Master Your 1st Consulting Project and Kick-Off: Tips for New Consultants

this image is the cover for an article on how to kick-off a new consulting project at a top firm as a new hire consultant

Last Updated on February 22, 2024

Embarking on your first consulting project can be both exhilarating and daunting, especially when aiming for success within the realms of top-tier consulting firms like McKinsey, BCG, and Bain. These firms set the gold standard in the consulting industry, demanding not only exceptional problem-solving skills but also an unparalleled ability to manage projects and client relationships from the get-go.

In this excerpt from my book, Consulting Career Secrets, I delve into the essentials of acing your initial consulting project launch. This guide is tailored for aspiring consultants eager to make a mark in the high-stakes world of elite consulting. From mastering the art of client communication to navigating the intricacies of project management, the insights provided here are designed to equip you with the knowledge and skills needed to excel from day one.

the image is an introduction of the book consulting career secrets by dr florian smeritschnig

Embarking on your first (or any, for that matter) consulting project can be a challenging experience, with the initial week or two often characterized by uncertainty before the team settles in, logistics are sorted, the project scope is understood, key stakeholders are identified, relationships established, and clients become familiar with your presence.

Key Action Items for a Strong Start

To ensure your consulting engagements begin on a solid footing and are set up for success, focus on these high-impact actions:

Review the project and context

Thoroughly review the proposal documents to comprehend the engagement’s goals and scope. Understand why the client has hired your firm. Discuss with your leadership, project manager, and team to clarify and align expectations. Ask your colleagues about their understanding of the project and its deliverables. Familiarize yourself with the context, timeline, and client’s industry (e.g., key players, market shares, typical margins, trends) and skim through the latest annual reports of your client and its competitors.

Stay informed about recent news, key facts (e.g., revenue, profitability, products or services, organizational structure, and size), media and public opinions, rumors, and political angles surrounding the client organization. Set up Google News alerts for the client and industry to receive daily updates on pertinent items. Being informed and up-to-date about your client and the industry helps your understanding and facilitates client-stakeholder discussions.

Conduct due diligence on your team

Understand your project’s leadership team by researching the work of senior partners, partners, junior partners, and project managers. Review their published firm research and solicit feedback from peers who have worked with them. In the consulting industry, transparency and constant feedback are critical, and it is prevalent to conduct due diligence on your colleagues before collaborating. Your partners and project managers also talk to previous partners and project managers who have worked with you.

In many firms’ intranets, you should be able to see who has worked with whom in previous projects and in what role, helping you identify potential discussion partners. Ask about your leadership’s working styles, preferences, and flaws in these peer discussions. This process helps you manage expectations, adjust to different working styles, or avoid difficult characters. If confidentiality permits, obtain the final document from your project manager’s and partners’ previous engagement to understand their preferred client communication methods and style (e.g., slide design, messaging, storyline, argumentation, formal criteria).

Understand the client’s organization

Gather client information through internal sources, such as colleagues who have previously worked with the client, internal documents, and discussions with your leadership. Learn about key stakeholders, your firm’s history with the client, and any political issues that could impact your work. Be prepared for potential challenges by understanding the client’s internal dynamics.

In one of the most prominent clients I consulted, the division CEO (my engagement’s sponsor) and the global CEO harbored resentment toward one another and refrained from talking to each other. This situation made navigating the project environment quite challenging. Surprisingly, even highly paid CEOs at the top of their industries can sometimes exhibit these problematic behaviors. Being aware of these dynamics beforehand is helpful to avoid inadvertently stepping into troubled waters.

Create or acquire an organizational chart of the client’s organization. Identify key stakeholders your team will interact with and gather their contact information and important background details.

Focus on your development

Establish learning goals with your team, particularly your project manager and leadership, and schedule bi-weekly feedback sessions in advance. Discuss expectations related to your work, performance, and development. Communicate your preferences regarding your role, tasks, responsibilities, instructions, and feedback. These discussions are essential for rapid growth and improvement. Collaborate with your project manager to identify potential work streams and have a say in dividing responsibilities.

Establish team norms

Foster effective working relationships with your colleagues by discussing personality types, strengths, weaknesses, work habits, and lifestyle needs. Consider using personality tests like the MBTI* to facilitate these discussions.

Push to establish team norms, such as daily check-ins and check-outs, remote work policies, mealtimes, and recreational activities. Set up collaborative tools like online shared cloud workspaces.

Introduce yourself to key client stakeholders

Schedule initial meetings with your project sponsor, usually at the C-level or one level below, and the working-level clients you will manage. Introduce yourself, your role, and the engagement’s objectives. Exercise caution regarding the information shared at this early stage. Not every client stakeholder needs to know everything. Establish a personal connection before delving into the specifics of the engagement.

Start collecting data as soon as possible

Initiate data collection from the client early on, as this process can be time-consuming and iterative, often posing challenges to the progress of your initial analyses. Determine the data needed and submit requests to clients within the first three days of the engagement. Swift data requests serve as a reminder to client stakeholders about the urgency and pace of your work. Maintain documentation of collected information for easy reference.

* The MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) personality type is a self-report questionnaire designed to identify an individual’s psychological preferences and how they perceive the world and make decisions, which is divided into 16 distinct types based on four dichotomies: extraversion/introversion, sensing/intuition, thinking/feeling, and judging/perceiving. Many consulting firms have new hires take the MBTI or similar personality tests.

How to Add Value as a Junior Consultant

When embarking on a new project, several organizational tasks need attention, besides your core responsibilities. These tasks present an excellent opportunity for you as a young consultant to take the initiative and provide value to the team early on. For many of these tasks, it is vital to coordinate with your client counterpart, who could be a junior member of the client organization or the personal assistant of your project sponsor. Think of the following:

Ensure building and internet access

Ensure you and your team have access to the building by organizing the appropriate badges. These badges should not only grant entry to the building, team room, and meeting rooms but often also serve as access cards for the client’s canteen. Being able to move freely around the client organization is essential for consultants and the impression it generates with key client stakeholders.

Acquire the necessary clearance and login details for accessing the client’s Wi-Fi.

Secure a comfortable team room

While it may sound trivial, finding a suitable room for your team can be challenging. Client offices are often at capacity, and securing a comfortable space for your team will be greatly appreciated. I recall encountering a variety of unusual team room scenarios, including one instance where we were situated in a storage shed just outside the client’s headquarters. Ensure to liaise with someone in the client organization to avoid such situations.

Equip the team room

Ensure that the team room has essential items such as conference call telephones, modems, printers, flipcharts, pens, and paper. Some firms offer a “team room in a box,” a pre-packaged list of items you can order. This list includes all necessary items for a consulting team to kick off an engagement and equip their working space (e.g., flipcharts, printers). As the most junior team member, arrange for the box and other amenities such as weekly snacks, fruit, and coffee deliveries to keep the team productive and happy.

Create a stakeholder map

Consider creating a stakeholder map. This process involves identifying all relevant stakeholders in your firm and the client organization that can influence or be affected by the project. Plot the stakeholders on a map based on their influence, responsibilities, and interest levels. Ideally, include their contact details as well. Share the map with your team, helping them to plan and manage interactions.

Develop a PowerPoint template

Design a PowerPoint template or collaborate with your firm’s slide designers to create one that incorporates suitable color schemes, fonts, and formatting tailored to your client’s preferences. Alternatively, you can acquire the slide master from a previous engagement with the same client.

Secure capacity with firm resources

Your team will likely require access to specific firm resources early in the project, such as dedicated slide designers, specialized data analysts, or other support functions. Establish relationships with the relevant departments and discuss dedicated resources and capacity arrangements to ensure an efficient project kick-off.

Facilitate transportation

Connect with a local taxi company and negotiate special deals or priorities for your team throughout the project.

By anticipating the team’s needs and taking proactive steps to address them, you demonstrate your ability to think ahead and create a good atmosphere for everyone, thereby contributing to a smooth start.

During this demanding time, avoid the major mistakes that junior consultants often make, while also working on your resilience and work-life balance.

Share the content!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *