Deliverable #1: "Projects"

All about consulting projects and variables you can isolate

[Musical Intro]


Jay: “Welcome to Out of Bandwidth, the Podcast Guide for Future Consultants. I’m your host, Jay Alexander, and I’m here with my colleague, Jack, to share advice and stories about being an analyst at a major consulting firm. This first episode is all about projects.”




Jay: “Jack, welcome to the Out of Bandwidth.”


Jack: “Thank you, glad to be here.”


Jay: “We’re gonna jump right in. I’d like to build a quick profile, how long have you been with your firm?”


Jack: “Sure, three years.”


Jay: “How many different projects have you been on?”


Jack: “I’ve been on about six projects.”


Jay: “Jack, part of the reason we’re doing this is that, I think there’s a disconnect between what we tell people in recruiting or what people think consulting is coming out of undergrad, MBA school, something like that, and what consulting really is. What is your opinion on that?”


Jack: “Sure, you know, Jay, I think that’s fair. Anytime that you go to talk to a firm, their objective is to recruit you, so there is going to naturally be a spin on it. And so I think having the straight talk, getting some of the real answers, is really important to help people decide: what is this lifestyle for them? Is it worthwhile for them? Is there anything they need to understand before committing to it.”


Jay: “Right. We’re gonna be candid here today, that’s the point.”


Jack: “Right. That sounds like a good plan to me.”




Jay: “So today’s topic is projects. Do you think there’s a such thing as an ideal project?”


Jack: “Um, I would say no. There’s not an ideal project. Every project has pros and cons. I think that you need to pick and find projects that hit on things that you want to develop, get exposure to, people that you want to work with. Now those almost always come with drawbacks. Something that I was interested on early on when I started my analyst career was M&A, mergers and acquisitions. A lot of drawbacks come with that. Now, it’s a really interesting field. There’s a lot going on. Generally there’s more hours. Generally people are a little bit more intense. Generally clients are very stressed out. So, just to come back to the original question, no, I don’t think there’s an ideal project. Now you can have a bunch of different things that are good for your point in life, what you’re looking for, you know, where you want to go with your career. That is one thing that consulting does do really well, is allow you to determine what you want to do. Now you gotta put your back into it, no one’s gonna hold your hand along the way. It’s not easy to do that. It’s easy to get stuck in certain places. But that is an important kind of distinction that, you can, if you take the reins, really go with it. But that’s, you know, up to you.”




Jay: “So let’s talk about some variables that you can solve for when you’re trying to choose a project.”


Jack: “Everybody has their own approach to these. Now, certain of them are more important than others. Personally I think location is not an important criteria. Unless you’re trying to stay local, local versus traveling is slightly different. But if you’re traveling and you’re going to, you know, Rhode Island versus Jacksonville versus New York City, you’re in consulting, sometimes you’re going to be in the Holiday Inn, eating at Applebee’s, sometimes you’re staying at the Ritz Carlton in Chicago. You know, you get lucky with that. But there’s certain things that you should probably weigh more than others. I think the type of work that you’re doing, I think the people that you’re working with are the most important.”


Jay: “What about hours and project culture, because those vary dramatically project to project.”


Jack: “The hours for M&A vary, they tend to be higher than normal. I will generally get in at eight o’clock. During busy times you can stay ‘til nine, ten, eleven…pm. Um, regular times…seven. You stay until your partner leaves. And I have left when there’s still people in the team room at seven o’clock and people have asked me, ‘Oh, half day today?’ I mean, partially kidding, don’t get me wrong, but it still stings when you’re walking out. And you’re like, ‘Nope, quarter day’ and you just keep walking. And there’s nothing you can do about it, right, there’s always going to be someone who cracks a Red Bull at 9pm. On that project, the other analyst and I would just stare at each other and try and figure out who the manager was going to choose to stay late with him that night. It was like a game. Usually it was me, I don’t know why I always lost, or won, depending on the way you look at it. But…”


Jay: “After hours is when the real fun begins.”


Jack: “Oh, of course. I mean, you know, we’ve been talking all about, like, work, and it sounds miserable. It’s not miserable, just to be clear, there is a lot of fun things, too. I had a project down in Orlando, and we did the “drink around the world” at Epcot. It was a big team, 40 people, after work, hitting Epcot, every country around the world. It was pretty fun. My manager on that project actually told the intern, the summer intern, that she should just go home and go to the spa or something at, at noon. It’s fine.”


Jay: “And did she?”


Jack: “She didn’t! Which, being in her position, I would never do it, but I was very, sorely disappointed with her. I was like, you will never find this again, someone who truly means ‘go to the spa’ instead of coming to work for the rest of the day. Honestly, there’s all types of people in consulting. There’s those who crack the Red Bull at 9pm, and there’s those that will be done as soon as possible and want to crack a brew instead. When you find a good team that you work well with, which I know people do, then they sacrifice some of those other points that we’ve been talking about. Is it the diversity of work? Is it the hours? Do they just really want to work with these types of people, and what are they willing to give up for that?




Jay: “How long was your longest project?”


Jack: “I think it was probably, I think probably like ten, eleven, twelve months.”


Jay: “How short was your shortest project?”


Jack: “That was probably about four to five months. I mean, the ones in between that were eight, nine, something like that.”


Jay: “And yet we know people who have done things for two weeks, three weeks.”


Jack: “Oh yeah. I don’t understand how they do it. Frankly, I don’t understand where they’re finding these things. I mean, certain types of work like due diligence work in M&A is shorter term, right? It’s a month, tops. Cuz’ you’re coming in, you’re evaluating a deal, and then you’re leaving to go do another one. Strategy engagements usually are a little bit shorter as well, because you’re putting a fancy little slide deck together, and then you kind of leave.”


Jay: “And we should probably clarify that strategy is like management consulting, and then there’s IT consulting, and all sorts of stuff.”


Jack: “To me, strategy is the embodiment of stereotypical consulting. Someone tells you that, um, we don’t have enough production of rubber duckies and, what do we do? And you’re like, oh, well, you can split production of rubber duckies into costs and revenue, and then you like break down all the buckets that you’ll do in cases.”


Jay: “Or you can just fewer baths.”


Jack: “See? You know, that’s thinking outside the box, and that’s just really valued at the firm…I think, um, it’s a mixed bag. You know, implementations for IT, generally longer projects. Right? Because it takes a long time to get all the crazy amount of work done.”


Jay: “And that’s not 3 weeks.”


Jack: “Yeah, not 3 weeks.”




Jay: “This is going back to our discussion about long-term projects versus short-term projects.”


Jack: “Yep.”


Jay: “Have you ever tried to leave a long-term project?”


Jack: “Yes.”


Jay: “And how did that go, how did you…”


Jack: “Poorly.”


Jay: “How did that discussion work, how did you navigate it?”


Jack: “Yeah, the key for that is having the relationship with the folks that are making the decisions. You have to do the legwork and homework beforehand, and then you have to make a business case for yourself. I was actually talking to an MD, managing director, who let me go from a long project after much persuasion. And she’s like, it wasn’t what was best for me. And if I was acting for myself, you wouldn’t have gotten anywhere, because the client liked you, you were sticking around, things were going well, and we had a lot more work to do. But I had talked to her about, what were my goals, what I needed, you know? And what helped me get to that point is having those conversations. And it’s not one check-in. It’s a week after week of how you want to get to where you want to get to. You know, you just assume, oh, it’s been six months and I should probably do something else. Or, you know, all my friends are moving around.”


Jay: “But you can’t drop the ball on one day.”


Jack: “You just can’t say, I wanna leave. Never have I said ‘I want to leave’ to a project leader. And I think if I did, it’s a terrible idea. Now, it reminds me of a story. So, this one project I was on, a guy comes onto the project Monday. He comes on, like, very heavily needed role. And working for the first week, things were going fine, you know, and he seems like a capable enough guy. Thursday, ‘Hey take it easy we’ll see you on Monday,’ everybody goes off. Friday we didn’t hear much but he said he was going to like his brother’s soccer game or whatever so he was gonna be fairly busy.”


Jay: “Okay.”


Jack: “Everybody has a great weekend, whatever. Come back Monday…where’s Charlie? You know? It’s eleven o’clock, seriously where’s Charlie? One o’clock, still no Charlie.”


Jay: “He’s gone.”


Jay: “Eventually the entire team is in and, I think it was probably 2 or 3pm, we get an email, we being the project leadership, the senior manager and the partner, that Charlie is now on another project.”


Jay: “Nice.”


Jack: “Zero communication from him to anyone else. Nothing. That was from the resource manager, the people that staff analysts, consultants, and everybody else at the firm.”


Jay: “That’s the newbies doing that stuff.”


Jack: “It’s honestly impressive. But what Charlie didn’t realize is, the senior manager who he just snuffed sits on his review at the year end.


Jay: “Not smart.”


Jack: “And she was not a particularly forgiving person. It’s a small world. Now it goes back to having the conversations. You know, could have gotten off the project eventually? Yeah, easily. I mean, it just takes time, but not like that. So you have to be careful. There’s no one right way to do it, but there’s certainly a wrong way. So don’t be a Charlie.”




Jay: “What makes a location convenient for travel?”


Jack: “Airports and the airline that goes there is huge. If you’re trying to go to Chicago, it’s a United hub. I mean, if you’re going to Atlanta, it’s a Delta hub. So, there’s a lot more flights. Now, sometimes you get a client that’s in Little Rock, Arkansas, and you have to take connections. That’s tough. Now, you get way more miles, so…benefit. But that’s tough.”


Jay: “Longer Monday morning and Thursday night.”


Jack: “Longer Monday, exactly. The other thing is setting a travel schedule, and a lot of that is dependent on what the flight times are, right? So you think, oh yeah, like, our team leaves early on Thursdays. They may not if you can’t leave early on Thursdays.”


Jay: “And they might not get home until midnight.”


Jack: “Exactly. My project where I was coming out of New York, I didn’t get home on Thursdays until 1am. Because we took a later flight out, because there’s work to be done. The other thing, like I mentioned about that project in Orlando…the only people that go to Orlando are kids. That’s it. And it’s not like you can get upgraded like we all like to do and escape them. Because, no matter how much status you think you have, there’s some guy with 50 kids that has better status than you, and you will be sitting next to them. That ruins your Monday morning. I don’t know why it’s a like a competition of which family can wear the most ridiculous T-shirts that match, of like Mickey Mouse things hanging off it. None of it makes any sense, but I’ve seen it all.”


Jay: “Now what are these people doing flying out on Monday morning?”


Jack: “I don’t know. But if you’re considering consulting, just think about the kids. Think about the kids.”




Jay: “Jack, is there anything else you want to add here?”


Jack: “You know, I think we probably talked a lot about some real, true aspects of things that may come off a little negative. But, the field of consulting is an incredible opportunity to build skills that you just won’t build elsewhere. Right? With all of these things that we’re talking about that sound difficult to deal with, you’re growing. You’re building new skills. You’re deciding and understanding how to deal with the ambiguity, getting through difficult client relationships, working with people who work really hard hours really long, and trying to minimize it for yourself and building that balance for yourself. So whether you want to stay in consulting long-term, I’m sorry, or want to leave later, you’re figuring out all of these skill sets and preferences that are important to you. And I think that it’s an invaluable skill set. Now, I don’t regret anything about joining consulting.”


Jay: “That’s good.”


Jack: “I don’t. I think, you know, the time spent in the field is always valuable time. It’s an accelerator, you know, and the longer you stay in, the longer you’re on that accelerated curve.”


Jay: “Jack, thank you for being here with us, I think this has been really enlightening.”


Jack: “Great, thanks for having me, Jay. Appreciate it.”


Jay: “Thank you for listening. Please be sure to subscribe and give us a rating wherever you get your podcasts. Links can be found at Until next time, this is Jay Alexander singing off. We’ll catch you at the client site.”

[Musical Outro]

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