves the strategic output as too 1-dimensional. Rarely do clients realize the value that they expect and need if you simply follow a step-by-step approach with no allowance for creativity in the process.