7 Key Questions: Who, What, Why, When, Where, How, How Much?

This is a post I made 2 years ago, the most popular post by far.

Who, What, Why, When, Where?  These are five questions kids learn in grade school or when first learning a language.  It covers the basics and helps you understand the situation and context.  My high school friends can attest to my poor memory, but even I can remember these basic words in french: Qui, Quoi, Quand, Où, Pourquoi.

These 5 questions are fairly famous and an often-quoted way to think through problems.  They have been repeated by Cicero, Thomas Acquinas, and Rudyard Kipling.  Journalists are trained to answer those 5 questions whenever they write an article or press release.  These can also be useful for consultants, with two small additions.

How and How Much?  For any consultant, eager to see her recommendations implemented, a lot of thought needs to be given to how it will be implemented and how much it might cost.  For all the snark-y comments about strategy consultants giving high-minded solutions that are condemned to be “shelfware”, there is a hint of truth that many good ideas die on the hill of implementation and cost.

What kind of problem is it?   There is a good chance that the client’s problem falls into one of these buckets.  If it is a strategy project, likely it is a WHAT question.  Conversely, if it is a operations-related project, it is really looking at HOW to implement a good idea efficiently. Most seasoned consultants have been on projects that touch these areas.

Questions and Topics

Answer the right question.  It is easy to fall into the trap of addressing the wrong issue.  All too often clients hire consultants to solve problem X, only to find out that the problem is actually with Y.   On a more personal note, I had dinner with a good friend last night and he adroitly pointed out that I was too focused on answering the HOW (on a big decision in my life), instead of taking a step back and answering the WHY and the WHAT.  Sanity check.

“Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” – Peter Drucker

Think broadly about the problem. Once you have targeted the right question, think a bit more laterally and see which of the other questions should be answered too.  The level of detail will vary, but you want to be as comprehensive as the time and budget allows.  In this example below, this hypothetical project actually covers a lot of ground.

Who What Why When Example

Look for the add-on work.  Chances are very good that during the course of solving one problem, you unearth other issues.  It is all too common for a $50,000 (loss-leader) diagnostic project to lead to a  $750,000 (profitable) project with multiple work streams and consultant teams.  Clients see that you do good work, and want more help.  It is natural and good thing for the client and the consultant.  Look for those opportunities.

“My greatest strength as a consultant is to be ignorant and ask a few questions.”  – Peter Drucker

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Bain & Co: Stop wasting valuable time

So I am a procrastinator.  I will just admit it.  Have not completed by 2014 taxes (yes, they were due 3 months ago), but we filed an extension.  I have a big writing project which is also over due.  This is the right Bain blog post for me here.  Basically, here are Bain’s 7 ways to stop wasting valuable time.  Get the most out of your executives. . .

Consultantsmind Clock

Bain agrees with Peter Drucker who said that peoples’ time is the company’s most valuable resource.  (Who would be so stupid to disagree with Drucker, right?) Bain’s words are shown in blue color below.

1. Separate operations from strategy

Operational matters require detailed discussion and analysis. Strategy requires a big-picture, forward-looking view. The two mindsets are different, and the two kinds of topics mix poorly.

This is an incredibly deep point.  Seems like executives spend too much time conducting status-quo operational reviews, when they should also plan for deeper, thoughtful, all-day strategy sessions too.  These two are not the same.

2. Focus meetings on decisions, not discussion

BAAM.  Awesome.  Send out the information stuff as pre-reads, and make decisions. Too often meetings are wasted time.  Clearly explain to meeting participants, this what we will decide on today in this meeting. BAAM.

3. Prioritize high-value items

Decision architecture.  This is deep stuff.  Think through your business, and the chain of decisions which need to be made.  Prioritize them and focus your attention on that. What is critical path?  What is core to my success?  Which decisions matter?

A useful tool for identifying important decisions is a decision architecture— essentially, a list of key decisions along each step of a business’s value chain, prioritized by the value at stake and the degree of management attention required. 

4. Move items off the agenda

Get things done.  No reason for things to linger on the agenda.  Simple

5. Demand real choices for each major decision

This is a fascinating story that highlights the need to have a culture of authenticity, trust, and shared vision.  You do not want people surrounding you who only say yes.  You want real choices and real options.

It’s said that whenever Henry Kissinger, the former US secretary of state, asked his foreign policy team for alternatives, the team would always present one that led to unconditional surrender to the Soviet Union, a second that led to thermonuclear war and a third—the one the team favored. Ask your teams to present real choices, not false ones. 

6. Introduce a common language for decision roles

Get into the rhythm of making decisions and develop norms so the team can quickly make decisions.  Not to detract from this good Bain post, but my wife and I have a simple system when we disagree on a decision.   We ask, “On a scale of 1-10, how much do you WANT to do this?”  Likewise, “On a scale of 1-10, how much do you NOT WANT to do this?”  If she is a 9 and I am a 3. . . then clearly, the 9s win.

7. Make decisions stick

Clear enough.  Explain to people WHY the decision was made, create the incentives (rewards and punishments) for compliance.  Make it easy to see if the right behaviors are followed.  Be consistent in messaging and follow through.  Don’t Yo-Yo.

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Mad Men had it right, do the work

I am Generation X and I am getting tired.  Getting tired of asking for permission to ask junior consultants to do work.  Tired of the fear of offending their sensibilities. Tired of doing the thinking.  Tired of trying to “charge them up, get them excited” about the work. Tired of pushing.  Frankly, we need more Don Draper. Frankly, we need more trusting, mentoring, brutal honesty and hard work.  Let’s hustle, win, and have fun.


1. Do the work.  As simple as this sounds, too many younger consultants need to hear this again.  Do the work.  Think about the problem in front of you, explore ways to solve the problem.  Structure it.  Use different methodologies, tools, processes, including those mentioned on this blog.

2. Yes, ask for clarification, but not the answers.  As you are discovering your way to the answer, think about potential answers.  Communicate and earn your credibility. Rely on your manager for wisdom, discernment, or decision-making.  If you are asking them for information, or background research or something you could google, you are wasting people’s time.   Make yourself invaluable.

3. Show initiative.  Be able to research quickly and show judgment.  People don’t give you detailed directions.  Need to be a bit of a mind-reader.  Don’t wait until called. Stand up, ask for work.  Have an immigrant mind-set.  Hustle wins the day 90% of the time. As Steve Jobs said (in a different context), be eager.   Stay hungry.

4. Structure some ideas.  Take very good notes.  Read for relevant news.  Provide an outline, something to react to.  Don’t make me do all the thinking.  Expand the scope of your work.  Make it easy for me to say yes.  Sell, sell, sell.  Sell yourself and your ideas. Put yourself out there and win the idea fight club.

5. Meet me halfway.  Do some of the work.  Put it on paper.  Start scoping it out.  Write down the top 3 questions you want to ask me.  Show rigor in your thought.  If I am thinking about the problem more than you. . . we have a problem.

6. Don’t set up a meeting to talk more about it?  Don’t regurgitate some files that I already have.  I don’t need a manager.  I am the manager.

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Work with people you like and trust

Over the last year, I have interviewed about 50 people for positions in our consulting group.  Most of the time, I am giving case interviews to test people’s logical structuring, and analytic skills.  Sometimes, I have a chance to speak more openly – both the good reasons to join and the reasons they should reconsider this choice. If you are mid-career, you gotta be smart and go where there is a fit.  Find a place that fits you.

To be clear, for any job you are interviewing for. . . you need to do the research, do great in the interview, build rapport and get the offer.  Repeat: get the offer.

That said, if you are mid-career, I believe that the work you do, and how much you get paid are largely fixed.  It is the market economy, and at age 30-50s, you know what kind of work you will be doing.  If you have been an operations consultant for 15 years, you are not going to be an architect, or clothing designer. Holding the money and the work constant, a few things you should consider with a job move:

Work with people you like.  The one thing you do control – what has the biggest impact on your happiness – is the people you work with. Gallup shows that most people are disengaged at work, and the #1 reason people leave a job is their boss here.  This seems obvious, but successful driven people like to work with people like themselves.

  • Talk to people who have worked there, or have left
  • Look at glassdoor.com for the reviews
  • Interview the interviewer; get them to open-up and start talking.
  • Who leads the group, and what is her history?

Where are you in your career S-curve?  Strong believer that most things in life at not linear – same with your career. Depending on where you are in your career S-curve, there will be trade-offs between the different roles:

  • Are you at the launch stage? Eager to start something new, exert 10x effort?
  • Are you mid-flight, doing great work, and just need to do more of it?
  • Are you in the plateau stage; focused on other non-work things in you life
  • Are you on the old S curve, or jumping to a new one?

Consultantsmind Career S curve

Where is the group in its S-curve?  The same life-cycle question applies to companies and groups.  If you are joining a start up within a large established company, which culture is going to be more important to you?  Stability and process? Newness and ambiguity?  How big is the group, is it growing or shrinking?  How does the group map up to the C-suite (operations, finance, marketing, sales, HR)?

  • What’s the context of the company vs. their competitor?
  • What is the stock doing?  How many people are in the office you will be at?

Find places where there is trust. Remember it’s more important WHO you work for that the WHICH company you work for.  Good leader, good boss, good life.  Big consulting firms are also made up of “tribes” of partners and senior managers.    You have to know who you are working for and, honestly, “interview them” as much as they are interviewing you.  Simon Sinek reminds us that real leaders eat last (as a metaphor for taking care of their people first) here.

“What does success look like?”  In the end, think about what you really want.  If you fast-forward 5 years and look back, what would have made this decision to move companies or roles a smart decision?  Work backwards from the end result.

Question:  What is the best way to find a “fit” with a new company or job?  What questions do you use as an interviewer or interviewee to find “fit”?

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The problem with metrics

Metrics are everywhere. As a consultant, we are in the business of quickly understanding business problems, proposing solutions, and measuring results.  Metrics are a necessary evil of any project. The classic continuous improvement methodology DMAIC depends on M (measuring) and C (controlling the process).  Seemingly, Consulting is all about metrics and key performance indicators (KPI).

Metrics are good.  Without question, metrics are an invaluable way for executives to track their relative performance (against competitors, and their own historical performance), manage their business, and focus their attention. There is clearly a reason the government publishes thousands of economic indicators monthly, and why Wall Street analysts brood over companies financial and valuation statistics daily. Financial statement analysis (FSA) is one of the most popular and powerful classes that MBAs take in business school.  Variable A divided by Variable B = A/B = a metric.

What gets measured gets managed. – Peter Drucker

Metrics are bad. What’s wrong with metrics?  Using the previous logic, shouldn’t metrics be manna from heaven?  Aren’t more metrics better?

While there are many reasons why metrics are important to run a business, compare performance with competitors, and provide you trend analysis, I can also think of 10 reasons why metrics make you stupid, lazy, or worse.

1. There are too many of them.  If you look at the dashboard some executives, you will see that there it is an printed out excel spreadsheet with 12 size font and lots of lines. People are inundated.  It’s too much to really comprehend.  A better approach is to really think through the problem and distill into a handful of key metrics that can cascade down to more detailed levels of measurement.  Seeing a CEO have a list of dozens of metrics is annoying and a bit sad.

Some regulated industries are the worst because there are piles and piles of metrics required by regulators, industry watchdogs, investors, board members, employees, and bankers.  Eventually, executives gets numb from the onslaught of numbers.  As I tell my clients, strategy is as much what you don’t do (and focus on), as what you do.

2. Metrics are not created equal.  Too often, metrics are given the same level of importance.  You will see a dashboard with 3-4 mission critical metrics alongside something almost trivial in its minutiae.  It turns into a dustbin of measurement.

If you need to see an example of this, go to healthgrades.com and look for a hospitals near you here.  Under the quality metrics you will see things like mortality and readmission rates (important) next to things like % of patients who receive aspirin at discharge (yes, it is a CMS-mandated measure).

3. Some metrics measure the past. There are leading and lagging metrics.  Some metrics (e.g., market share) look at the past.  They are lagging the current reality, and if you are not careful, you start managing your business based on history.  We know that very few things in life are straight line, so it’s like driving your car on a curvy road looking in the rear view mirror.  Try to mix both lagging and leading metrics.

Consultantsmind Dashboard - The problem with metrics

4. Metrics can give a false sense of causality.  Metrics are – by their definition – reductionist.  They give an indication of something.  They are the symptom, not the root cause.  Continuing with the driving analogy, the speedometer tells you how fast you are going, but does not tell you whether you are going to the right place or if that speed limit is appropriate for the car’s engine, or the area you are driving in.

5. Metrics can give a false sense of achievement. I believe executives often look at metrics too frequently.  Yes, it comes from #4 (false sense of causality), but it also gives the self-imposed illusion of doing something about the problem.

Typical setup:  An executive spends hours looking at national market share metrics; she calls meetings to review, manage, align, discuss, debate the market share numbers. It’s fairly typical behavior, and yet, there is a weak chance that the activity of the last 29 days (since the last time you checked) is actually affecting market share nationally. Lots of discussion on the speedometer is not making the care go any faster.

6. Metrics can use the wrong benchmarks.  It is very easy to compare your performance against the wrong peer set.  Like a boy who tells his mother that his “B” in math was not bad because all his friends got “C”s, who you benchmark your performance against matters. Simply put, you cannot compare the operational performance of companies or business units that are in different industries, stages of development, or have capital structures. Don’t compare apples and oranges.

7. Metrics don’t give advice.  Metrics just tell you the situation, they don’t tell you what to change.  It’s like smoke detector that is screaming at you, but honestly, it is not telling you how to escape the fire – that is what you have to do.  Too many people waste their energy on lagging indicators, and don’t spend enough time thinking looking at leading indicators of where customers are going and how to fight differently.  

8. Metrics can be a game.  Incentives are often based on metrics because it is a concrete way to keep score.  As a result, smart people game the incentive system to their benefit – pushing out/pulling in bookings and billings to suit the compensation plan. In business slang, they call it “sand-bagging” and it happens all the time.

9. Metrics waste time.  It is incredible how much time is spent collecting data to put into a report to track metrics.  Like bad legislation, reports in the corporate world rarely die, instead, people spend time calculating metrics which may / may not be used in decision making.  If you talk to line-staff at a company, they often complain about the onus of tracking metrics which have no meaning.  The office version of Sisyphus.

What to do? As a consultant, you should give your clients good advice on metrics. Help them to think about the problem.  Be wise and don’t fall prey to the metric-mania which runs many companies and offices:

  • Have a point of view on which metrics a client should focus on.
  • Balance lagging and leading indicators
  • Question why some metrics are being used? Test the assumptions
  • Create metric hierarchies so that they can roll metrics up to the CEO, and down to each functional department.  Give it some systemic design
  • Bring the client back to basics and ask them more strategic questions
    • What are they trying to achieve?
    • What does success look like?
    • What is the relative time frame to make things happen?
    • What are some leading indicators to look at?
  • Don’t fall into the trap of SG&A review of unhelpful metrics

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1am second wind

Going on vacation tomorrow, but 2-3 things left to do. 130am.  Had a glass of red wine and now a beer.  It is the second wind.  Ugly but true.

Photo from NYC hotel – last month.


What do consultants do?

It’s one person’s opinion, but here are 130 blog posts which I wrote over the last 3 years to describe my world-view of consulting. Hope you find it useful.

Consultants are a strange breed. We span all industries, but ultimately we are in the business of helping executives make difficult decisions and implement change. It is a combination of strategy (head), culture (heart), and operations (hand). Oddly, the most important ingredient is leadership, which consultants cannot provide. Only clients can provide the WHY that motivates people into action.

Simon Sinek - Start with Why

Consultants love data. First, clients struggle with it. They are like data hoarders who just watch it pile up and yet are afraid to confront it. For me, the idea of big data is a bit comical at times, since most clients cannot deal with their small data. Sometimes, you can just put the data into excel and quickly make sense of it. As a beginning consultant, you better be good with excel and powerpoint.


We obsess about data because is is apolitical, and provides credibility for our recommendations. In MBA, we all learned that averages are often the wrong answer, so we often use excel models to run “what if” scenarios and understand how (in)accurate a set of assumptions will be.  We are revision crazy and have a serious fear of failure.

When a MBA makes sense

Consultants have great tools and methodologies maturity models, evaluation frameworks, best practices, interviews, DMAIC, SIPOC, Poka-Yoke, Six Sigma, the list goes on and on.  Frameworks help you think through problems. However, the crux of consulting is asking good questions: who, what, why, when, where.  Some of the basic tenants of supply chain like LEAN apply to all industries.


Consultants are in the influence business. We borrow authority from our clients, to help them make change happen.  We make presentations, but don’t have the power; clients do.  The projects can be short, and yet, we need build rapport quickly. . .with IT for the data, with executive assistants to schedule meetings, and with stakeholders. A lot of times, our job is to nudge people to make decisions they know are right.  We think, write, communicate, then repeat the process.

think write communicate revise

(Good) consultants think like executives.  Read what they read, find relevant surveys. Read Peter Drucker. Understand management trends. Think globally. Listen to relevant podcasts, TED talks or Stanford entrepreneur videos. Now a days, there are ivy-league level courses online for free. You can take accounting classes from Wharton; no dergee, but you will learn a lot. Quora is a great tool if you want a safe place to find out about 1st-hand management experiences.


Consultants (over)use PowerPoint to communicate. We use it daily. It starts with a strong understanding of the audience and purpose. First, does the structure support the narrative? Second, do the slides themselves make sense by themselves? Third, have your edited and put the finishing touches on the pages? Is the “deliverable” something you are proud of?

Severity of Powerpoint Issues

As with writing, brevity is the best. Make sure your slides have a clear point; it should not be ambiguous what you are saying. Some of this has to do with logical structure of what you are saying, while other times it is how the facts are laid out on the page.

Consulting Logic - Pyramid principle - Structuring Presentations

Consultants are intellectually curious. McKinsey’s chairman once said that the best candidates were “insecure overachievers“. The best consultants are obviously smart, but also aware, fund and eager. They are fast learners, who are good at breaking problems down into mental lego pieces. You can apply consulting thinking to elections, college football, gift cards, Olympics, or the value of a a life.


The fun part of consulting is tackling difficult problems.  That is probably why we use case interviews to test structured thinking. It’s rooted in hypotheses and the counter-intuitive method of guessing your way to a solution. There is always a trade-off, an opportunity cost that the client is not seeing; it’s our job to shed light on this.

SIPOC - Rule out Hypotheses

Consultants make clients successful. Sometimes the project scope is clear and sometimes it is not. We often have to find smart ways to say no to clients, for their own good. It’s not always the way you planned it in the proposal; you have to adapt.

Scope Creep

Clients also get caught up in bad corporate habits and inertia and lose effectiveness. Sometimes, they even hire us to be the bad guys. We never embarrass our clients; we allow them to “save face“. We will find a win-win solution for them. Even when we are building rapport, being likable, we also need to be ourselves, and be authentic.


Consultants get lazy.  We have bad habits. Oh yes. We use jargon constantly. Sometimes, we rely too much of previous examples of the work, and recycle materials. Be careful, clients will fire you if you get too lax, then it will be resume time. We eagerly seek feedback to improve. As some say, you are only as good as your last project.

Cartoon Meeting Jargon

Consulting is a lifestyle. There are so many great things about the consulting lifestyle. It sounds glamorous – good pay, smart and amiable people, solving tough problems, good meals, and travel – but it’s not all rainbows and ponies. Lots of late nights.  No really, weekend work. But great consultants convert that stress into positive energy. Live to fight another day. Find good people to work – people who pass the airport test; spending 8+ hours stranded in an airport with. Find people you like working with.

Salary by Experience

Consulting is a leverage model. Younger, newer, cheaper consultants do work which can be billed out at higher rates. There are finders (partners who find work), minders (who farm the projects), and grinders (who grind out the analyses). The projects with the highest leverage tend to be IT projects.

Finders Minders and Grinders

Consulting is an apprenticeshipIt’s a tough business with a high level of attrition. Learn as much as your can from managers. Don’t want until the year-end review to see how you are doing.  Who wants to travel 80% of the time? We get paid well, and our clients want a good return on their money.


Consulting teams excel. Ultimately, consulting is about people. Partners and principals have the responsibility of building the team environment and culture. It’s a can-do culture; consultants don’t whine, we come up with solutions. It’s not all fun and games; there are times when it is a flat democracy and everyone’s voice should be heard, and other times, it can be a dictatorship to get things done.

Consultantsmind Dictator Mode

(Good) consultants innovate and have fun. Personally, some of the business problems that I find the most interesting are how smaller companies can scale quickly without losing their founder’s mentality. Even if you are not a technology consultants, you have to stay up on technology trends from 2014 and 2015. Unfortunately, data does not always give you the answer. Sometimes, it is a S-curve where the past does not predict the future. Find ways to be disruptive and innovate.  I always tell clients it is easy to attack complexity with complexity; it’s difficult to attack complexity with simplicity.

Any activity becomes creative when the doer cares about doing it right, or better.     – John Updike, author

Thanks for reading.  In my first month, I had 1 view. . . don’t be afraid to put your thoughts out there.  If you like your work, someone else will too. Tap into that passion and get the chemicals flowing in your brain to do your best work.

Consultantsmind Views

If you are proud of your work, give yourself some slack

Today was a rough day. Client disengaged. Technology not working. Long trips with weather delays. Lots of effort to be in a meeting. Not the glamour I expect when consulting. In blackjack terms, today was a 16 on a dealer 10.

ConsultantsMind Blackjack Hand

Want to client to be successful. Don’t get me wrong. I am 70% heart, 15% head, and 15% hand. The heart goes a long way. I am a big believer in the WHY. That said, we cannot “fix adults”.  People are people, and we can only do good work.

Not hard on myself or my team because we did good work on the project.  The fact that the world (i.e., the client) does not fully appreciate it now, is not my fault.  As Seth Godin says, “ship art”.  Yes, we shipped art.  If they can’t appreciate it, or work with it, on some level they don’t deserve it.  So be it.

Forgive yourself and your team.  If you do good work and are proud of what you do, give yourself some grace.  Have a good meal.  Take a walk.  Smile, have a beer.  Live to fight another day.  People remember how you work when you are under pressure.

FYI, I always hit on 16 on a dealer 10.  Pull the 5.

What is RACI?

This is a tool consultants use on any project which requires clear definition of roles and more communication on a new process.  When you have more than a handful of people involved, it’s very easy to get confused and make incorrect assumptions on who is doing what.  Confusion = frustration = lack of adoption = failure.

RACI (or RASCI) is an abbreviation for:

  • R – Responsible: Who does the work?
  • A – Accountable: Who has the final say? Who gets in trouble if it’s not done?
  • C – Consulted: Who is smart on this topic, and might be helpful to consult?
  • I – Informed: Who needs to be updated?  Who might get pissed?

It’s a simple tool:  1) Put all the stakeholders on one side of the table 2) List the activities you need ownership for on the other side 3) Fill in the grid with the letters R, A, C, I.  In the end, the grid will be full of letters. Blanks are okay.

  • Start with the “A”.  The accountable person who is the owner of the process, the person who has to make sure it gets done. They are the “one throat to choke” There can only be 1 accountable person.
  • Add in the “R”.  The people who will do the hard work of making the change happen.  It’s okay to have more than 1.  Complex work requires lots of “R”
  • Add in “C”, but be selective. If you add too many people to be consulted, it can be a bureaucratic nightmare.  The purpose is to drive action, not committees.
  • Add in “I”, but these are the least important.  Most of these people can be gently informed by email or a status update.

Here is a simple example.  If you have a rental property, there are 5 major steps:  Find a property, find a tenant, get them to pay rent, keep them as long as possible, and when they leave, find a new tenant.  Simple. . . 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

Even if you are the landlord, you are not doing all the work.  Yes, you are “accountable” because you have the final say on the tenant qualifications and rent amount, but you are not doing all the work.  See all the people you have who are responsible?

  • Realtor is responsible for finding a property, and sometimes, finding a tenant
  • Tenant is responsible for paying the rent
  • Property manager is responsible for finding the tenant(s)
  • The contractor is responsible for fixing the sink, and air conditioner so that the tenant is happy and stays in the rental as long as possible

Consultantsmind RACI

The “A” is the most important.  Sometimes consultants go too far.  I have seen some RACI charts that are 15 x 10. . .or 150 boxes.  That is crazy.  No one can keep up with that.  Sometimes it is better to simplify.  Just put the “A” and let that person determine the rest of the grid.  Let’s them be the quarterback and set their own team.

Sometimes, it takes a lot of thinking to determine who the “A” is. . .part of the beauty of this tool is it forces you to find that 1 person who is really accountable.  Only 1 person.

Make sure you have the right “R”.  Think about who is really doing the work. Sometimes you might list more people. . . because the work has to get done. Sometimes, you put the “title” because it is a generic role, but sometimes you put in the specific names.  Don’t be shy.  This is tool is to drive ownership and action.

There is a blurry line between “C” and “I”.  Don’t spend too much time debating who is a C and who is an I.  It is enough to know that you have to speak to that person. Sometimes they have good advice for you, sometimes, they don’t.

This stuff works.  It drives conversation, and consensus on how the work will be done. It can be laborious at times, but a few good hours making this clear among the executives prevents a lot of confusion in the field.  This can really LEAN out inefficiencies and reduce miscommunication.

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Big Design: McKinsey & Company buys Lunar

Design is popular.  It’s not surprising that McKinsey & Company bought a design company. Many consulting firms are branching out with acquisitions in areas which were once considered non-core. Deloitte has picked up a few digital agencies. Accenture bought Fjord, a design firm. Hell, even Capital One bought a design agency called Adaptive Path. Strategic design takes on many different forms and faces – many of which are extensions of the work that management consultants have always done:

  • Understand the customers’ needs, wants, and behaviors
  • Look holistically at the root causes beyond the obvious project scope
  • Use data to tell stories that executives can use to champion a cause
  • Tap the collective minds of diverse experts through collaborative workshops
  • Drive innovation through structured creativity and project management discipline

These things are not new to consulting, yetI am also confident that design firms bring a fresh new approach to re-invigorate our excessively PowerPoint and Excel worlds.

Moving towards BIG DESIGN.  Wired magazine does a great job tracking the rise and fall of design here. They have gone through waves of influence, disruptions, merger, and synthesis.  The new term we will hear in the coming months: Big Design.

Consultantsmind Big Design

McKinsey & Company has some smart folks; they have their own reasons for the acquisition, but here are a few that I came up with:

  • Collaboration culture.  I have never heard anyone say that McKinsey consultants are easy to collaborate with. In fact, I often here the exact opposite. . . they are smart BUT, arrogant and don’t listen.  Having an infusion of design-oriented, open-ended thinkers will do the firm some good.
  • Culture change.  Consulting firms are very guilty of copy/pasting solutions between engagements because a lot of business problems are similar. You don’t want to “reinvent the wheel“, but this sometimes this slips into mental laziness. Can Lunar infuse more creativity into consulting; keep things fresh?  How can Lunar’s 75 people change the culture of the 17,000 who work for McKinsey?
  • Improve deliverables.  Let’s agree on this fact: PowerPoints can be boring.  Executives are very visual people; putting together an interactive proposal, app, visual display or prototype is a smart way to win business.  Bring the work to life.
  • Design thinking: Peter Senge’s (The Fifth Discipline) makes a compelling argument that most issues are symptoms of the systems that created them. Large companies are complex; regions, business units, and functions are all sub-optimizing the solution.  Design thinking helps to cut through the clutter and aims for a simpler, more elegant solution; get at the root cause of the issue.
  • Customer insights.  Design firms excel at digging into customer insights; they often employ ethnographers, psychologists, sociologists and other scientists to identify customer phenotypes; attitudes, preferences, behaviors.
  • New work.  If you look at Lunar’s website, you can see many different areas where a straight-laced consulting firm like McKinsey probably rarely play.  As McKinsey continues to grow, they need to find new avenues and markets.
  • Recruiting cache.  Young, bright stars want to do something cool.  Most millennials would likely prefer working for IDEO than the big 4 or big 3.

Consultantsmind McKinsey

To give you a hint at the potential fit, the President of Lunar is a lecturer at Stanford on the topic of Design Methods.  He describes his course on his Linkedin profile here:

Developed a curriculum and taught this project-based course to give students hands-on education in the design process, from research, observation, and definition through to ideation, prototyping and refinement. Projects helped students understand the designer’s role in creating for others while bringing their own point of view and aesthetic voice to the process.

Honestly, sounds a lot like management consulting, huh?

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