How consulting projects are staffed
Staffing is a science of its own. It is important to understand how it works because getting on a good project is one of the key drivers of your work-life balance. Additionally, you want to make sure to gain exposure to topics you like to work on or people you like to work with. Therefore it is crucial to understand your firm’s staffing model very early on (who are the people who call the shots?) in order to network appropriately and get on the projects you want.
Generally, there are five levers you can pull:
- Industry: The specific industry the client operates in (e.g., pharmaceuticals)
- Business function: The area the project is anchored in. This usually impacts the scope of the project (e.g., strategy)
- People: The team setup (e.g., 1 project manager, 2 consultants) and the team members (e.g., people you have worked with or people you have heard good things about)
- Location: The location of the client site(s). If there are multiple locations, be aware that travel can become very intense
- Timeframe: The duration of the project or your stint on the project
You cannot pull all five levers simultaneously. Instead, you have to prioritize and make trade-offs. In general, you will have most leeway to discuss industry or function and your staffing duration on the project. Depending on the location of the project and the travel involved, you might want to discuss partial remote working opportunities. Having a good story why a certain project suits your development and/or experience or doesn’t suit you will always come in handy when discussing with staffing coordinators or partners who want to pull you on a study.
In any case, before accepting the staffing, you should commit a due diligence on the client, the setup, and the team. There are a few warning signs of tough projects that you can already pick up during the staffing process:
- 01 project with a new client
- Project manager is very junior
- Project manager is close to becoming Associate Parnter/ Principal
- Associate Partner/ Principal is close to becoming Partner
- Project is a due diligence
- Project is a turnaround/ recovery
- Client is a former consultant (especially if they come from another firm)
- Client has multiple locations you need to travel to (gets worse when they are on different continents)
- You are all by yourself at the client location (standalone)
- Project manager or partner are known to be workaholics
- Project manager is bad at pushing back requests from leadership
- Partner is bad at pushing back client request
Make sure to pick up quickly on such things to improve your life in consulting and enhance your chances of success in the long run. Be careful when a partner is making special promises to get you on the project!
After a while, you will have built your own network of people you want to work with and people that want to work with you. As a result, most of your projects will come in via in-official channels anyway.