The ANALyst

Leverage, optimise, synergise

Rollercoaster


Its the 30th day that I have been working 15 hours non-stop (well with the exception of two weekends ago), and frankly I am a bit tired. So instead of cranking out the power point, I have just collapsed on my bed and am aimlessly surfing. Somewhere in the midst of it, I stumbled upon this blog once again, and well, it was time for another post!

Some of the physical challenges of a being a consultant have been well documented often times – travel, long hours, deadlines etc. But this is isn’t the biggest challenge, this isn’t what makes you age faster, it’s the emotional and mental challenges that do. Consulting is like a never ending rollercoaster ride, from amazing days to horrible ones. There are days when you will feel on top of the world and there are days when you will wish you could run away (as I once did). For a day to be amazing all of the following need to happen

1. You need to have achieved your goals for the day

2. You need to be on top of your deadlines

3. Your team lead/engagement manager/project partner needs to be happy with your work

4. And most importantly, the client needs to be happy

Any one of these can go wrong to turn your day from a good one to a bad one. Really everyday is evaluated separately.

One thing I have gotten better at over time is dealing with emotions. Remaining calm (even if you have a hurried look on the outside) is very very important. Equally important is to put things in perspective – to think about the bigger reason for you being there, the value that you will add to your clients and most importantly to realize that at the end of the day, this is your job, not your life. It enables you to live, but it is not your reason to live. It is important, but only to a point. If it gets really too stressful, you must walk away, your family is more important.

This is one of the things though, that make consulting an exciting place to be. It is another element that makes life unpredictable – you have no idea what tomorrow might bring – just hope!

If you had a good day today, smile!

If you haven’t go to bed and remember the sun will rise again and tomorrow will be a new day!

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October 12, 2010 Posted by | Consulting | 2 Comments

SHIFT_IN_SPACE


So do you still check this blog from time to time? Waste of effort I tell you. Even I had forgotten it ever existed. I don’t think I’ve checked this site for months now. Of course I am not to blame. That would be sooooo un-consultant-like!

So for those with an unsatiable curiosity about my affairs, well, I have moved – again. Having spent eight months in the Emerging Economy and having learnt a lot about it’s culture – both the good and bad and having endured many experiences ranging from the hilarious to the downright dangerous – it was time for the bedouin to move on.

So, the bedouin has moved to the New World (f**k I need the money after having lived like a pauper for eight months) and is back in CON-SLUT-ing!

Man I missed this – the most retarded and weirdest of all professions where the ability to bull shit with confidence reigns paramount. War stories from the field coming up soon. Watch this space!

PS – In the couple of months that I have been here my airpoints and hotel points accounts have roared back in to life again and I am close to being God once again!

June 4, 2010 Posted by | Consulting, Life | 2 Comments

Do you belong here?


The situation described by Considering Consulting in this blog reminded me of a very similar situation faced by a close friend recently. So this friend F (who shall remain unnamed), applied to Toilette Consluting in the not too distant past. F is in the process of acquiring an advanced degree from one of the top 5 universities in the New World with grades and extra-curricular activities that are the envy of any potential consulting applicant (including the proverbial “helping poor kids in sub-Saharan Africa”). Given her impressive CV, she was granted an interview. As with most consulting companies, interviews consist of case studies, group activities and the personal/fit interviews.

Given her intellect and analytical abilities, she breezed through the case studies. Her charm and poise carried her through the first couple of rounds of personality interviews. She, then, got the call for the final partner interview. Although it differs between firms, if you make it to the partner interview,  you have more chance of getting an offer than not. As mentioned in one of my previous blogs, partner interview is more of a seal of approval from the person paying your salary than a test of ability. In fact, I even congratulated F and assured her that a final partner interview would ultimately result in an offer.

Only, it didn’t! The partner deemed her overqualified to receive a business analyst offer. In fact, the partner mentioned to her that while she was analytically and intellectually amongst the best they had interviewed this year, the nature of her academic work seemed to suggest that she would be unhappy in a consulting type of role.

Now, I am not suggesting that the partner was completely wrong. In fact she might be a hundred percent correct. F also told me later that she is happier immersed in the world of academia than corporate life. Yet, is it fair to make such a decision on one question, that probably lasted all of thirty seconds? When the person is intellectually and analytically perfect, along with grace and poise, is it not worthy of an offer in consulting? Do they not deserve the right to judge whether it is fit  for them or not after they have been given a chance? 30 – 40% of any batch recruited from campuses do not make it past the second year in the firm they were hired. This means that in spite of all the fit questions, interviewers, including partners, make mistakes. Why then not allow capable people the benefit of doubt?

I close this post by making an observation – Rajat Gupta, the former Managing Director of McKinsey from early ’90s to 2003, was initially rejected by McKinsey after his campus interview at HBS until his professors intervened on his behalf.

December 4, 2009 Posted by | Consulting, Interviewing | 2 Comments

Brand (R)evolution


A few days back I visited BBS to have a look at a typical day and attend a classroom session. One of the events included in the day’s schedule was BBS’s marketing club’s annual panel discussion. The event was titled Brand (R)evolution i.e. brand evolution vs brand revolution. The keynote speaker was the GM of Nokia Emerging Economy.

Brand evolution, as the name suggests, refers to the organic growth of a brand. This could refer to a high-end cosmetics maker moving into high-end fragrances. Brand revolution on the other hand refers to a complete shift in the intended market of the product. For example, Nokia making watches. Brand revolution, according to the GM, is a lot more risky than evolution. Not only may the new intended audience not accept the product, but the brand runs the risk of alienating its established customer base. A conservative financial services institution (if any such things exist) that caters to an older audience might scare away its existing customer base if it started offering (and advertising) a lot of high risk investment products to a younger market.

This is not to say brand revolution never works. Better known and respected brands have a better chance at revolution than other brands. Lets take the example of the Virgin group. What started of as a music records selling business has now diversified into airlines, cola, railways etc etc – i.e. almost everything under the sun.

Why do I bring this up? Apart from it being a very interesting talk by the GM of Nokia EE, it is also a very relevant problem facing strategy consultants working in the customer and market space. Often, in a bid to move ahead of the competition, companies tend to think a bit too out-of-the-box, moving in a direction that is not only costly, but in the end proves futile. This can be especially true in a recessionary environment. It is an age old saying, “When in trouble, go back to the basics”. This holds true in this situation as well. Always build on your core competency. Do not diversify in a way that will hurt your core product or your core market.

Having said that, brand revolution certainly has its place. In boom times, when things are good and you have cash to spare, not only is it a good idea but sometimes it may be the only idea. Even then one can’t be complacent – a good idea may not always translate into a good product/service. Companies need to watch out for ‘escalation of commitment’ or ‘sunk cost fallacy’. These refer to a phenomena where companies keep investing in projects (new products, services etc.) even if they are not yielding good returns. Ideas that do not work need to be chopped. Period.

What are your thoughts on brand (r)evolution? Feel free to share.

PS – Thanks to the GM of Nokia Emerging Economy for his insightful talk on the same.

 

November 16, 2009 Posted by | Consulting, General | 1 Comment

The Eternal Truth


A few consultants-to-be have been asking me a lot of questions lately; “Is consulting really that bad? Surely there must be some good sides to consulting! Can perception (of students) really be that different from reality?” etc. etc.

This post will aim to provide an objective view of what I think about consulting – both good sides and bad sides. Before we delve into it, let me reiterate that this is my personal opinion based on my experience and may differ from the opinions of others.

1. The Consulting Industry

The Good

The concept of consulting is a noble one. Consulting originates from the Latin word “Consultare” which refers to “giving advice”. In its purest form it refers to the process of giving unbiased advice to your clients based on your knowledge and experience. Clients have typically been in their business for many many years, and know it a lot better than any consultant ever will. However, the client can often not look at itself from an outsider’s perspective. It’s akin to visiting a doctor when you are sick. Your doctor probably doesn’t know you as well as you do yourself, however he/she is able to diagnose your illness and suggest remedies based on his/her experience and skill. Consulting is very similar. The consulting firm typically includes people who are experienced in diagnosing problems in a particular sector through their previous experience in the same industry – either as a consultant or employee within the industry.

The Bad

The execution, in real life, sadly does not mimic the concept as well as it should. For starters, the “experts” may not really be true experts. This is much more common in the larger generalist firms as opposed to the smaller boutiques. This is equally true in strategy, operations and technology houses. The generalists typically have a model, whereby they recruit college students as Analysts/Associates etc. These college students are typically expected to move up the ranks to partnership level (sometimes an MBA maybe mandatory. College students typically have no experience of the industry; hence for a consulting firm to be credible advisors, it needs to have lateral hires from the industry throughout its hierarchy. This does not happen as much as it should. Typical project teams consist of far too many “career consultants” and new college hires. Industry experts are often not seen after the project has been sold.

The Ugly

Giving unbiased advice to a client often means sometimes the advice maybe counter productive to the consulting firm. For example, there maybe two options that the consulting firm is in a position to recommend and theoretically, it should recommend the option that is best for the client, even if it comes at a cost to the consulting firm (through the lack of follow on work). However, overzealous partners in their quest to attain/beat targets often recommend options that may not be optimal. We haven’t even discussed cases of cost overruns due to misquoted and wrongly resourced estimates in large business transformation projects. This results in the client ending up on the losing side.

2. The Work

The Good

As an Analyst/Associate straight out of college, you are generally not aligned to an industry sector. This means that “you get to have a play around”. In your first two years, you typically get projects in different sectors so that you get a fairly broad experience. You learn a lot about how different businesses operate and about working within a client environment. The work is typically fast-paced and you move onto a new project every couple of months.

The Bad

You work long hours – very long hours! Before people cry foul, I do know that this varies by the firm and the client, but here I am just talking about my experience. Not only do you often work weekends, it is usually quite a stressed out environment where you are always rushing to meet deadlines and mini-deadlines. Projects are often short staffed with very optimistic timelines, hence, you the analyst, get to bear the after effects. Now, if you are in college, you are probably thinking “yeah whatever, that’s fine”. After two years of this, I doubt you would be singing the same tune.

The Ugly

You will often find that the work you are doing can be classified as “grunt work”. Making excel models and power point presentations. Not exactly what I would call rocket science. Contrary, to popular perception, you are not really thinking about the client’s problem and trying to innovatively resolve it. You spend most of your time researching on your firm’s internal resources and copy-pasting it to a new slideshow. Combine this with the possibility that the partner may have asked you to create the slideshows based on the wrong options anyway.

3. Travel

The Good

Firstly, you get to travel all around the country and even internationally. Therefore, you end up visiting a lot of places you perhaps wouldn’t have otherwise visited. In the process you rack up plenty of airmiles and hotel points – more than you will ever need. You also get to sample some of the best hotels in the country.

The Bad

As a consultant, it is possible that you end up travelling on all your projects. Which means, flying out on a Monday morning and flying back on Thursday evenings. There goes your personal life. If you have a family, you see them only on the weekends. Secondly, you can’t choose where your project is going to be. It may not be in a big city – it is quite possible that you get sent to the middle of Kansas for six weeks. Happens all the time. Moreover, just because you’ve spent six weeks in Kansas doesn’t mean you get to go to Vegas next time. You may end up at Montana for another six weeks.
Next comes food, your eating patterns and diets are completely ruined. Food is like an afterthought really. You eat when your EM or client says you can eat.

The Ugly

No, you do not automatically travel first class. Domestic travel is by coach, unless you have racked up enough miles to get a status or mileage based upgrade. You invariably have a screaming child next to you on most of your flights. Everything that can go wrong with connecting flights, usually does go wrong.
The hotel situation is slightly better, although I have been through an instance where I came back from the client at 10 pm to find out that my room has been allocated to someone else and my luggage put in the store room. No kidding – this has happened!

4. Networking

The Good

Working with different clients and on different project teams affords the opportunity to meet lots of different people and all the associated benefits that come with this. This is one of those aspects with no real negatives, at least none that I have encountered. I have met many amazing people through my time as a consultant and is probably the one aspect of the job that keeps me going.

This was my attempt at giving a realistic picture of life as a consultant in as concise a manner as possible. Please feel free to share your own experiences and/or disagree with mine should your experience be substantially different.

July 25, 2009 Posted by | Consulting | 11 Comments

Inclusiveness


Consultants are often hated by the clients. Now I am not talking about the CXO level people but the ones below them. It’s true – either we exist to deliver bad news or we exist to mess up their comfortable existence with our “best practice.”

These aren’t exactly my words, but those of the engagement manager for one of the projects I worked on last year. Above engagment manager felt he wanted to change the perception the client had of consultants by “working with them and being inclusive”. This was a short six week needs assessment project for the client’s supply chain system. To show “inclusiveness” the EM decided to invite mid-level managers from all the business units to comment on our preliminary ideas (do not ask me why). Why exactly the call centre manager needs to know about needs assessment for supply chain is beyond me. So I decided to shut up and watch the fun.

Scene – One of the boardrooms at the upper floors of the corporate headquarters. Beautiful 19th century furnishings, paintings that I assume cost above a million dollars each and a view to die for. The room is immaculately set up for thirty people – in board room format. At the end of the table with the city skyline as the backdrop is seated the CEO. To his right are the CFO and the COO. To his left, the engagement Partner, EM and the three of us that make up the consulting team. The rest of the table is filled with departments heads and mid level managers from the business units.

Time – 830 am

CEO: (condensed version) Thank you all for coming in. As you know Project XXX is critical to our organisation. By revamping our supply chain system, we hope to achieve massive gains in efficiency and save X million dollars a year. Project XXX team have worked on a needs assessment for the organisation and has come up with preliminary recommendations which we would like to discuss with you and get your opinion on. So without further ado, I hand you over to EM.

EM: (Tries to repeat exactly the same thing that the CEO has just said)

He is interrupted by one of the middle level managers (MLM 1).

MLM1: Why the f**k are we in this meetin again? What am I to do with your supply chain systems???

MLM2: This is a waste of our time!!! (Looks at the CEO) You will get a lot more efficiency out of us if you stopped calling us to stupid meetings of this nature.

MLM1 and 2 walk out of the meeting room, followed my most of the remaining mid levels. Our EM is left standing, looking totally stunned. CEO (with a smirk) offers a glass of water to EM, who at this point is shaking.

8 40 am – Meeting over.

Inclusiveness – Yeah right!!!

July 16, 2009 Posted by | Consulting | 2 Comments

Consultionary


Welcome to a series of posts entitled Consultionary. As the name suggests the purpose of these posts are to enlighten you lesser mortals about some commonly used words in the consulting cosmos. So here goes..

1) Value Add – Originally used to describe the value a consultant brought to a client through his or her knowledge and expertise and the advice the consultant gave to the client. In contemporary times however, it has become the most overused phrase in consulting with almost every interaction with the client being dubbed as “value add”. Said phrase is also used to hide the layers of horse manure being delivered to the client. Infact, this phrase is so imbibed in the minds of a consultant that subconciously it becomes a part of your daily vocabulary, with the result that it is often used with disastrous consequences. I did ask a former girlfriend once about what value she added to my life. Needless to say, the girlfriend became a “former girlfriend”.

2) Leverage – This word ranks up there along with the previous phrase as the most overused word in consulting. In theoretical consulting terms, the word leverage refers to using the firm’s resources, expertise and experience to “add value”. In practical consulting terms, it refers to claiming someone else’s work in some obscure part of the world to be your own and using that to show the client you are an “expert” in some area. Given that the person in question also probably did exactly the same thing, it really is no more than a pyramid (or shall we call it Madoff) scheme.

3) Optimise – A glorified term for cost cutting i.e. laying off people. Why companies hire consultants to do this is beyond me. This requires absolutely no mental exercise. You just pick a dollar amount that sounds good. See the number of people you need to cut to achieve that dollar amount and you cut. Oh there is some effort required in the build up to releasing the news and “change management”. In all it seems to be a highly profitable exercise for the consulting firm and a pointless one for the client. But then again it’s almost half a century since the time hiring consultants was a purely business decision – so no surprises there. So if you are laid off don’t blame your CEO, he wasn’t even capable of that much. But then again you will quite often find the CEO with consulting firm partners at posh golf courses so maybe you can blame them a little bit.

4) Expert – In normal English an expert refers to a person who has deep knowledge or experience in a particular field. It’s fairly similar in consulting – except that the depth of the knowledge probably extends to just one day. Sometimes even one hour. Here’s what happened with me. Project manager comes to me and asks me to do a bit of research on automotive industry in emerging markets. Next day, in a meeting with the senior management of the client, said project manager looks at me and says, The ANALyst is our expert on the state of the automotive industry in emerging markets. WTF!!!!!

Coming up in the next post Utilisation, Synergy, Budget and whatever else I can think off.

May 7, 2009 Posted by | Consulting | 1 Comment

An Analyst’s Life


Right folks, let’s get back on track. So I have returned from the “orientation” and its time to jump into some real work. On Friday afternoon, I get a call from Satan herself, aka the staffing manager. The staffing manager is (usually) the bitch who controls your fate with regard to which hell hole you end up in. Yes there are different categories of hell, some decidedly worse than others. The conversation between the staffing manager and me goes something like this.

SM: Hi ANALyst, welcome to [firm]. I am sure you are excited for your first real gig.
Me: (enthusiastically) Yeah, can’t wait.
SM: I’ve been told that you have an interest in the financial sector and you like coastal cities.
Me: (very enthusiastically) Yeah absolutely.
SM: Hmm, you have been scheduled for [insert third rate manufacturing firm] in [insert unknown town in Kansas].
(Needless to say the enthusiasm crashes immediately)
Me: Umm, I thought you had something in financial services.
SM: (in an unsympathetic voice)Sorry, not now. You fly out on Monday morning.

At 4 30 am on Monday morning, I am sitting in a cab with the retarded cab driver hell bent on having a conversation. Can’t these nincompoops just shut up for a while. Anyway, its too early in the morning for his words to be coherent. I drift off into sleep. At the airport, I somehow manage to lug my newly acquired Tumi trolley bag into the terminal building. One look at the check-in counter and I thank the heavens for online check-in. Atleast, on a 5 am flight there wont be any pesky kids. WRONG!!! Not only do they exist, they also manage to find the seat right behind you. Arrrghhh, no sleep on the 3 hour flight!!! Oh, and contrary to the popular perception, we do not flight first class on domestic travel. Atleast, not until you get the status to get upgraded. Till then, I am stuck in sheep class. I decide to spend my first pay check on noise cancelling headphones. Glamorous life, yeah right!

April 14, 2009 Posted by | Consulting | 1 Comment

Why the ANALyst?


A few people have asked me why I have named my blog as such. Allow me an attempt at explanation. In my firm, the most junior employees (straight out of college) are titled Analysts / Business Analysts. An Analyst’s job description has been pretty well explained by Consultant Insider in this blog. Hence, I shall not repeat. However, I will illustrate a recent real life experience.

About six months ago, I was involved in a six week engagement helping formulate customer segmentation strategy for one of our clients. My day usually went some what like this:

830 am: The ANALyst walks into the client office.

830 – 9: Read newspapers online.

9 am: Client MD walks in, peeps into my desk.

MD: ANALyst can we have a catch up in my office in ten minutes.

ANALyst: Sure. Be right there.

910 am: ANALyst walks into MD’s office.

MD: Come in. Turn around. Bend forward.

5pm: The ANALyst comes out of MDs office looking tired and dishevelled, when the engagement manager calls out.

EM: ANALyst, I heard you had a fruitful meeting with MD. He has been saying good things about you. However, we need to go over a few things for tomorrows presentation with the CFO. Come here, bend forward.

930 pm: The ANALyst calls a cab, gets to his hotel and drops off for a few hours of relative peace before the routine begins again.

April 11, 2009 Posted by | Consulting | 4 Comments

Baptism by Fire


At the end of college, I spent a couple of months gallivanting around the world. Travelled to unknown lands and acquainted many an unknown woman. In the process, I also spent an untold amount of money. (Thank God for the sign on bonuses.)

Alas, all good holidays come to an end! But all was not lost. The time had come to join one of the world’s most exalted professions – to become a member of an elite club indeed. Time to fix the corporate world. Enough said.

Consulting is all about networking. And the firms believe that this point must be emphasised from Day One. My firm was no different. Each year, in the first week of joining, the firm transports all the campus hires to a coastal location for “orientation”. You would think that the orientation would be a pretty relaxed way to begin life at the firm, with lots of booze and meeting up with other campus hires. Wrong! Yes, the other campus hires are there and yes the booze flows freely, but it is anything but relaxed. It is an introduction to the 90 hour work week.

It starts off pretty mildly, with an introduction to the firm by a couple of senior partners. They could probably skip this bit in my opinion as most of this information is easily available on internet forums and blogs and those who can’t search for this information should probably not be in consulting. After a few more minutes of ‘housekeeping’ type stuff, we get down to the real deal. Case Studies!!! Lots of them and intense ones. Since I will talk about real projects in later blogs (ofcourse without client names – I don’t wish to get identified and fired. Not yet atleast), I will not go into much details about these case studies apart from the fact that they do try to simulate the real enviroment as much as possible. Senior firm practitioners facilitating the course act as the ‘clients’, with the partners acting as the ‘CXO’s’.

Now coming to the interesting part – the after work booze. You see, inspite of the rigorous recruiting process, some retards do manage to land into consulting as well. Luckily, most of these people get found out pretty quick. And it all starts at the orientation booze nights. Basically, if you can get through five nights of boozing without doing anything silly, you will be fine. For our female readers, do not hit on the partners, unless, they hit on you first. If they do, then congratulate yourself and take advantage, as this is your first career enhancing move. We had a comical situation where a petite blonde was fancied by atleast two of the partners present. We don’t think she got much real sleep the whole week. Rumour also has it that neither of the two partners knew about the other. Fine consultant she shall make. Word is out that she managed to get a fairly chunky bonus this year.

Tom (name changed), on the other hand, didn’t have such a good week. Challenging a senior partner to drinking games is probably not the best idea. Let’s just say a very solid performance in his first engagement is what saved him from getting “counselled out”.

April 5, 2009 Posted by | Consulting | 5 Comments