Consulting: Your Chance to Succeed

Last week, The Beacon Fellowship hosted a webinar with a Stanford MBA and BCG alumnus who walked viewers through the basics of consulting and shared his insights on consulting as a career.

In case you missed the webinar, or just want to review it again, we’ve summarized part of his presentation in this article. Enjoy!

Who do management consultants work with? 

Management consultants work with just about every kind of company imaginable. The top consulting firms (McKinsey, Bain, BCG) offer services to companies in any industry, while other smaller, more specialized firms may focus on a particular technology or industry. While many of the insights discussed here apply to all of consulting, we’ll narrow our focus on the basics you’ll encounter in traditional management consulting firms.

What is the job of a consultant? 

Consultants break down complex problems into manageable pieces and solve them. What does that mean? Well, most companies are so focused on the minute details of an issue that when a bigger problem arises, such as choosing where to expand internationally or how to restructure after a merger, they can’t see the forest for the trees. They hire a management consultant who breaks down the problem for them and presents them with implementable recommendations. 

The top consulting firms have built prestigious reputations by delivering time-proven successful recommendations. It’s impossible to distill a complex problems, however, without structuring one thoughts and approach to the problem, which brings us to a vital part of the consultant’s work: frameworks. 

Frameworks help consultants break problems down and present solutions in a concise way. From structuring the problem, to strategizing a solution, to presenting before the client. We’ve broken down a few of the most common and universally applicable frameworks, and include some helpful links at the end to learn more about them!

Using the S.M.A.R.T. method helps you define a problem in terms that are Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, Relevant, and Timebound. This eliminates ambiguities at the beginning that could come back to bite you later--e.g. uncertainty about how much the client wants profits to increase, when they want profits to increase by, or what the budget will be for their next move. 

MECE (mutually exclusive, collectively exhaustive) is a principle that governs how consultants form frameworks. No relevant bucket or item that makes up a framework should overlap with another one (ME), and together, the buckets should encompass the whole domain of options (CE). McKinsey is credited with starting the use of this term, but it has spread throughout the business world.

As an example, suppose a client asks, “When should we launch our app?” One non-MECE framework could structure the problem as: “next spring”, “next year”, or “in 5 years”. This framework is not mutually exclusive since there’s overlap between “next spring” and “next year”. It also isn’t completely exhaustive since it doesn’t account for the possibility of launching the app before “next spring”, or between “next year” and “in 5 years”. A MECE alternative would be: “this year”, “next year” and “more than 2 years out”.

Porter’s Five Forces is a popular framework that works well to evaluate many different types of companies across a variety of industries. It breaks down the forces that affect a business into 5 areas: competition in the industry, new industry entrants, power of suppliers, power of buyers, and the threat of substitute products. Consultants can use this framework to identify threats and find opportunities to guide a business toward a new direction.

What’s great about frameworks is they’re not just applicable to consulting. MECE is a great principle to consider in any sort of communication, and you can apply it to your current endeavors with great results (e.g. that group project with a fast-approaching deadline? Split the tasks into mutually exclusive categories so your lazy project partner can’t say “I thought you were doing that” the night before it’s due.) 

Visuals are hugely important in the consulting world as ways to convey complex information to clients concisely. If the client is paying millions of dollars to your firm to give him/her advice, he wants to understand the deliverable and be able to act on it. We’ll go more in depth in future posts on the details of consulting presentations!

A management consulting perspective makes problem-solving situations of all kinds more efficient and effective. If applying these frameworks to business problems for high-profile clients to create impactful results sounds exciting, consulting might indeed be your chance to succeed. And if it all sounds like a lot to handle? The Beacon Fellowship is a great opportunity to start learning and applying skills like these.

Luke Cannon