Monday, November 26, 2012

Typical day in the life of a McKinsey consultant - why your McKinsey boss expects so much from you

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In this post, I'll share the schedule of a typical day in the life of a McKinsey consultant.  One of the great things about being at McKinsey is that no two days are the same, but I've tried to capture what a management consultant's day-to-day lifestyle is like.  It's a composite of many days I've had at the Firm, but directionally accurate and representative of how we work.  I'll start with what this might mean for you, depending on your relationship with the McKinsey consultant.

A few things to note about this schedule:
    • We spend a lot of time meeting with clients during the day
    • That means we have to do a lot of our work at night
    • Even though we own our workstreams, we get a lot of help from the client, team, experts, and McKinsey leadership


My hope is that by understanding how McKinsey consultants are accustomed to working during the day, you'll gain better insight into how you can improve your relationship with them.  Here's how I think this can help depending on your relationship to the McKinsey person:
  • Direct report:  this might be why your McKinsey boss seems so demanding.  They're used to their teams working long hours and being highly productive throughout the day.  If they're too intense in a culture that normally isn't, they might appreciate and benefit from some upward feedback.

  • Supervisor:  the former McKinsey consultant on your team is accustomed to an intense lifestyle.  This means they can accomplish a lot at a high level of quality.  But, they left consulting for a reason so be careful about pushing them too hard.

  • Personal:  this is why the McKinsey consultant in your life is always tired, has to cancel plans, constantly checking their blackberry, and usually stressed out.  There aren't enough hours in the day so if you can, cut them some slack.


6:30am - Wake up

The first thing I do is check my Blackberry to make sure nothing has blown up overnight.  Some consultants get up even earlier to squeeze in a run or work out.  Running is a great way to stay fit, raise energy levels, get outdoors, and actually experience the cities where we work, but I'm usually up too late the night before and need the extra sleep.

7:00am - Check emails

While I'm getting ready for work and dressed, I'll check my inbox.  Even though I was working past midnight, lots of emails have come in since I went to bed.  Urgent ones are dealt with, other can wait until we get to the client site.  I check to make sure that the PowerPoint pages I've received from our overseas, 24-hour production - Visual Graphics India (VGI) - are correct.

7:30am - Depart hotel for client site

Each night the team will decide what time to meet in the hotel lobby for the drive or cab ride to the client site.  Depending on team norms, we might stop to pick up coffee and breakfast to go on the way in.

8:00am - Arrive at client site

It's good practice to start our day in the office before to our clients.  We want to be running at full speed when they arrive and it gives us a chance to get some work done.  Usually we head straight to the team room, which is where spend most of our time if we're not meeting with clients.

8:30am - Team check-in

Many teams start the day with a meeting to go over the work they've done the previous night and align on what they want to accomplish during the course of the day.  It's also a good time to determine what issues need to be discussed and decisions made during meetings with McKinsey leadership

9:00am - Client meeting

We spend a lot of time with our clients.  Early in a study, it's to learn more about the company, collecting data, and building the fact base.  In the middle of a study we do a lot of collaborative problem solving and test hypotheses with clients.  Toward the end of a study we're fine-tuning our deliverables, discussing implications, and syndicating our findings so no clients are surprised or feel ambushed at the progress review.

10:00am - Conference call with McKinsey expert

McKinsey's industry or functional expertise doesn't always reside with the team on the ground - often, you're lucky to have more than a couple of people on a team who have specific experience with the client, industry, or function.  So, we rely on the relevant McKinsey practices and experts.  Using a discussion guide crafted the previous night, we have a quick, product conference call.

10:30am - Side-by-sides with client line employees

To better understand the client situation, build credibility, and make sure our recommendations are feasible, we'll often sit alongside our client line employees while they do their jobs.  Everyone wants exposure to senior clients, but these employees are usually the most fun and can offer great insights into the answer.

11am - Team problem solving

Although we all have our own workstreams, we'll often meet as a team to help with collaborative problem solving.  Even though we're not the workstream owner, insights from our other workstreams might be helpful.  Plus, we might learn something during the session that is useful on our own workstream.

12pm - Lunch in team room

Time is short so we'll often have lunch delivered or picked up.  It's usually the responsibility of the lowest-tenured consultant, but anyone who has a bit of extra time might step up and volunteer.  In order to save time, sometimes we'll just order a bunch of food and let the team graze.

12:30pm - Check emails

Our days are usually filled with meetings so we check and respond to emails whenever we can.  Today we're all on our laptops while finishing lunch, discussing weekend plans, and deciding whether or not we have time to go out for a team dinner.

1:00pm - Meet with client to review data

Studies usually involve lot of analytics.  We build the models, but rely on the clients for the data to populate them.  Often, client data is disorganized, not formatted, or incomplete.  Today's meeting is to go over some new data and discuss ideas for how to clean it up for analysis.

2:00pm - Call with McKinsey leadership

We're at critical decision points for some workstreams and need problem-solving support on others.  We've sent the Partner some PowerPoint pages covering these topics in advance.  The Partner helps us align on decisions and provides valuable insights during problem solving. 

3:00pm - Final prep for progress review

We have a progress review with the client in 30 minutes so we're scrambling to get all of the latest versions of the presentation assembled, edited, and printed in time.  We're printing and collating right up until the minute we have to head to the progress review.

3:30pm - Client progress review

There are two weeks left in the engagement so this is our final progress review before our final Steering Committee meeting.  We update the client team on our latest findings, analyses, and hypotheses.  We agree on next steps, including final analyses and insights that need to be developed and included in the Steering Committee.

5:00pm - Check-in with senior client

Our senior client wants to meet to hear about how the progress review went and discuss our progress on the materials for the upcoming Steering Committee meeting.  It's with the client's executive leadership team, so it's a high stakes opportunity for him and he wants to make sure it goes well.  The next steps coming out of the progress review give him some comfort that things are headed in the right direction.

5:30pm - Team check-in

Our afternoon team check-in centers around the next steps coming out of the progress review.  We figure out who needs to do what in order to be ready for the Steering Committee meeting.  There's still a lot to do and we think we've figured out how to get it done in the remaining two weeks.  We get specific about what needs to be done by the morning and get to work.

6:00pm - Work in team room

As the clients start to head home, we finally have some "heads-down" time and can make progress on our workstreams.  We've learned a lot during the day and are figuring out how to incorporate that information into our work.  I get a few things done and put together a checklist of tasks I'll need to complete later tonight.  Before shutting down our laptops, many of us send sketches of PowerPoint pages to VGI to be produced while we're at dinner.

7:00pm - Leave client site

Today's progress review was a big hurdle we just cleared, so we're able to leave the client site at a reasonable hour.  After packing up our things and making sure there's no sensitive material left in the team room, we head to dinner on the way back to the hotel.

7:30pm - Team dinner

The successful progress review in the afternoon has us in a celebratory mood, so we've decided to have a team dinner.  We return to one of our favorite restaurants for good food and company.  We trade war stories, have lots of laughs, and talk about our plans for what we want to do after the study ends.

9:00pm - Return to hotel

Before getting back on my laptop to do more work, I'll take some time to call my girlfriend and relax for a few minutes.  After discussing our days and making plans for the weekend, I'll turn on the TV so I can keep up with some pop culture while working.

9:30pm - Work in hotel room

We're so busy during the day, a lot work piles up that needs to get done before the next morning.  Tonight I have to update an Excel model with new data from the client, create some new PowerPoint pages based on today's problem solving session, draft a storyline for the upcoming Steering Committee meeting, and review 60 MBA resumes for recruiting.  Our study is winding down, so I also email a few Partners I've worked with to see if they have any client engagements starting up soon.  The last thing I do before shutting down the laptop is sending my draft storyline pages to VGI to be produced overnight.

12:30am - Wrap up

After another long day, I'm ready to call it a night.  I'll iron my clothes for the next day so I don't have to do it in the morning, take a shower, and get ready for bed.

1:00am - Go to bed

After setting the alarm clock on my Blackberry, I'll check my email one last time to make sure nothing urgent has come in and no one has made changes to my calendar for tomorrow.  Time for some sleep to recharge for another busy day.


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