Sunday, November 8, 2009

Consulting vs Banking - Some Thoughts

So I have alluded to many times that I will blog about the difference between bankers and consultants. We all know that there is an age old rivalry between bankers and consultants, as typified in the hilarious and oft-cited video below.

Now, my AV skills were tapped out creating a 21st video for my bro so I won’t be dazzling you with my own musical today (legions of music appreciating fans heave a sigh of relief). Additionally, I find the process of writing b-school essays has sucked every last bit of my will to write extensively, so I am not going to offer you the comprehensive comparison you might be expecting. Instead, I thought I would focus on one question – What can consultants and bankers learn from each other?

So, in my limited experience, I think I have an answer to this question from both perspectives. From the consultants side, I think what we can learn is the concept of materiality. Bankers are concerned with money on the table, and they realise that small differences typically have little effect on the big picture. Consultants on the other hand care about literally every little thing. Bankers use the term materiality to denote a concept whereby they will focus only on the stuff that actually will really shift value. If you are reading closely this is of course an extension of the 80:20 rule – which is always on the tip of consultant’s tongues, but somehow goes out the window when your engagement manager is asking you to align boxes at 2am. If we focused only on appropriate levels of detail, our lives would much easier, without any reduction in client service.

From the banker’s side, I think they could stand to learn how to tell a story much better. For consultants, telling a story is at the heart of what we do. We gather facts, do analysis and make recommendations, but at the heart of what we do is taking the client on a journey such that by the end of the case, they are fully bought in to the result. See Steve Shu’s post on the topic for more detail. Bankers have the recommendation part down cold as you would expect, but from my experience they don’t do enough to get the client bought in – I think it would greatly improve the quality of some of their work.

Anyway there are my two cents. Anybody have thoughts on the topic?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Considering Consulting

Hey all,

Have a look at this new blog - its by a guy who is in the midst of the application process for a number of the bigger strat houses. I get a couple of emails from readers every now and then asking for advice on this process - I suggest you use this site as a resource as well.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Jumping on the bandwagon

I have succumbed, and am now on Twitter. I suspect my initial tweets will be random complaints about my job, but bear with me and I am sure they will get better. I have found two of the 'Insider Community' but anyone else, please jump on board.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

I'm back, and musings on managing consultants

So after excessive time away, I am finally back to writing this blog. I wish I could tell you that in the last 2 months, I have finished all my essays and am ready to go with b-school apps - but that would be a lie. Its mainly been a combination of busy projects, and believe it or not an actual social life.

So today I thought I would pose the question - what makes a perfect engagement / job / project / case manager?

There are, in my view a couple of archetypes. Note the definition of archetype – these are extreme examples. Any evident bitterness is my own, and not referable to any one particular manager J

1) The Micro-Manager (MM)

This person loves the detail, and doesn’t trust their team. They want to know what is happening every hour of every day, and if you have a meeting, they want to be in it too. Only really good thing about the micro manager is that the poor worker can disengage their brain – they won’t be needing to be the excel / ppt monkey this manager desires

2) The Insecure Competitor (IC)

This person is really worried that his or her team is actually better at the consulting gig than they are. Typical motivations for this include a recent promotion, a recent failed attempt at promotion, or general lack of faith in their own abilities. The Insecure Competitor (IC) exhibits many traits of the Micro-Manager, but adds a veneer of competitiveness – the team shouldn’t bother to have ideas because the IC will always trump them, even when the replacement idea is worse. In meetings, the team can try get a word in edgeways, but the IC will inevitably be there first. The worst part is, the IC will always take credit for your work

3) Content Free, Hands Off (CHFO)

The CFHO is a great believer in laissez-faire economics, without really understanding the implications of said theory. He or she will let the poor consultant “manage their own work”. No help is offered, and in my opinion no value is delivered. No one really knows what the CFHO does with their time.

I think though that a really good consulting manager has to combine characteristics of all three archetypes – the content knowledge of the MM, the thought leadership of the IC, and the independence for the team of the CFHO.

To be fair, it’s a tough gig – there is a reason why the case manager level is widely known as the worst level in terms of rewards v work across many consulting firms.

Any thoughts on this? Does anyone have a different type in mind?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Finally, we get a movie ...

So I heard about this movie - Up in the Air. It stars George Clooney as a management consultant, "trying to get 1 million frequent flyer miles". Should be interesting.

Anyone from Toronto? - apparently it is premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival from September 10-19. If someone here goes to see it, perhaps they could a write a review as a guest post? Or at least let us all know in the comments what its like.

I have been jokingly thinking about a consulting movie, given I am working in the film industry at the moment. As per usual, someone else has stolen my idea :)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

One more thing ...

A codicil to the last post. Turns out my "team", the junior consultant, has been pulled to a billable project. I am so screwed. Looks like I will be pushing back some business school apps to round 2. Fun times.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Managing Teams

So for the past couple of weeks (actually a month now that I think about it), I have been working on what I had thought would be a nice easy pro bono project in the world of film. Unfortunately, it seems nothing is ever nice and easy in the world of consulting.

The seniors on the project decided in their infinite wisdom that given the low risk nature of the assignment, they would assign a lowly senior consultant (me), to run the damn thing. This has meant that, for no more incentives, I have been stressing for the last four weeks like never before.

I never quite appreciated the jolt to the heart a manager gets when the junior consultant cant answer questions about the numbers, or presents numbers that change day to day with no good reason. Maybe I am too invested in it, or have too high expectations, but sometimes I feel like I just need to grab control of all the detailed work myself, so I know its right.

This is balanced by my desire to not emulate the worst job managers I have worked with. I have no desire to be the work until 2am guy (even though we did that a couple of days ago), and I find the idea of making people work on the weekend abhorrent. I worry sometimes though that in my desire to be an nice guy, I am not sufficiently preparing my junior consultant for the rigours of real world consulting.

All in all, I think its been a formative experience, although one that is not over yet. Due to the size of our organisation, this will probably be a rare event until a promotion or two away, but I think I will take away some valuable lessons on managing people. I haven’t got enough distance yet to work out what those are, but I will post when I do. Any thoughts would be welcome.

Next post – a discussion on an interesting quirk on the film distribution industry.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Disappearing Comments

It appears comments have been disappearing. Email me at and let me know if it happened to yours so I can see how widespread the problem is. I have no idea why its happening - apologies.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Business School Essays – Not Easy

Why is it so hard to do B-School apps? I am having immense trouble doing mine – working on my Columbia essays at the moment. I think its because I am not used to writing about myself.

Any sage bits of wisdom from those who have done it before?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Why do clients think our job is so great?

You know, it happens on every project.  You get to the client, get past the initial worry that you are after their jobs, and in several small ways prove to them you might actually add some value. As per usual practice, you start making friends – both to stave off the loneliness that working at your laptop at 2am engenders, but also so you can source data more easily.

Then it happens – the inevitable “your job sounds so good” “your job sounds so glamourous” “I wish I could travel around all the time”. If only they knew.

I am not saying I don’t like my job – I do. However, it is a job with downsides like any other – see here. Clients just don’t see the bad stuff – either because they are the cause of it, or because they are out the door long before we finish.

You know what makes it a little more annoying than usual? These clients are in the film industry. Film for crying out loud. I would love to work in film – but they think consulting is sexy. To quote a colleague - “I have never felt so money as when I am getting into a smelly taxi at 3 in the morning after a long night of work and crappy takeout food”. Much better than walking the red carpet – not.

Oh dear – that was a bit of a rant – maybe I need more sleep …

Monday, July 27, 2009

One more business school motivator

So I wrote earlier about why I want to go to business school here. Having a conversation with a friend over the weekend (she claims to be a reader – you know who you are), I came up with another one, which might actually be the primary motivator.

6) Time to Reflect

I figure, in about 4 years of consulting, I must have learned something. I find myself pontificating to new consultants about how to make their job easier all the time, and I started this blog in an effort to collect my thoughts. However, I think two years away, in an academic environment will allow me to synthesise my learnings, and work out how far (or not) I have come. I know some would say you only learn to BS people in the fast talking world of strategy consulting, but I am convinced there is something else there – I just haven't had the opportunity to understand it yet.

So there you go – my sixth and potentially most important reason for subjecting myself to the horrors of the B-School app process (Still “studying” for the GMAT retake, plan to start Columbia essays this weekend).

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Blank Page Syndrome


After all this time in consulting, my largest problem remains blank page syndrome. This is when someone asks you to create a deck out of nothing. No previous projects to leverage, no similar experiences to draw on. Sometimes I feel like my mind just shrinks away from the challenge.

Of course, given coffee and and a looming deadline, I more or less always get something together, but sometimes I feel like I am not quite getting it.  Is there some secret consulting method that I have missed somehow, that allows people to effortlessly turn out pages, whilst I slave away at my computer? I always assumed I would have it figured out by now.

I guess there is always something more to learn. Please, be forthcoming if you know what I am talking about. If not, chalk it up to weird thoughts at half past midnight on a Sunday.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Its been done before, but …

Ways you know you have been a consultant for too long (not all of these are me, most obviously the wedding related ones). Hat tip to my anon. colleague who brainstormed these with me. No particular order.

1) When someone tells you they are going on holiday to a place you have already been to, all you can talk about is the awesome itinerary you produced in excel …

2) … and then you really want to pass it on to your friends as a framework for their holiday

3) You plan your wedding with highly flexible excel spreadsheet, sorting it by person, task and nature of responsibility. You refuse to give up ownership of said spreadsheet on the day of your wedding

4) Reading the newspaper, your primary thought is how little the headlines resemble the articles below them, and how the articles themselves have no coherent structure

5) When you go on holiday, you don't consider staying in a hotel less than 5 stars, even after you realise this time you are paying for it yourself

6) You drink sparkling not still

7) Being separated from your laptop for more than 12 hours makes you uneasy / physically unwell

8) Whenever someone gives you a compliment, you go on alert for the inevitable criticism that will follow

9) You start wondering why doctors and lawyers get all those cool TV shows, and consultants get nothing

10) You start a blog on consulting

11) You are satisfied you have achieved “buy-in” when your girlfriend agrees to sleep with you

12) You chart your success at bars, and then have a long think about decomposing the drivers behind that success or lack thereof

13) Despite understanding the last thing that happens at a steering committee is steering, you still stay up until 2am getting the document ready

14) The highest praise you can give to a restaurant is that the service is quick

15) You would never, ever, spend good money on a consultant

16) You have eaten a club sandwich from hotel room service in excess of 100x

17) You consider the full stop to be your greatest enemy

18) You often muse that the local sandwich joint would benefit from some judiciously applied process improvement

19) You justify the fact you don't get paid as much as bankers by the fact you don't work as hard, only to discover that you do

20) You dream about becoming close personal friends with the data guy

Any more that people can think of? As can been seen from above, humour is not mandatory, but always appreciated :)

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


Perception. Its the fuel that consulting firms run on. I have written about this before, in the context of building a rep at the firm. Its wider than this though, as your performance is not just based on the quality of of your work (how crisp your decks are, how bulletproof your models are), but rather how well you are doing through the lens of your job manager.

I recently came to odds with this idea coming off the back of the hardcore due diligence project I mentioned. This project was somewhat oddly structured. Due to cost considerations, it was staffed by a principal full time, a green grad consultant, a 1 year out consultant and yours truly, a senior consultant. This left a rather large vacuum in terms of people between me and and the principal. Normally, this would have meant I would run the project. In this case, the principal was very hands on – which is fine as everyone has their own way of doing things. Upshot of all this, I was working with two more junior people, but not in any way managing them.

In this sort of situation, one option I had was to keep my head down for the project, do my work well and move on. The reality is, I have a certain responsibility to the more junior consultants, and as such feel like I have to pass on my knowledge. When you are dealing with typical newbie management consultants, full of the belief they are the best of the best, its a challenge. I am a pretty good student of behaviour, and given the team I had, I determined the most effective way to pass on knowledge would be to do it quietly. This meant not making a big deal about when I was helping them, not embarrassing them in front of the principal / client and so on. I think I did this pretty effectively, and given the high pressure of the job the fact no major issues occurred was a cause for celebration.

Of course, then we get to my post project review, where apparently one of the areas I really need to work on is dealing with with junior consultants. Forget the fact that I busted my hump trying to help them in a subtle and peacekeeping kind of way, the important thing was that principal’s perception was that I was “bossed around” by the junior team. Essentially, by avoiding being an asshole to the rest of team, I looked like a wimp to the principal.

Perception matters. Being decent, not so much.

Monday, July 13, 2009

I’m back

So I am back after a multi-month absence from the blogging battlegrounds. Its probably not a bad idea to keep you all up to date on what has been happening in my corner of the world.

First off, I spent two months, actually more like 7 weeks, working on the due diligence for a potential acquirer. Being my first transactional piece, its worth a post in and of itself on what I learnt about the role difference professional services firms play in deals, but that will come later. Suffice to say for now that it was a very hard slog, long hours, high burn.

During that, I screwed up the scheduling and had to do the GMAT on a Friday in the middle of the project. With little sleep and focus, I got a disappointing 690, with most of my errors in the Maths section – a low blow as I haven’t done that badly in a maths test ever. I will be retaking it , as well as starting the essay writing process – look out for a decent set of “Road to Business School” posts coming soon.

Post the DD, I moved onto a a solo two week project for a widget maker – a nice, clean and simple business case on restructuring their sales force. Client was happy, the partner was happy and I want too overworked – good times all around.

That, apart from a bout of (non-swine) flu brings us to today. Waiting to hear on a new project, so should have some time now to polish off some posts that have been languishing in the cupboard.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Under the pump ...

For my 5-10 faithful readers (that may be generous), apologies for not posting recently. I am currently being smashed on a due diligence engagement. Really interesting, and I will post my thoughts on it at some point, but a huuuge amount of work in a very short timeframe. Back to you all soon I promise.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Review Cycles

I figure, a huge proportion of time spent working late nights on consulting jobs is all down to review cycles. I am at a client site right now, and the junior consultant on the project has just waited from 7pm to midnight for the engagement manager to come back with comments so she can progress the work. Don’t get me wrong, the engagement manager isn’t skiving off – she is really busy herself, but just didn’t have time to get to it. As a result, the poor junior has been stuffing around for hours. I tried to help, but couldn’t sufficiently get into my manager’s head. 

When I get to the point of managing projects, I don’t want to leave my juniors hanging – I know how frustrating it is. My hypothesis (well, one I have read about)  for why it occurs is the crest of ignorance. Essentially, juniors don’t know enough, and work can only be progressed by people with knowledge. Given the typical structure  of a project team, with an inevitable green consultant or two, there doesn’t seem to be a way around this.

Has anyone else come across this problem?

Sunday, April 26, 2009


What does it mean to be an expert? Malcom Gladwell’s latest book, Outliers, talks about the 10,000 hours of practice needed to master something. In consulting, we rarely have the luxury of that much time in any one area, at least initially. I remember on my second project out of university, we were sitting down for the kickoff meeting and I was a little bit shocked to be described as the cost to serve modeling expert. This was after doing one cost to serve project. So it is pretty clear that when we talk to clients, consulting expertise is not always particularly deep.

Within the walls of the firm, its generally another story. Expertise is valuable in a couple of ways, and generally it will be gained because of more than one project you have worked on, or just a general ‘rep’ around the office. This rep is crucial to your development as a consultant, but it can cut both ways. If it’s for good, interesting things, then it will drive you towards those sort of projects – if it’s not, you’re screwed, because you will keep being put on those things people think you are good at. I came to this realization the other day, when someone came up to me and asked me a question, prefacing it with “Seeing as how you are a government expert …”. I was pretty annoyed, and for good reason. I have only been on a couple of government projects, and I hated every minute of them. I am kind of screwed if this is my rep, and I have no idea how to get out of it. Any ideas?

By the way, I know it has been a bit of a gap between posts. I can only promise to do better - this is still fairly new to me.

Monday, April 6, 2009

So why Business School?

I think I have boiled it down to five reasons – in no particular order.

1) A fun break. Psychologically, I am not the sort to pick up sticks for 6 months or a year and bum around the world (Damn my 1st generation immigrant origins!). Unfortunately, I think it’s the kind of break I need after slogging away at the corporate grindstone for nearly 4 years. Business school offers the opportunity to have that time off, but spend in a way that keeps me from feeling guilty about wasting time. From all reports, it is seriously awesome fun with a little learning thrown in. Perfect.

2) Meet new and interesting people. Ever since uni finished, I have had a progressively more difficult time meeting new people. Apart from the fact that I am single (and have no desire to remain that way for ever), I genuinely enjoy meeting people of diverse backgrounds and learning about them. I don’t get to do it enough these days, and business school seems like a good opportunity to do so.

3) Career progression at current firm. In a lot of consulting firms, an MBA is seen as a quasi-mandatory rung on the ladder to promotion. Whilst I have spent much time wondering if I will stick with my current firm, lately I really felt strong ties to it. If I do decide to stay here for several years longer, an MBA will definitely prove useful.

4) Get a professional business qualification. Throughout my time consulting, whilst I have picked up things quickly, I have always felt bedeviled by a lack of a professional business qualification. I have had to work fairly hard to catch up on things that come easily to a commerce or business grad, so I figure its time to get a degree to give myself that solid bit of knowledge.

5) Open up future career opportunities. I also need to think about my long term future in business. Over the last couple of years I have come to the realization that eventually I want to end up as a CEO of a decent size corporation. Industry doesn’t matter as much – although something in biotech or consumer goods would be awesome. For that, I think an MBA will prove mighty useful, both in knowledge and network terms.

So that’s what I have so far. Individually they are not enough, but together I think provide a compelling value proposition. I may have some buried in my brain somewhere so will update then. 

Sunday, April 5, 2009

The deadliest insult in consulting ...

Ok - wil get to the B-School post later, but just had to get this thought down. A recent revelation of mine is that the worst thing you can describe a fellow consultant as is "you are not [insert name of firm here]". Its the kind of imprecise description that can spell one's doom at a consulting firm. It doesn't mean you are not good at your job, doesn't mean you aren't smart or personable, it just means that you somehow don't quite fit. It could be a variety of reasons - maybe you have the wrong type of personality, maybe you are too industry (and not consulting) focused, maybe you just pissed someone off. In any event, once people start believing it, you are pretty much finished.

Hasn't happened to me thankfully, but I can think of a couple of examples at my place of work. How about you all out there - any thoughts?


So now onto the Associates. In reality, there are two type of As, the newbies who are fresh from business school without having been at the frim previously (the majority of hires in the States are like this), or the ones who have been promoted from SC, either via business school or not.

The newbie A will get assignments much like an SC, with a slight extra helping of responsibility. On a given project for example, the A might lead a workstream just like the SCs, but would typically be given the most difficult / important one. Expectations are also higher – after all the firm is paying you 40% more. Having said that, performance of new As often lags behind the seasoned SCs – the SCs simply have more hours on the ground doing consulting projects, and are familiar with management. However, where the As sometimes come out on top is by virtue of their wider work experience – it is not unusual to have As who have gone to business school looking for a career change and hence have a good bit of outside experience under their belt. Theoretically this gives them a “business voice”, the ability to talk knowledgably about business issues. I don’t buy it personally, but then again I’m not running a consulting firm.

As who have come up through the ranks are on a bit of a faster track than the newbie As. They know the territory and have either demonstrated A level skills already or have gone to business school. This means they get tougher and better assignments, and are on the track to team and job management much faster than newbie A.

Overall, the attrition rate is said to be highest amongst As. I haven’t done the analysis to back this up, but it feels right. I would take it one step further and say it is highest amongst newbie As – I suspect “come up through the ranks’ As stay at least until Engagement Manager.

Next post will be not be on Engagement Managers. I am working on one that announces why I am applying for business school – kind a of a cathartic reflection that hopefully will motivate me a little to get moving on GMAT study.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

So now you think you know what you are doing ..

So, onto the next level – Senior Consultant (SC). In some ways, this one of the better places to be in a consulting firm. For your tenure, the pay is pretty good, the responsibility is nowhere near as much as higher levels, and you have been around long enough that you have a real identity with the firm. This last is more important than you might think – having a reputation at a professional services firm is crucial if you want to progress. By rep I don’t mean “check out Joe Blogs, he is a real ladies man”, but instead “Joe Blogs is the go to guy for customer segmentation models”. Yes, its not as cool, but it is how you get staffed on good projects, and where you are staffed is an important determinant of how well you do. Many a good worker has been screwed because they got staffed on a series of projects that didn’t let them “tick the boxes”.

Anyway, as an SC, you will almost immediately see a difference in the way seniors treat you. Even though the management model is pretty light touch even for newly minted consultants, it becomes even more so for SCs. You have been around for a few years, so people will start to only give you vague directions, and leave it to you to make some consulting magic happen. Hopefully you know enough to get things done – if not learn fast! Depending on the size of the team, you will be leading workstreams, or at the very least sizeable chunks of independent work.

Your soft skills will also need to be used quite often – even more than as a consultant, you will have your own clients to look after, either managing them or as direct relationships. Just as it is for anyone senior, you have to keep them happy. One technique I have found useful is to try and help them with something non project related that you have expertise in – I often find helping them out with Excel related issues is a great way to build credibility and trust.

Of course, keeping the client happy is the minimum requirement – you also need to make life easy for the engagement manager, and live up to the high standards set at a consulting firm. The rule is, always know the background to everything you do – be able to answer all the questions, even if the number that is being queried comes from the client. I don’t know is the absolute worst thing you can say. Also, make sure you raise issues quickly and transparently. Asking for help sourcing some benchmarks two weeks before a steering committee is much much better than not having them the day before.

Once you are an SC for a little while, its time to start thinking about business school. I will be a writing a post on why I want to go to business school (and where) in the near future, but for the SC job description, lets just say that it is an almost expected part of your career progression. You go away as an SC, and magically come back as an Associate. Therefore, you should be thinking about the process, what you need to do, and whether or not you want to go. 

Next post in this series will be on Associates. 

Monday, March 16, 2009

Fresh Meat

So I have just rolled off a lightning engagement of 3 weeks – fair bit of work, but the client was happy, my job manager was happy, and when the partners paid attention, they were happy. It got me thinking as to how the consulting role differs between levels – how is a grad’s job different from a case manager?, and so on throughout the levels. So here it is, the Consultant Insider’s guide to consulting levels. I will separate them into different posts as it might get a bit long.

For the purposes of this outline, I will use the following terminology – its not common across firms, so I have constructed an amalgam. Consultant will refer to wet behind the ears undergraduate hires. Senior Consultants are the promoted version of these – usually two years in. For MBA hires, or promoted SCs, I am going to use the term Associate. After this, the next stop is Engagement Manager, Principal then Partner. Ok – onto what they actually do. 


As mentioned above, this bright eyed individual will come in straight from an undergrad degree. After a rigourous screening process (it really is – I participated in one last night – but more on that in another post), these kids are typically very smart, highly motivated, and after having gone through the interview process, actually have a decent personality – the really nerdy back room types get knocked back in an interview.

So what do we get these eager beavers to do? Well, when staffed, the ultimate first job a consultant does is baselining. This is essentially simple excel data cleansing and modeling, to give the rest of the team a good data source from which to prove and disprove their hypotheses. This is a relatively thankless job. You will be blamed for every error in the client’s data, team mates will bother you for updates before you are ready, and then blame you when the interim versions change. Stick with it though – a good baseline is an absolute necessity on most consulting projects. It also gives you a good appreciation for the basics of excel and possibly excel’s most important function – Pivot Tables. For an explanation – see this post by the Consultant Ninja.

That isn’t the only thing we ask newbies to do of course. New consultants start the long road to death by PowerPoint by getting successively larger sections of decks to create. When you start, we won’t ask to write many ages by yourself, but you have to learn fast. Interviews with competitors or client staff are another popular task – we might get you to come along to take notes, or more likely conduct them yourself. There may be more advanced modeling too, but I will expand on that in my Senior Consultant post.

Ultimately however, your job as a consultant is twofold – make your job manager’s life easy (give him or her some leverage), and when the odd senior person deigns to notice you, speak up and get noticed. New consultants have to be on senior peoples’ radars, else staffing becomes difficult.

Does anyone have any other thoughts on the job of a newly minted grad consultant?

I will post later on SCs.

Innovative Presentation Tool

Not strictly consulting related, but I came across this very cool site - Wordle . It takes any text or blog link you want, and converts in into a picture, with the most frequently words appearing as the largest. Its a pretty interesting idea, and has the potential to be quite useful - if for nothing else than for highlighting consulting buzz words. Here is the Consulting Insider blog to date using Wordle - Picture.

Enjoy - its fun to play with

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Project Schedules ...

So it turns out I shouldn't have started a blog while on the beach. I had forgotten in three short weeks how demanding a case can be. I am in the beautiful city of Melbourne, and all I have seen is my hotel room, the client, the office and the 10m walk between the hotel and the office. Bad habits, but on a short (2 1/2 week) project when its 2 partners, 1 part time case manager and the lowly grunt (thats me), work takes priority. I have been having some good thoughts on hierarchy and managing upwards - will share with you all soon.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Hitting the Books

As previously mentioned, I hope to get into business school for entry in 2010. This means applications for the first round end about November. Business school entry consists of three major components; the GMAT, application essays and references. I will be covering each of these components in some detail as I go through them. As always, helpful comments from veterans are useful. I hope to be an expert in these things as I go through – so if you have any questions post them as well.

The GMAT is a computer based, adaptive multiple choice exam that tests both math and English skills. I started with English on the weekend, and surprisingly found I could handle most of it. It appears years of reading too many books has paid off. The English part is in three sections; Reading Comprehension (where you have to understand the meaning of a passage), Critical Analysis (where you have to pick the sentence that most agrees with a passage), and Sentence Correction (where you have to correct a poorly written sentence). That last one is quite hard as the sentences they give you often sound pretty close to being correct. I can do them, but only if I read them out aloud as somehow I can tell when a sentence is correct by how it sounds. Ah well, I guess I will have to actually learn the rules.

Anyway, I had better stop writing now as I have a 6am (erk!) flight tomorrow for my new project – a stakeholder engagement strategy. I will post later on my GMAT progress.  

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Cost Base Variabilisation

Sorry for not posting on the weekend as I enjoyed one of those rare treats for a consultant - leaving the laptop home on the weekend. Admittedly, it should be possible to not work on the weekend - see this post at Killer Consultant - but most weekends I take it home just in case. This time it was fine because I was on the beach.

We had our monthly office meeting on Friday, and it was very doom and gloom. The global CEO was here, and he gave us a very depressing rundown on how bad things are getting in the global economy as a whole. He also punctured the "Australian Immunity Thesis". Here in Oz, we have been somewhat insulated from the worst of the problems - but its only a temporary and illusory protection. 

After the big boss, the regional MD talked to us about how badly we are going against plan. The picture wasn't fantastic, with belt tightening definitely necessary. Luckily, there are no plans for redundancies in the area I work in, but they are looking to variabilise the cost base - the ostensible subject of this post. 

I have used this term countless times on projects. It refers to situation where a company has a high proportion of fixed costs (costs that don't depend on the amount of business you do), and would like to convert them to variable ones. Fixed costs are not too bad in a rising market - the more revenue you generate, the more profit you make (simplistically). In a falling market that fixed cost base, e.g. salaries, starts to look a whole lot like a massive anchor on your results. So we tend to tell clients to try and variabilise the costs. You can do this by making a higher percentage of compensation at risk (i.e. bonuses), or by offering greater flexibility in working arrangements, or by having a higher percentage of work done by contractors. 

In our case, we are looking to increase flexibility. To that end, and for my own reasons also, I am looking to go on secondment. I want to do it so I have time to apply to business school, and also to give myself a taste of something different to consulting, which I have been doing my entire career. In any event, I will let you all know how it goes. Does anyone have any perspectives on doing an industry secondment?

Stay tuned for the next post, where I begin blogging my road to getting into business school. 

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

How not to impress on your first project

Maybe its because of the recruiting stuff I am working on, but I have been thinking lately of massive rookie fails that I have incurred over my time in consulting. Two that come to mind are from the same project – my first ever client project in my first ever job out of uni.

The client was a snack foods manufacturer, a division of [Popular Soft Drink Brand 1]. I was excited to be on my first case, and on the very first day we got to go out to the distribution centre. This is the warehouse where all the stock is received and then shipped out to the various supermarkets and so on. It was a pretty cool place, especially for a recent law grad who had never seen its like before. They gave us all visibility jackets, fluorescent yellow vests that theoretically helps forklift drivers not run you over. Its pretty standard practice in DCs, along with the bit they didn’t mention – there are lanes marked on the floor, which indicate where its safe for humans not driving a forklift to walk. Not being armed with this information, I nearly got hammered by a forklift coming around the corner, with end result being a few boxes going everywhere, and the partners being embarrassed by the rookie confirming to everyone that he was, in fact, a total newbie.

To compound my embarrassment, when we went to lunch with the clients later that day, I got my customary sandwich and diet [Popular Soft Drink Brand 2]. As you may remember, the client was a division of [Popular Soft Drink Brand 1]. I got several dirty looks during lunch, and a lecture later that afternoon about respecting the client, and never, ever, using a competing product, especially in an area as keenly fought over as soft drinks.

Small stuff ups maybe, but to a new grad it seemed like I had irrevocably shot myself in the foot. Luckily my bosses were much more forgiving than that – and I have managed to keep my share of stuff ups since then low. Of course, there was always the agribusiness client but that’s a story for another time …

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Beach

No, not the bad Leo movie but that activity in a consultant’s calendar where you get to kick back and smell the roses for a change. For those of you who don’t know, the beach is when you aren’t staffed on a project, and get assigned random tasks –  such as helping with recruiting, pitching for new work or developing intellectual capital. For a new grad, this can be amongst the most confusing things – I remember back when I was a fresh faced grad, I joined and went straight to the beach – it really got me questioning why they had bothered hiring me.

Having been staffed on projects continuously for over a year however, it has been nice to be on the beach for a little while. Get in at 9, leave at 5:30 – I almost feel like I have a normal job. The downside is, its boring – intellectual challenges certainly don’t feature.

I am currently whipping up a little presentation for a giveaway CD we are providing to some “select” recruits from one of the universities around here. I get to put video in a PowerPoint – something which has regrettably got me all excited. This is probably the point where I should realise its all gone horribly wrong – when did I become the person who gets excited about PowerPoint?

Monday, February 16, 2009

Recession Rumblings

Well, the second post has come around faster than I expected. This could turn into somewhat of an addiction.

Here in Australia, the GFC (Global Financial Crisis as our PM likes to call it), or the AFF (American Financial Fiasco / F***up), has made everyone very nervous. Consulting is risky at the best of times, and now we are all worried. Appraisals got moved up by a couple of weeks, and it’s a good bet this means that people will be slightly more aggressively “counseled on” than is the norm. I think I am ok – my billability is up high, I haven’t screwed up lately and I am not being appraised until October, but still I have this kernel of concern. To paraphrase a recent BSG episode title, "disquiet follows my soul".

I have the benefit of working in a strong cohort (people at or near the same level as me).  I really don’t want to see it broken up, but I also don’t see any way out of it for the partners. Ah well, we are apparently getting the scoop on it in a few days – I will let you know how it goes.

First Ever Post - Get in on the Ground Floor!

So here’s who I am - Lowly drone at a big 4 consulting firm.

I probably don’t have the sense of humour to pull off a Leverage Sellout style laugh-fest, but I wanted to write about my experiences and insights in consulting. Over the next few months, I will probably go on secondment, and begin the arduous trek into business school. Thus, my postings will be a combination of random observations, intermixed with useful tips and tricks. Hopefully, if anyone actually reads this they might find something of use in here.

As you will probably notice, I am a first time blogger, unless you count a short lived holiday blog that was really just a way to avoid sending spam-like update emails to friends and family. Be kind therefore, and I will happily to respond to any insights you might have.

That is it for an introduction – I will be back shortly to begin posting proper. Happy consulting all.