What I Learnt as a Consultant in Big4 Firms

I spent a number of years in the consulting industry prior to my current job and it is a field that I really enjoyed working. I was very lucky to have been exposed to the industry during my undergraduate studies. As an Intern at an integrated energy company, I got the opportunity to work along side seasoned consultants that were engaged in a process transformation project designed to modernize the end to end processes of the organization.  During that time, after supporting the facilitation of multiple stakeholder workshops and the development of major deliverables I realized that consulting was something I would enjoy and wanted to do. Right after graduation, I joined one of the premier global consulting firms in the area of technology advisory and later on in my career moved to another consulting firm.

Consulting firms sell knowledge and ideas to clients and these two reside in the minds of their employees hence the need to constantly train workers and advance their knowledge. I personally participated in a number of learning events whether it was on the job learning, formal trainings or self study for certification exams.

These are some of the things I’ve learned during my time as a consultant.

Structure communications to deliver the right message

Whether you are writing an email or drafting a 100 page report, structured communication is essential to help you structure the messages you want to communicate easily and make it easy for your target audience to understand the message.

Barbara Minto, author of the famous book –The Pyramid Principle, argues that people comprehend ideas that are grouped, summarized and presented from the top down in a structure similar to that of ‘pyramid’.

The pyramid structure has three main parts:

  • The tip of the pyramid: This section outlines the key topic or subject in discussion. It tells the reader what the overall question is and the answer to that question.
  • The mid section: This section goes into the details of the situation and the context surrounding the question and answer provided. It basically has the major points that, taken together, prove the answer.
  • The base: The base provides the data and facts that support the major points in the mid section.

If you are interested in learning more about structured communications, I would suggest you check out the original book by Barbara Minto.

Use visuals to communicate important concepts

As a consultant, I was asked a number of times to develop visuals or info-graphics as part of project deliverables. The goal of the visuals was to make it easy for clients to  understand and remember important concepts in the deliverables. Visuals may include charts, graphs, diagrams, analogies and allegories.

Check out Adioma’s blog on how to think visually using visual analogies.

Use data to generate insights

Organizations hire consultants to get insights on how to improve their performance and one of the first things they make available to consultants is data. Data can tell a lot about the organization and can be used to pinpoint problems. There are five steps to using data to generate insights.

  1. Start with a clearly defined question. For example, what are the reasons for the drop in the company’s market share?
  2. Define the data requirements for the question. What kind of data is needed? is there a need for external data?
  3. Collect the data.
  4. Perform data analysis looking for correlations, trends, patterns, variations, and anomalies.
  5. Draw conclusions and provide answer to the question.

Always strive to apply a proven methodology and approach when solving problems.

Management consultant’s primary job is to provide advice to organizations to solve certain problems or exploit certain opportunities. To do this, often consultants are equipped with a number of methodologies or frameworks, tools, templates and approaches to fully diagnose the problem, perform problem analysis, and generate actionable solutions. Methodologies are the frameworks or inter-related components that help structure and break down common business problems while an approach is the sequencing of activities to cover the different components of the methodology.

Consultants, as structured thinkers, usually use frameworks to organize information and sort through large amounts of data and information quickly as the framework gives an outline of what is important and where to look for information.

Here are common consulting frameworks and the different ways they are applied:

Current state-future state is commonly used in consulting to provide a comprehensive agreed upon approach to transform an organization. As the name suggests, the goal of the framework is to assist an organization move from current state to a desired or future state. This approach has four main elements:

  • Current state: outlines the ‘as-is’ state of the organization in the areas of people, process, technology, governance, etc.
  • Future state: maps out the ‘to-be’ or desired state of the organization.
  • Gap analysis: highlights the gap between the current state and the future state.
  • Roadmap: draws out the plan to get the organization to the future state and close the gaps.

SIPOC which stands for supplier, input, process, output and customer, is a good way to think through a complex process and break it down. The framework is very useful in process improvement projects where clients seek to do more with little i.e. using fewer input resources to produce more output.

You can read more about SIPOC at goleansixsigma.com/sipoc

ADKAR model which is used to guide change process in an organization represents the five outcomes of successful change initiative: awareness, desire, knowledge, ability, reinforcement.

You can read more about ADKAR at www.prosci.com/adkar-model

MECE which stands for mutually exclusive collectively exhaustive and is an important concept used to organize information and  “bucket things so that each is different with no double counting (ME), while also including everything needed to cover the breadth of the issue (CE)”

You can read more about the MECE concept at http://workingwithmckinsey.blogspot.com/2014/02/MECE-at-McKinsey.html

You can find a library of frameworks and methodologies at www.valuebasedmanagement.net

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