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.