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Home > My Thoughts, Strategy > My Way of Consulting- Part 1

My Way of Consulting- Part 1


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I am writing this article for the Enterprise Consulting Blog after a long time. This is because I have been quiet busy on my new job (Five months ago I took a job with HCL Technologies). It’s been five months now into this job and I have my hands full with a few consulting assignments, setting up a new Practice and managing a few ongoing projects. At a recent interaction with students at Great Lakes Institute of Management, I was asked to share some of my consulting experiences. Due to shortage of time, I could not go into the details at that time and promised to share the same sometime later. Here I am with the methodology I follow on these engagements. Among the consulting engagements that I have recently done, two were for Fortune 100 Companies. In this article, I would share my overall strategy of conducting a business consulting engagement. (Please note, due to job/professional ethics constraints, I cannot share the names of the clients and the exact details of the engagement. Also, these are purely my own views and my current organization or previous organizations I have worked for are not responsible for these views.)

When a consultant starts his/her career, he/she is advised to follow a set of rules/ frameworks or the footsteps of established consultants. After a few engagements, each consultant tends to develop his/her unique way of handling engagements. Having started in 2005, I too gradually developed my own style of handling consulting engagements. Every engagement is different in its own right and brings in new challenges. The following sections give a broad overview of the overall strategy I use in handling these assignments. The finer details may differ from one engagement to another.

I always divide the whole exercise into broadly 4 phases: Pre-Engagement, Discover, Analyze and Recommend. The last three phases do not have distinct boundaries as such. The Analyze Phase can overlap with the last part of the Discover Phase and the Recommend Phase overlaps with the last part of the Analyze Phase.

{I have divided this article into two parts: Part 1 covers the Pre-Engagement and the Discover Phase and Part 2 covers the Analyze and Recommend Phase.}

Pre-Engagement Phase:

This phase is generally used to prepare the ground before starting the actual engagement. Always start with the publically available material on the client as well as the industry. Go through the website of the client, public announcements, press releases, Industry news, user groups etc. Once you know enough about the client, his business and industry he operates in; start with the material available on the engagement you are starting. Before signing the SoW (Statement of Work), the client would have shared some information on the engagement. Diligently go through that information. This gives you fair idea on the kind of information and documents that you may need from the client.

Before starting the engagement, I always request the client if he can share the available documents related to the engagement. This helps me in identifying the areas I need to explore and the set of people I would want to interview.

After this phase, you are ready to kick start the actual engagement on the ground.

Discover Phase:

The actual engagement starts with the Discover Phase. This is the phase where you identify the areas to investigate and the POCs (Points of Contact) who have to be interviewed in the first wave (I have discussed about the interview waves in a later section). The recommendations submitted at the end of a consulting exercise have to be backed with facts and data. This data or facts have to be collected in the Discover Phase.  Also, the Discover Phase forms a basis for Analyze Phase which in turn is the basis for Recommendations.

Before starting the actual process of Discovery, have the objectives of the exercise very clear in your mind. This will not only help in keeping you and the team on the track, but also help in moderating the discussions and interviews.

I divide the interaction for gathering information into the following:

Interviews: I generally divide the interviews into two phases, Wave 1 and Wave 2. The Wave 1 interviews are with the key stakeholders of the engagement. It is always best to start with the Sponsor or the Champion selected for the engagement. This is to understand his/her expectations and align it to the objective of the engagement. The other key stakeholders should be spread evenly across the key areas that the engagement intends to cover. From the Wave 1 interactions, try to come up with a list of SMEs that can give more granular information.

In the Wave 2, get to specifics of the information you want. By this time you would have indentified the SMEs you want to interact with. These SMEs will be able to share much more information than the stakeholders and they have been closer to the ground.

What, How and Why?

The interview process should be an interrogation disguised as interview. This is because the first answer the client/SME gives not the exact answer that we want. It will never lead us to the root cause. A lot goes into getting to the depth of issues being faced by the client. Always prepare an interview guide. Structure the questions well making sure that all areas are covered well and there are no repetitions.

Start with What…. Always start with asking the interviewee with what he/she does? What process he/she follows? What are the SLAs etc. This will gives a complete understanding on the As-Is situation. Please note that the answer to WHAT? might not give an understanding on the problem being faced by the client and nor will it help in identifying a solution for the problem. This will only help in giving an overview on the current situation.

…go through How.… After we are clear on the business area/ process the interviewee is in, try to gain further information on how exactly does he/she carries out his/her business? This gives me a ground to think on whether this is the best way to do it? Can it be improved further? How will I do it if given the responsibilities? Some of these questions might get answered by the next question: WHY? And the rest should (must) be a part of your recommendations.

…and end with Why…. This is the most important part of the interview and might make many an interviewee uncomfortable. By the time you come to this question, you already know what the interviewee does and how he/she does it. As mentioned above, I also have a few questions in my mind on the current state of his functioning. Asking him why he does so what he does, gives me a new dimension to think on. A single “WHY” might not lead to the exact reason. I ask a string on “WHYs” to lead to the core issue or the problem area. Believe me; it is very tough to ask so many whys without making the interviewee uncomfortable.

Questionnaires/ Templates: A consultant mush have (and develop over a period of time) a set of questionnaires and templates to gather information in a structured way. This does not mean that in every interview use the same template or questionnaire. Modify the template according to the client’s industry or even the area of work or the designation/role of the interviewee in the same organization. Structured information produces the best results in the analysis phase.

Caution: Do not try to force your framework/ templates on to the client. Adjust according to the needs of the client.

Documents/ Data dumps: Ask every interviewee if he/she can share the documents related to the discussion. Also ask for data on the transactions (preferably for a few years). The documents as well as the interview alone will not give the complete picture, but complement each other so as to cover the area in entirety.

I collect as much data and documents as possible. Then keep discarding whatever I do not need. Never say No to inflow of information. You may find the answers in an unsuspecting corner. 

Follow-Up Clarifications: Once you have collected all the required information, gone through the responses to the questionnaires and templates and started connecting the dots, you will always find some gaps. It may require a few follow up sessions with the same (or new) set of interviewees or e-mail exchanges to fill these gaps and seek clarifications. The follow up session can also be useful to cross check that all the information I have is complete and correct.

Never hesitate for seeking a clarification. Whenever in doubt, it is better to clarify than to carry wrong information into the analysis phase.

{To be continued in Part 2}

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  1. September 23, 2010 at 11:46 pm

    @HArshie

    Nice to read your thoughts, It is great to learn your way of consulting. But, It will be better if some examples are also provided to clear the picture.

    Hope criticism will be taken positively

    Thanks
    Raman

  2. Harshdeep Rapal
    January 3, 2011 at 8:48 am

    Thanks a lot Raman. Will share some examples in nest few posts.

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