Management Consulting: First Impressions

So it’s been a little more than a month (my internship, not counted) since I started with my first project – perfect time to build first impressions!

On the one hand, it’s a jungle out here. With so much happening every minute you can’t help but feel that you’re running just to stay in the same place. Of course with the pressure of expectations, extreme ambition and the resulting aggression you almost expect someone to kick you down a well and shout “this is Spartaa” every other minute.

So life in a consulting firm is tough (big surprise) – the travel itself is enough to sap all energy out of you (for my first stint, I catch a flight, then a cab, followed by an overnight train, and then another cab – just to reach my client place). Not to mention the impossible deadlines, out of the world expectations (from clients, the team and most importantly, yourself) and the constant pressure to deliver. And not just deliver, do better than most of the rest – because only a select few manage to reach the next level – at every level. Late nights over countless cups of coffee are a given – and for someone who takes stress easily, health will be a major concern very soon.

So this is probably the first thing anyone will realize here – consulting is not worth all the late nights, stress, lost opportunities (work, sleep, social life – choose 2/3 at max) if you don’t enjoy the process. Here’s another thing I realized – the way to enjoy the process is not to look at a snapshot of what I am doing every second (that’ll look like mundane work 80% of the time) – but look at it within a reasonable timeframe (where the full impact of what you did is visible). Because most of the satisfaction at work comes when I can see what we have achieved for the client and for myself.

This past month has been a crazy one – with me struggling to get accustomed to this new way of living, thinking and functioning (of course this new way keeps changing every two weeks and definitely with every project!) – but within just a month, I see a difference in how I work – I can be a lot more focused; I have started internalizing the discipline of prioritizing the most important (and not the easiest) tasks first; excel spreadsheets don’t slow me down (that much) anymore (even though my laptop does, quite often); I am more cognizant of the client’s perspective now; and (I think) I am getting better at setting more realistic short-terms goals. And all this, while I felt like I was just going through the motions, without even deliberating on the learning aspect.

The steep learning curve, which consulting firms promise to provide, is pretty real!

A partner joked about it once, saying “it is true that you will learn in 2 years, what most of your batchmates from business school will in 5 years – but that will be mostly, because you’ll end up doing 5 years worth of work in 2 years!”

I may have made it sound, so far, like the learnings have all been tactical* – that is fortunately not true!

Whoever said business school is the last time you will find real intellectual challenge, would have been pleasantly surprised at what (s)he experienced at a consulting firm – I am learning about concepts and aspects of business, which I missed out heavily on while at school. I never understood, for example, the real essence of corporate governance – till I sat in one some meetings with CXOs of a company (people who are still at business school, do take a couple of courses on corporate governance). I’ve also started thinking a lot more in terms of systems and processes – I can actually see them in front of me – and I understand how bad processes can make even high-performing organizations crumble in no time. I can see why some spectacular start-up founders ultimately lead their companies to a spectacular demise when it’s time to scale. And now I see IT in a completely different light – with utmost respect even.

I can clearly see why consulting firms are titled “Finishing Schools” by many – in a very short time this experience is going to change the way I think –and hopefully all for the better. At IIMA, I learnt discipline, core business concepts and a way of looking at things from multiple dimensions; now this experience is going to make me a lot more (for want of a better word)“professional” in my approach.

At the very least, I expect the next couple of years to make me a stronger problem solver, a more rigorous thinker, an effective communicator and a better manager overall.

 *I would also like to mention, in passing, some other useful life skills that I have acquired – like tying a tie windsor while on a conference call in a cab; the ability to pack a suitcase in 7 minutes flat or optimizing my travel time to be ‘Just in Time’ for every flight

** The views expressed above are personal views of author and should not be associated with any firm.

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Sahil Patwa is consult club alumni from PGP’14 batch. He holds a B.Tech in Mechanical Engineering from IIT Bombay