What the heck does a consultant DO exactly Management Consulting 101

dear Kim okay I get it on the high level you consultants solve problems and help clients with whatever business goals they have and on the low level I know you guys travel go to meetings make documents etc I get all of that I've been to enough information sessions of consulting firms but at the end of the day it's still very unclear to me what the heck do consultants do on their jobs I guess I don't know how to put my question together quite right but can you shed some light on this matter I've seen you do that before and I expect nothing but that for this hi Anna thank you for bringing this up I think I understand your question and in fact I've been there before this is something that I - is wandering throughout my case prep process even until a couple months into the real work at McKenzie I don't know if it was me not being able to frame the question to ask or people failing to explain this either way I'm glad to have a chance to talk about this this is something that I've realized myself and I realized it the hard way and I don't want you guys to go through that okay so what the heck did I do as a management consultant people say that I solve business problems that's not wrong but it's way oversimplified what it what does it mean to solve problems what specifically do consultants do to do that how in the world can college graduates solve problems the experienced c-level businessman can't do so let's put it this way think management consultants especially entry-level ones as content ambassadors we act like the bridge between a complicated client context with various needs conditions and attributes and a massive back-end network of knowledge and experts this sounds simple but it's definitely not there's a lot of slicing and shoveling involved let's look at an example I was in charge of the cement work stream and the key question was should the client close down the plant yes I have a massive network of experts behind me but there's no way they can answer that question given how little they know about the client and market context as the consultant in charge I have to analyze the problem breaking it into smaller parts in order to know if the client should close the plant or not we need to know if we can turn around their negative profits and if yes how long does it take then into the first branch I explore ways to improve sales and ways to cut costs suppose I was setting the costs and realize logistics is one of the biggest then only at this point what I choose from the network a cement logistics expert to talk to is this clear enough for you let's add even more insights okay so we know that consultants are like ambassadors for content but even more specifically what do we do as ambassadors well there are two things and for this I'm going to be very me see gather content and create content for the gathered content part here are a few typical things we do researching internal knowledge databases in McKinsey we call it PD researching the internet or also known as press search studying reports by independent parties eg a market study purchase from AC Nelson interviewing experts interviewing clients interviewing customers mystery shopping the method of pretending to be customers and experienced competitors products and services data analyzing surveying etc so you can get a sense here that all the above are aimed at bringing content knowledge expertise in various forms and sources into our disposal the other part is to use all that to create the final products a.k deliverables in most traditional consulting projects the final end product is a powerpoint document this is why you often hear the notion that consultants spend the whole day making slides and this is only partially true making the final document is just half of the story it may can't be done without the other half also don't be mistaken that making slides is about putting nice graphics here and there in fact it's solely about content representation how to put together complicated in difficult content into a structured concise and easy-to-follow document is a hard skill I made tons of slides during college but getting into consulting it's nothing like that it's much more about the content than the graphics we even have a very professional visual graphics 14 sitting in India we can just drop charts Maps graphics on paper take a picture and then the graphic teams will turn it into slides I'll try to make a video on how consulting slide looks when I get that done the video link will be here for now let's move on and continue this story so throughout the length of the project or a work stream a consultant continually goes back and forth between the variety of the above tasks depending on each project for the cement project a brief list of my tasks in chronological order order was something like this got assigned to the cement work stream in a bigger SOE project I immediately went to the McKinsey content library downloaded the hundred page cement 101 PD scanned through the document and picked up certain industry specific key terms and concepts went to the client website and got the basic information their plants their location their technology their sales their products and much more some of these are through the lens of basic understanding of the cement industry I got from the 101 document pulled out a blank slide and took some very first two notes starting with the client fact sheet searched downloaded and scanned every cement marker poured in the region got the biggest takeaway that the cement market was badly oversupply created a new slide page called it basic market perspective and jotted down that biggest takeaway along with a few other insights called the engagement manager and got the feeling for the work stream as well as the overall project objectives went back to the 101 document and studied it in a little more depth also following the discussion with the e/m I understood that the client cement plant is not doing well went back to the internal content library downloaded and scanned through some more advanced PD such as cement turnaround lean cement production cost etc arrived in the city for the project met the client for the first time confirmed unofficial information discussed by the e/m turned out the client objective is indeed to find out if they should close the major plant or not got introduced to a key contact point on the client side quickly established a nice foundation for a good relationship with him used the internal network to find out similar projects McKinsey had done elsewhere in the world found a very comparable one in China six years before immediately shot an email to each of the key personnel on that project to introduce myself the project context and to ask for sanitized documents of that China project went back to the market report trying to find out if what was up with some of the biggest players in the market found that most of the big still stay in business while those smaller ones drop out more often add that to the market perspective note caught the e/m on the taxi ride back to the hotel to discuss what the overall deliverable structure is going to look like got back to the hotel made the preliminary version of the final document with just big chapters and various placeholders in consulting we call it the ghost deck woke up the next morning and got the nice reply from the China team along with quite detailed sanitized final documents the overall structure was different from ours but I picked up a ton of insights to update my first version of the ghost deck got to the client site for the second engagement work day met the client key contact point casually announced to head to him that I'm going to need him to introduce me to key cement personnel and also to facilitate the data gathering process he was cooperative in a good mood I asked the guys to provide me any data he already had on the cement plant so I could take initial looks even before the official data came he refused I got the first sense of how bureaucratic this organization was and mentally prepared myself for the challenges that lay ahead went back to the China teams document and studied little more in-depth pull out a blank slide and started noting down questions I'm going to ask the China's Team Engagement Manager who now has become a partner of McKinsey he's a busy guy and I need to make the best out of the interview time with him I didn't schedule the interview yet not until I feel like I have enough good questions to ask at the same time I prepared myself for another important task which is to draft a data request to be submitted to the client I knew how long this process could take given how bureaucratic the SEO client was so I need to make it as perfect as possible in the first try I decided to do this after the interview with a China partner so for that day I turned on the beast mode to get as much insight as possible from all available documents and the moment to prepare myself for the phone interview with the partner and for the client data request form the whole team had a nice dinner with leadership they okay the Associate Partner in charge of the project and discussed team norms working preferences and BTI and personal development we have this kind of session at the beginning of every project so everybody is used to it I thought this was not the most fun team I ever had but probably chemistry takes time to build everybody seems nice and fair so that's good enough for the moment during the night I called the market research team and asked if they can help with any public data on the cement industry I was told to file a request detailing the specific data I needed this happens often and I knew what to say I told the research lady that this was the very initial stage of the project and I would appreciate any public data available regardless of format and topic and later stages I would file a more detailed request the project was in a developing country so I didn't put too much hope on the availability of public data anyway before I went to bed I already had a fair idea of the questions to ask the China partner the next morning I catch the e/m for the taxi ride to the client site discussing with him the questions list he had quite a lot of comments and other insights plus he agreed to join me for the interview this can be interpreted as either the M didn't trust me enough or that he was just a very supportive manager I chose to think the second way I called the China Partners assistant to schedule a phone interview in the mean time I did some more studying and prepared the first edition of the data request for the client the next day I and the e/m had a conference call with a China partner I was leading the call for the most part it was a very insightful call and it even went over the 30 minutes we had scheduled the call was so insightful that there were so many things I could have done following it but I decided to prioritize on finalizing the data request and submit it to the client it was important to send on Thursday because I don't trust the client to work very hard on Friday once the data request was submitted I turned back to the ghost deck and made some editing this 50 pager started to feel like the baby I was going to nurture for the rest of engagement at the moment the running hypothesis was that the client should close down the plant it was still too early to say but at least we have something to work with five days later the data came it looks horrible both in terms of reliability of the data as well as what the data actually said I immediately drafted a report in tailing every questioning concern on the data and sent it back to the client on the other hand the parts of the data considered reliable at the time seemed to confirm the running hypothesis client was making negative profit all the way from its origins but to confirm the hypothesis I still needed more I plugged that data into the turnaround Excel model created a few days ago based on insights gathered through various sources the model is fairly complicated given how many inputs there were but basically it all aimed at answering just one key question okay we know the plant is bad but under all sources of improvement levers can it make a profit so indeed there were a number of improvement levers the model tackled each lever is really a mini model calculating several scenarios and how much impact was made to the bottom line under each all levers were constructed in a very top-down and structured fashion very much like in case interviews there were two groups of levers sales and cost with various branches under each but unlike in case interviews in real life for each lever we need to go out and hunt for the answer in any way possible each one really feels like a mini case itself one interesting example is the lever of cutting logistics costs through the use of water boats on the river I explored a method no one had ever done in the country but had been successfully implemented in Thailand I talked to some of the best mechanical engineers in the country and even took them on a business trip with me to see how people did it in Thailand so just like that I tackled a number of levers that covered up to 80 percent of the possible final result not really one by one but rather almost all at the same time the ghost deck at the beginning of the engagement was constantly updated throughout the process we had a few meetings at certain checkpoints with a client as well unsurprisingly at the end of the project the document said v36 after the final presentation and handover process is done we spent the final weeks sanitizing our document and summarizing unique knowledge gained from this project and to new knowledge documents we called PD so that future projects could benefit writing PD was harder than most people thought the content has to be generic enough so that the client confidentiality is kept but still detailed enough to be helpful plus the PD must add something new to the already existing knowledge database when you put your name into PD it means you can be called by future team to shed insights into what you've done and know best you're in an expert in a very niche area so that was it that was a brief look at what a consultant does in an engagement from end to end of course I simplified and generalized few things but I hope this video has given you a lot of new and unique looks into what you usually hear in cliche information sessions if you have any other questions or comments please leave them below in the comment session if you are also a management consultant I would love to have to add anything sites that you have as well as usual at management consulting prep we believe management consulting is an awesome industry for college grads and everybody can make it there are you a believer