Consulting 101

Consulting firms hire bright people directly out of college or with industry
experience to help their clients solve business problems. In addition to
business knowledge, new consultants also need to know skills such as: –
Client relationship management – Expectation Setting – Effective
communication – Selling consulting services – Successful career management
techniques Consulting 101 provides you with 101 useful tips to optimize your
professional performance and jump-start your consulting career for success.

Hypothesis-based consulting: guessing the answers to client problems (09/26/12) What we call hypothesis-based consulting, some cynics call educated guessing. Either way, it is a smart way to break down complex or ambiguous problems, and quickly start driving towards an answer. Hypotheses start early in the process, go broad at first, but then get narrowed down quickly. It can be unnerving to some clients, but it works.

Why do consultants use PowerPoint so much? (12/1/12) Good presentations are succinct. They may have a 60 page appendix, but the summary will be terse and have a point of view. Using the analogy of a tree, the presentation is the fruit. There is no reason to show off all the minutiae. You need to really boil it down to its essence. .

Consulting PowerPoint Presentations: 4 Steps (12/5/12). To be clear, it is more than just making fancy graphs, but it is a large part of what we do. Executives are often very visual people. They have busy schedules and short attention spans. Sometimes, you only have 2 hours with a CXO (CEO, CFO, COO, COO, CIO, CMO) at the end of 4 month project – so you need to make sure that your presentation makes an impact.

Better PowerPoint: 6 ways to make your point (4/30/12) What’s the so what?You will hear this phrase used on projects a fair amount. It is certainly not the best usage or even politely worded, but it is critical: Your presentations need to have a point . . .

What is a good excel model? (11/13/12) Recently, I was given an excel model that was like the Titanic: large, slow, overly ornate, and structurally unsound. Not only was it frustrating to work with and laborious to fix, it was also a bit laughable. It did not answer even the most basic questions . . .

Data analysis in 20 minutes (10/2/2014) Consultants are in the business of taking messy, unorganized data and turning it into information, and hopefully, some insights. Here is a simple example of excel clean up. . .

Why consultants love best practices (6/10/12) Management consultants use the phrase “best practices” often. Perhaps too often. A few pictures that help explain why best practices are so popular with consultants and clients. . .

How consultants interview clients (11/4/12) This week my team interviewed more than 20 people, everyone from VPs down to the analysts and clerks. The interviews were a gold mine of insights – especially since we were still in the early days of the project and collecting data. My throat was killing me, but these interviews helped us get our bearings on the client’s business, the personalities, and the politics. Every consulting project has interviews and here are my top interviewing tips . . .

DMAIC: A great consulting tool for process improvement (4/28/12) Ask any consultant, and I mean ANY consultant (strategy, process, IT) and they will know what DMAIC stands for. It is an abbreviation for Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control. It is a tool often used in process improvement projects. . .

SIPOC: Consulting framework to untangle problems (2/14/13) SIPOC is an ugly sounding acronym, but it is a useful way to think through problems. Clients often present consultants with complex processes that seemingly don’t have a start or a finish. Sometimes, the best thing is to stop digging. Take a step back and think through the problem. Untangle the problem in a more structured way . . .

Consultant’s tool: what is a maturity model? (7/1/12) What really surprises me is that many clients have trouble explaining what is exactly wrong and what they want done. They often talk about symptoms – flat revenues, dropping margins, or increased receivables – not the root causes.

A maturity model gauges the client’s maturity in a number of areas and points out the areas of improvement. It’s actually a simple thing that often looks like a report card or an excel table. It looks simple, but there is good stuff there. . .

Lean means no waste. No TIMWOOD (2/11/2014) Lean is obsessively focused on doing only what is critical and what is valued by the customer. The way of thinking inherently believes in opportunity cost. You should only do what matters (to the customer). Put another way, if the customer wants 100, you should deliver 100. If you deliver 110, you wasted effort. . . The lean fundamentalist asks, “What is the customer really willing to pay for?” Anything more than that is really waste.

Six Sigma: Consultants eat your own dog food (3/15/2014) Do you have boring, low-value added parts of your business that need to be standardized? By squeezing out the variability (read “craziness”) out of the process, you will be more efficient. Reduce the variability in the boring parts of your work to allow more time, freedom, and margin to innovate and deliver real value to your clients. . .

Clients hire consultants to GET TO YES (12/6/12) Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In written by Roger Fisher and William Ury is perhaps the most famous book on negotiations. It’s been endorsed by people who use these lessons daily – diplomats, lawyers, and business people because this stuff works. Fortune 500 organizations have a terrible time implementing these simple things and, as a result, often hire management consultant for help . . .

Consulting advice: Help your clients save face (4/4/14) This is a simple concept that is critical for consultants and sales people to understand. Never put your client in a situation where you are directly and publicly disagreeing with them. Never box them into a corner where they might be ashamed of the situation. Never embarrass them. It’s a very Asian business culture concept of harmony, and it is super-applicable to consultants. Some of the most deadly phrases . . .

How consultants do industry research (5/12/12) Management consultants need to be quick learners. Junior analysts are routinely asked to support proposals and projects across different industries. The good ones are fast, and proficient with Excel and PowerPoint. The great ones get up-to-speed quickly on the industry dynamics and can add in industry specifics to the pitch. . .

4 reasons why management consultants love data (4/15/12). Management consultants are always on the prowl for good data. After all, it is the stuff that client recommendations are made of. To a cynic, it might seem obvious. The title of this post would be a kin to: “Why chefs love ingredients” or “Why district attorneys like evidence” or “Why gardeners like sunlight.” Even so, what exactly about the data do consultants love so much?

Saying YES to clients can get consultants in trouble (8/29/12) When the client asks for something – new research, some ad-hoc analysis, an extra workshop – it usually seems like a reasonable request. After all, they pay the bills and shouldn’t they get the most out of their consultants, right? Experienced consultants and lawyers will tell you there are many reasons why being overly agreeable can create problems. . .

Pauses: a consultant’s public speaking tip (4/20/12) Good speakers pause. After they finish one thought, they don’t rush to the next sentence. They don’t rattle off useless verbal fillers (uh, ah, um, well, so, right, hmm). Instead, they embrace that millisecond of silence, harness the awkwardness, and force the listener to pay attention. Many people call it the pregnant pause. . .

What is scope creep? (1/29/13) Generally, this means that the client wants more work done for the same amount of money. It’s not pretty and it’s no surprise that consultants dread it. It usually means late nights, grumpy analysts, dissatisfied clients, and potentially lower project margins. All bad things. . .

Structuring problems: Consultants use buckets (05/16/13) Consultants use buckets. I know it sounds pedestrian and unsophisticated, but it’s harder than it looks. When you are trying to crack a complex problem, inevitably you will start to group things. Structuring problems forces you to organize your thoughts, and reflect on what your key messages will be. It is the first step in turning data into insights.

Frameworks: Distill your thoughts until they are 80 proof (1/21/14) Consultants are structured thinkers. They may not have as intuitive a grasp on the topic as the client – after all, the client has been living in this field their entire life – but consultants excel at piecing together bits and pieces of data until it starts forming an outline of a story. . . .

The best short-answer to give clients? It depends (5/13/2013) “It depends” is a phrase you hear a lot in both business school and management consulting. To some, it might seem like a boring half-answer, timid, or worse – mentally lazy. As weird as it might seem, it is often the best short-answer to give a client.

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