Deliverable #2: "Cases vs. Clients"

Comparing consulting interview cases to actual client work

[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, Mark, to share advice and stories about being an analyst at a major consulting firm. Our second episode compares consulting interview cases to actual client work.”




Jay: “Mark, welcome to the show.”


Mark: “Thanks, Jay. It’s good to be here.”


Jay: “Before we jump in, I would like to set a profile for yourself. I’m gonna ask you a few questions. First of all, how long have you been with the firm?”


Mark: “I’ve been with the firm for a little more than a year.”


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


Mark: “Two.”


Jay: “And what type of consulting do you do?”


Mark: “I focus mainly on technology consulting.”


Jay: “Okay. What industries have you worked in?”


Mark: “I’ve worked in public sector and commercial.”


Jay: “Can you define those two?”


Mark: “Yeah, so public sector would be mainly government, public schools, as well as higher education. And then commercial would be, more so just general industry.”


Jay: “Do you have a focus or target industry?”


Mark: “Um, I don’t as of yet, I’m still figuring that out. So right now, just trying to get a breadth of experiences.”


Jay: “Okay.”




Jay: “So, I’d like you to help me explain a few things about the show so it makes more sense to our listeners. The first one is, explain the concept of bandwidth and why the title ‘Out of Bandwidth’ is significant for a podcast about consulting.”


Mark: “So, to me, bandwidth is really your capacity as a person for completing deliverables and doing work. ‘Out of Bandwidth’ is significant for a consulting podcast because a lot of consultants, they end up running out of bandwidth eventually, and that’s part of the job.”


Jay: “How many times do people say to you, ‘How much bandwidth do you have?’”


Mark: “Um, I’d say that’s more so when you’re picking up a new task.”


Jay: “Okay.”


Mark: “Um, you know, somebody, typically they’ll come to you and say, you know, I need this done. Do you have the bandwidth for it?”


Jay: “There you go.”


Mark: “So it’s, you know, that’s a common phrase that they use and basically it just means, ‘Can you put this on your plate right now.’”


Jay: “And sometimes when you have enough client and firm work, you are out of bandwidth.”


Mark: “Yeah, definitely. Everybody has a different level of bandwidth. It really just comes down to the person.”


Jay: “The second is, I’m calling each episode in this podcast series a deliverable. What is a deliverable and why does it make sense for me to do that?”


Mark: “A deliverable could be different in a lot of contexts, but essentially it’s just a work item that you need to complete, typically for a client. And so each episode that you’re making is at a relatively even cadence. A lot of deliverables come out at that set cadence. And you know, you’re sort of working all week towards that deliverable.”


Jay: “Right, and it could be a slide deck, it could be a published website, anything the client has asked you to do, really.”


Mark: “Sure. Yeah, there’s designs, there’s documentation. There’s, you know, like you said, decks, other things.”


Jay: “If and when you join consulting, you can expect to put together a lot of deliverables.”


Mark: “Yeah, definitely. I’d say that’s your main focus.”




Jay: “So today’s topic is ‘Cases vs. Clients.’ Everything we talk about today is going to be a comparison of what is a business case and what do you do when you’re doing a business case to get this kind of job, and what is our real work like. How do the two fit together? So my first question is: what is a business case and why do we include this in a consulting interview? What are we looking to observe here?”


Mark: “Yeah, so, in my opinion, what you’re looking for in a business case interview is really just being able to think on your feet, and sort of taking a step back and assessing the problem correctly. Maybe not necessarily giving the correct solution, there’s, you know, dozens of correct solutions. But there’s only a few good ways to think about the problem.”


Jay: “Let’s make up an example of a case interview, just so the listeners can understand here…You’re wearing jeans right now. How many pairs of jeans does Store X cycle though in a monthly basis when demand is this high?”


Mark: “Yeah, yeah. Or even something like, how many pairs of jeans are manufactured in Texas in the month of February?”


Jay: “There you go. And then you’d have to figure out all the numbers that go into that.”


Mark: “Yeah, you know, you could start from the distribution angle or you could start from the demand angle. Assuming there are 20 million people in Texas, and each of them buys, on average, a pair of jeans every three years.”


Jay: “And then you can ask for more information, we’ll kind of poke and prod you if you’re not going in the right direction.”


Mark: “Yeah, yeah. You know, they give you the problem, and they just kind of look at you.”


Jay: “Then it’s all on you.”


Mark: “Yeah. You know, but that’s where asking questions comes in, or making assumptions but making sure you’re backing up those assumptions.”


Jay: “This brings us to the question that’s the central idea to today’s episode: how does a business case compare to what we actually do?”


Mark: “So I think what the business case does is, it gives you a good exposure to working in ambiguity.”


Jay: “It’s every day.”


Mark: “Yeah, so I think that’s the main motivation behind putting someone in that position. Um, in your real life day to day, you’re not gonna be assuming a lot of things. You’re gonna want to make sure that they’re correct. So you’ll be, you’ll be reaching out to a lot of people asking questions, doing a lot of…”


Jay: “Your manager, perhaps.”


Mark: “Yeah, or the client. Um, you know, public data sources, things like that.”


Jay: “Sometimes you call people who are what we call SMEs, subject matter experts.”


Mark: “Yeah, yeah.”


Jay: “How many times have we kind of reached out to people when we didn’t know what was going on? Um, I mean, frequently.”


Jay: “Like every day.”


Mark: “Every single day. Yeah.”


Jay: “What are some other ways that cases compare to client work?”


Mark: “You know, in the case, pretty much anything you say, as long as you have some justification for it, is gonna be okay. Um, in real life, not the case.”


Jay: “There’d be big repercussions.”


Mark: “Yeah, there’s major, major, major consequences. Which is why, you know, you’re not doing it in fifteen minutes.”


Jay: “Definitely.”




Jay: “So let’s start diving, we’ve been talking very generally here. Let’s get into some specifics, because this show is about peeling back the curtain, in a way. Mark, what is an example of an analyst role that you’ve had on a past project?”


Mark: “Sure. So, a lot of what you’re doing as an analyst is, you’re the one who’s really getting into the weeds and putting together the deliverable. You know, a role I’ve had was more of in the UI/UX space.”


Jay: “Can you define UI/UX?”


Mark: “Sure, so user interface and user experience.”


Jay: “And what does that mean, really?”


Mark: “That’s really how the user interacts with the system. So a lot of what you’re doing is identifying the user. Identifying their purpose for, um, using the application, and then optimizing the application for their intended use.”


Jay: “Your smartphone uses UI/UX?”


Mark: “Yeah, I mean, everything pretty much uses UI/UX. I mean, even an oven, the dishwasher, everything has an intended purpose and a user.”


Jay: “It’s important to point out that we are IT consultants. We haven’t done a lot of strategy ourselves. So, some people listening might be applying for a strategy-type role.”


Mark: “So I think in that kind of role you’re looking at a lot of business processes. And instead of optimizing an application, you’re optimizing a process. So you’re looking for areas where there’s opportunity for improvement, and you’re identifying those and proposing recommendations. And then, from there, it’s the client’s job to decide, yeah this is what we’re going with, or they can decide to do…”


Jay: “Whatever they want.”


Mark: “Yeah.”




Jay: “Let’s talk about team structure. Let’s outline what a team structure could look like: how many junior people, how many senior people, how many people in between.”


Mark: “Yeah, sure. So you could have a couple to three or four analysts, would be a lot on one team, I’d say. But then, you could have, you know, one or two team leaders and one manager or, you know, all the way up until the most senior leader on the account, who’s typically very involved with client relations or actually deciding what work is to be delivered.”


Jay: “And selling future work.”


Mark: “Yeah. And typically, there’s one person who the buck stops with.”


Jay: “What normally during happens during a team meeting? I know a case is done on your own, but oftentimes you’re interacting and working very closely with your team to get the deliverable done.”


Mark: “Yeah, so team meetings vary. There’s, you know, sometimes when you’ll be in a working session where it’s like, hey we all have this problem and we all need to figure it out before we leave this room. And other times it’s, you know, more of like a checkup, like, hey how is so-and-so coming along with deliverable X? You know, each person on the team will go through and sort of present where they’re at, mention any issues that have arisen. And then, that’s a good way to get a pulse on the whole team. And if you have some extra bandwidth, then you can help out somebody with an issue they’re facing.”


Jay: “Now, on the flipside, we’ve talking about team meetings. What happens in a client meeting?”


Mark: “So in a client meeting, you know, sometimes you’re the ones asking questions and other times, they are. If you have that deliverable that you need to put together, you’ll probably have a lot meetings, or at least, email exchanges or some sort of connection leading up to whatever final session it might be. And at that time, they’re asking questions to you and you have to really know your stuff. And you should, because you’ve spent the time, you’ve done the work. And in that case, you know, any question they should come up with, you should have an answer for. And you should feel confident that whatever you’re bringing to the table is the right, or the best, option.”


Jay: “What happens when you’re in a client meeting and the client doesn’t like your recommendation?”


Mark: “I mean, that happens. Um, if they have a reason for maybe not liking it, maybe it’s because you needed to clear something up. Or, you know, maybe you didn’t mention something. But there definitely are cases where it didn’t come up in all your research or, that really kind of puts a wrench into your plan. And so, I mean, at that point, you have to take a step back and re-evaluate the issue.”




Jay: “We’re coming to the end of today’s episode and I want to ask you, Mark, what is something that you would like to tell a future consultant? Maybe a piece of advice for them to take note of.”


Mark: “I would say, anything you do should be done with intention. And so, when you’re doing something, make sure you know why you’re doing it. You know, don’t trick yourself. If you genuinely think about an action or a decision, it’s gonna end up being fine, because you thought about it, you evaluated it, and you can be true to yourself in why you’re making that decision or why you’re doing that thing. And when you’re working for a consulting firm, or anywhere honestly, making yourself essential to your team and your project or your company should be your utmost goal. If you make yourself essential, you’re gonna be very successful. It doesn’t matter what you do.”


Jay: “Mark, I want to say, thank you for coming on the show.”


Mark: “Thanks, Jay. I 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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