Management consultants working for the top consulting firms help solve the business problems of their clients, such as CEOs, CFOs, divisional heads, and other leaders of large corporates (Fortune 1000, Fortune Global 500, etc.), private equity companies, and governments and non-profits.
Consultants point out in their blogs that there’s nothing called a “typical day” in their lives: each day brings its own challenges, workload, and real business problems. However, there are some things more or less common between the work days of a consultant.
Here we take a day in the life of a management consultant whose employer is consulting for a manufacturing company.
Let’s assume that this consultant is part of a team that is helping it to devise and implement new software to streamline operations. The client may be based in a different city or located in the same city as the consultant. We imagine a small slice of his work life.
When does the day start? It might be 4.30 am if you have to catch a plane to a client’s city, and you might just get the time to complete your daily routine and rush to the airport.
If the client is based in your town, this could mean an hour more of sleep, and you need to rise only closer to sunrise, to bring down your sleep deficit a little bit. In both cases, the first thing you will be seeing consciously will be your smartphone over your bed coffee.
A daily jog remains a dream: you can’t sacrifice sleep in the morning and you are too tired to think about it after work. But you can squeeze a gym visit into your schedule if you put your mind to it.
Assuming that the client is based in your city, you take a taxi and head to the client’s office, picking up one or two colleagues on the way who are working on the same project, including the engagement manager, or EM, who is responsible for the work progress of your team.
The taxi ride might be a long journey more often than not, and one or two colleagues may try to start a conversation and slowly doze off, which gives you time to check your inbox, browse Excel sheets (learn the top excel formulas commonly used by consultants) and a slide presentation sent by team members, catch the top news in WSJ, and forward an interesting/important article to colleagues. You will also plan your day.
You arrive at the client’s office and meet the client’s project manager, the crucial link between your team and the client’s.
You wait for your other colleagues, including your project manager or team leader, to join you, and then proceed for a short meeting in the project room to discuss the client’s feedback on your team’s engagement so far, the progress of the project, and the pending deliverables.
After this meeting, you get a few minutes for breakfast, which is often a large second cup of coffee, or a healthier option, an apple or a fresh fruit smoothie.
Obviously, for you to get the day’s work done, you will need the help of others from the client’s team besides from colleagues back at your own office.
Say, for example, you need to get the client CEO’s / divisional manager’s views on the project and its implementation, and you need to fix an appointment with her.
You call or email the CEO’s assistant and fix up a meeting at 4 pm. Now you can turn your attention to the interview questions that you need to put to her.
You look at what you have: a potpourri of data that the research team in your office has compiled, but you need a structured questionnaire out of it, to make the most of your time with the client CEO and help her clarify your doubts as thoroughly as possible.
You may also need to unpacking software terminology for her benefit. If your manager or team leader is making a presentation, you still have to prepare to be able to respond to the CEO’s questions.
You may have to coordinate with your graphics department for presentation slides or even create the slides yourself if the graphics people are already fully utilized.
Going through the questions, you find that your research has missed out an entire aspect of project management, for example, the client’s company’s past experience with implementing new software.
You get back to the research team and also do some research yourself to ensure that you have the right questions for the CEO.
If you depend on your research team entirely, you may have to join a queue of others waiting for their assistance, even as the research team completes higher-priority tasks.
You may also have to call external/industry experts to tie up loose ends. However, some things do go your way in a hectic day’s work and the team is able to give you inputs in time.
Voila! With those inputs and your own research, you put together a decent questionnaire for the CEO interview.
You realize that your stomach has begun to grumble for want of proper attention and that it may be time for lunch.
You tell yourself that with about three hours to go for the interview, your questionnaire is ready; you can afford yourself a smug little smile as you collect your colleagues and head to a decent eatery in the building for a sandwich.
Over lunch, you predictably talk shop. You tell your EM that everything is set for the CEO interview. Your colleagues, too, talk about their day, and there don’t seem to be many worries around the table.
The “forced socializing” somehow helps team members to know one another better.
If you need to debrief your manager or team leader, now is the time. Any new ideas you have can go through them. They can be a great support system.
Your phone rings. It’s certainly not your significant other calling to know whether s/he can help plan your evening. Rather, it is the CEO’s assistant saying the interview has to be either advanced or postponed to Tuesday.
You leave your sandwich and try to haggle a spot at 2 pm. “That should be OK,” says the assistant.
You need to read your questionnaire a couple of times to be able to anticipate her questions and give suitable responses. You tell your lunch-mates and rush back to the project room.
You suddenly realize that you have no big plans for training the client staff in the new software. Panic button! But you quickly get your wits about you, and call the research team for inputs on the double.
There’s no time for you to do much, but the research team rises to the occasion, thanks to the excellent relations you have with them, and you have enough material.
You receive the research inputs and restructure your questionnaire. You read the full script a couple of times. You’re happy with it. Doesn’t look like you’ve missed anything. Now you take five minutes to check your email inbox again.
On some days, if your client is based in your own city, this may be the time when you leave your office and take a taxi ride to the client’s with one or two colleagues. Most of what happened in the day till now would have happened at your own office.
You walk into the CEO’s office with the questionnaire. “Sorry for the rescheduling,” she says, unaware of the momentary cardiac arrhythmia she caused you a while ago.
She is easy to talk to and your interview goes well. She gives the names of managers you need to speak with, including the technology manager and training manager and a host of others.
You start preparing questions for the managers on the client side you need suggestions from. You call a few of them and agree to email questions for discussion.
You compile a quick list of ideas and suggestions received from the managers. You feel you have handled the crucial parts well.
In a scenario where you are in the same city as the client, this is when you get back to your office.
In any case, you use the rest of the day to tackle the pile-up in your inbox, reply to queries, and send requests as part of planning ahead, which helps you organize your work week.
You give feedback on your support teams: for example, whether your researchers came to your aid in time and what more they could have done to help you.
You then turn your attention back to the project. You collect data, analyze the information qualitatively and quantitatively, and make some detailed calculations for the project’s progress.
Your stomach is complaining again after the half sandwich you ate three or four hours ago. You manage to get yourself a banana or another power snack. Some good coffee, too.
This is when the EM calls a quick meeting to discuss problems that your team faced some difficulty solving. A partner may also come in.
She explains both positive and negative feedback she has received from the client, and asks how the team members can tweak their work. As a consultant, you are nothing if not flexible, and you find ways for improvement.
After handling in progress reports and findings, you can now start planning for tomorrow and the rest of the week. Just then come reports from a junior consultant, marked “for your eagle eyes.”
She wants to utilize your reputation for a keen eye for detail and well-developed language and editing skills. You give 15 valuable minutes to the job and move on.
At 7 pm, you can pack up and leave to meet your friend and go out for dinner, right? Wrong. Many other professionals are lucky enough to be able to wind down at 6 or 7 pm and go their own ways, but not consultants.
Of course, you may say you are luckier than night-duty doctors, nurses, and journalists and newspaper copyeditors who have to start their day at 7 pm.
Around 7.30 pm, you join the team for dinner, especially if you’re in a client city away from yours. This is a special time for some team-building and nurturing relationships.
If you’re in your own city, you may have slotted dinner along with a friend or colleague or mentor.
Around 9 pm, you return home, perhaps with a takeaway, or to your hotel room and call room service. You start making quick notes about the pain-points waiting for you tomorrow.
If your client’s city is a half-day ahead of your HQ in a different time zone, now is the time to send requests, so that, by the time you are at the client site tomorrow, you can hope to receive responses.
At 10 pm, if you’re lucky and work doesn’t keep you at your own desk or client’s site, your “me time” should ideally start. You can catch up on the day’s news or the latest episode of your favorite series on Netflix.
You don’t want to call it bedtime just yet, but thoughts of the next working day make you realize that you need your sleep to be at your best.
It’s almost Tuesday! But if it’s Friday and you don’t have to work the weekend, its paradise.
A consultant and blogger puts it nicely:
“Nothing in the day-to-day is glamorous or amazing. It is pedantic and it is hard. It is only when you step back and realize what you’ve accomplished, the knowledge you put together, the relationships that you’ve formed, what you’ve learned, and the assistance that you’ve hopefully provided, that it clicks.
And then you get calls from new people wanting advice on how to solve things that you just figured out a week ago!”