Consulting is one of the most awe-inspiring fields out there. Entry-level salaries are famously high, and the hours infamously long. The big firms; Bain, McKinsey, BCG are well known, and the job is widely considered to be challenging and prestigious.
Most people understand that consultants solve problems and help clients with whatever business goals they have and to do that these guys travel, go to meetings, make documents and file summaries. Despite all that, all but few people seem to have a basic understanding of what exactly it is that consultants do during the entire engagement with a particular client.
This brings us back to the age old question, often used to mock consultants, ‘What the heck does a management consultant do?’. ‘How do fresh college graduates solve problem that experienced C-level businessmen can’t?’
The generic answer would be 'They Solve Business Problems', but that statement although not incorrect, is over simplified. Let's explain this by walking you through the entire process.
This is where the work starts. You are assigned to work with a particular client on a specific business problem. Staffing patterns vary widely across different companies and even across different offices of the same company. Generally, as a new consultant, you get staffed to work on different industries for the first few years of your career.
Familiarising yourself to the industry
Since most of the time a consultant is diving head first into an industry they know little about, the importance of familiarising yourself to the industry is paramount. Most of the well established consulting firms have large databases of documents specifically designed to help you with this task.
Gathering basic data and insights
After familiarising yourself to the industry, you look at the current market trends, industry specific developments, gather basic data about how the major industry players are performing, what problems they are facing etc. Basic industry dynamics like supplier and buyer dynamics also need a little reading up on.
Discussing objectives with your engagement manager
An engagement manager is often the immediate reporting senior in most of the consulting firms’ organisational hierarchy. You schedule a meeting with them to align your views and goals with theirs for an particular engagement. This is generally the first time you come face-to-face with the nuances of the problem faced by your client.
In-depth study of the problem
After the meeting with the engagement manager, you have the work cut out for you. Armed with the industry insights that you have gathered, you start analysing the problem and breaking it into small manageable chunks. You scan the firm’s extensive internal knowledge database and study reports by independent parties to prepare yourself for the client meeting ahead.
Meeting the client on the client site
Most people know that consultants travel a lot and reason behind it is that many times most of the work is done on the client site itself. Getting to know the client side team and key contact points is also one of many important tasks that are accomplished at this stage.
Getting a running hypothesis
By this time you have a pretty good idea about what the problem at hand is. You often use your logical reasoning and business acumen to make a list of results that you can expect at the end of the engagement.
Networking with the people
Consultants are often the mouthpieces of a remarkably extensive and efficient workforce at the disposal of any prominent consulting firm. At this stage, you search for projects that were done by other consultants in the past which tackled similar problems. You also start giving directives to the in-house market research team to provide you with useful data.
Creating a ghost deck
'Ghost' decks are used to align on what the end product will look like and to minimise wasted work. They go by different names in different firms; ghost, shell and skeleton being the most popular euphemisms.
Interviewing key personnel
With the consultant being the face of a large group of supporting staff, it hardly comes as a surprise that routine work also involves interacting with key people related to the problem. Your deck also helps in identifying areas that might need more work. Thus keeping your workflow efficient and effort consistent.
Iterations of the the deck
By this time in the engagement, all the data starts to pour in, models start churning out results and your final deliverable starts taking its final form. Through the multiple iterations, the deck slowly starts to reflect all the work that you have done.
Final presentation and hand over process
This stage marks the end of your work at the client side. You present your findings to the top management brass of the company that hired you and advise them on the most effective ways of solving the problem at hand. After this, all the related documents are handed over to the concerned authorities and the process of implementing the suggestions gets underway.
Summarising your work
At this stage you make documents summarising your work and adding more unique information to the firm's internal database and file it appropriately for future use. All such documents are generic in nature and will prove to be a good starting point to another consultant going through a similar engagement in the future. With this step you complete your work on the current engagement and are ready for a new engagement in yet another unknown industry.
So, as you can see, consultants are in essence metaphorical filters that connect complicated client problems with the back end team of knowledgeable experts, specialist teams and documentation; making our world even more efficient one engagement at a time.
Below is a video explaining the workflow using the example of the cement industry: