Victoria, who wrote this blog piece and a few others, is a subscriber of The Consulting Offer (TCO). In this post, she elaborates the problem solving skills and other knowledge learned from TCO.
Why I decided to write this blog? I though this is a great opportunity to share my journey of enhancing my strategy and problem solving skills with like minded aspiring management consultants or business professionals.
I subscribed for The Consulting Offer, which is a joy as a learning tool and a wealth of information, and this blog will start from me going through session 7. As I was going through the training I realized that most people I worked with during my time in consulting, even very senior people, did not had the problem solving skills that one can acquire by going through such a detailed program.
I also would like to mention that my motivation is primarily to develop strategy skills. This is my end goal. If this will lead to rejoining a great consulting firm, that will be a wonderful byproduct of my efforts. However, I want to develop strategy skills regardless of where my career will take me, because I believe that having these skills, being able to think and speak in a very structured and logical way, gives one a tremendous competitive advantage.
I hope this blog can also be a conversation starter for the Firmsconsulting community so we can help each other succeed in entering management consulting or strategy related roles, and in succeeding in those roles and careers. I also hope any feedback and advice from readers will help enhance my own learning.
Time spent for this session: 6 hours
Preparation before the session:
• I read news and business articles (mostly www.nytimes.com, www.economist.com and www.washingtonpost.com) every day to build my general knowledge (4-5 articles per day, mostly from the business section). Specifically, I try to select articles that pose a question that I can brainstorm prior to reading the article.
• I watched the videos on estimation, brainstorming and networking.
• I am reading “The mind of the strategist” by Kenichi Ohmae, recommended by Firmsconsulting.
What was accomplished:
(1) Revision – I reviewed my notes from the previous few weeks of preparation to keep key ideas and knowledge fresh in my mind. I have 2 notebooks; one is for key concepts, ideas, and anything else I need to know to succeed in my preparation. Another one is for practicing cases, so I can see how much I have practiced over time.
Some key items that I want to remember are as follows:
• It is important to be confident. Never wait for the interviewer’s approval. Move through the case at a steady pace.
• Watch your body language.
• 80/20 rule. 20% of what you analyze will give you 80% of the answer.
• Pass accountability to the interviewer.
• When the interviewer looks at you, they think about how will you look in front of the client. Say things that, if you said it in front of the client, you would make the firm look good.
• Don’t go ahead with the case if you don’t understand it. Take time to understand it. A good example is how Felix could not understand the case in session 7 and she did not move forward until she understood it.
• Focus on technique, and speed and accuracy will eventually improve.
• Quality of your preparation is more important than quantity. You have to understand the underlying technique.
• The more steps in the equation, the greater the probability to get a good answer.
• The assumptions you make indicate the level of your general knowledge.
• When deciding if you should start from supply or demand side, select the approach that you feel will result in the best answer.
• Start with a definition and make sure your definition is aligned with the definition used by the interviewer.
• Make sure you understand the business process (how the business actually operates).
• Prioritize – if you don’t you are wasting valuable time. Always start with the most important driver.
• Drivers should be MECE.
• Eventually you will need to be able to build decision trees in your head, and speak out aloud without pausing.
• Determining the key question is extremely important and it must be specific and numeric.
• Brainstorming is the most important skill in solving cases.
• Convert % to numbers.
• Ask for actual data and for trends, if you can, before prioritizing.
• When breaking down an item into drivers, offer options first and than ask the interviewer to fill in the gaps.
• You should not go further than level 4/5 and, if you do, develop an hypothesis.
What I found to be difficult is the length of the full case (30 minutes) and how many various analyses it involved (e.g. brainstorming how to get contractors to pass the audit without giving them 20% of production, brainstorming benefits of consolidating production, brainstorming how to reduce labor costs etc.).
• Have 1-2 great questions and the rest of the conversation should be built from there. Use what the interviewer says and build on it.
• As you speak, find a way to deliver your key message. This means, try adding key points about your profile into the normal conversation flow. This way you don’t self-promote yourself directly. However, the person you are talking to learns key points about your profile that make you an attractive candidate.
• The primary objective is to get people to like you.
• Do not over-think, just do it and go broad.
(2) Felix Session 7 – I worked through session 7 with Felix, from The Consulting Offer Season 1.
• The major point of this case is to realize that money from each day remains in the phone booth for different amount of time and, therefore, it is important to account for this when calculating potential interest that could be generated.
• I thought the way Felix moved from a demand to supply side approach was a good example of how in the case interview you should move fast and confidently. If you feel you started with the wrong approach, do not hesitate to move to the right approach.
• I liked the alternative approach shown in the perfect answer. This would be useful if we did not know the number of payphones in the city.
a. I thought the question was clearly about volume. I was surprised Felix converted it to sales. My decision tree started with what volume/consumption was driven by and I think it was a more effective approach. In Felix’s decision tree volume was only broken down to the second level. I think she could have taken this further and struggled a bit.
b. I forgot to include other, which is not MECE. I also did not analyze who are the consumer major groups who eat ice cream and why their consumption pattern may have changed.
c. I thought Firmsconsulting’s perfect answer for this case was a great learning tool on how to break down direct drivers and how to prioritize them.
• I was surprised that Felix found this case to be so difficult to understand. The challenge for me with this case was to build decision tree after level 3.
• Firmsconsulting’s perfect solution video for this video was the most challenging part of session 7 for me. The actual analysis is manageable. What I found to be difficult is the length of the full case (30 minutes) and how many various analyses it involved (e.g. brainstorming how to get contractors to pass the audit without giving them 20% of production, brainstorming benefits of consolidating production, brainstorming how to reduce labor costs etc.). It is important to keep in mind that during the real case interview most of brainstorming has to be done without writing out the decision tree. It drove home Felix’s question about how do you get through the full case while maintaining the highest level of concentration and energy. I think the length of the full case, and various sections of analysis that are necessary to arrive at the logical answer are what make it challenging.
• I really liked the idea of stopping the perfect answer video every time the interviewer gives you more information and trying to take the case forward yourself. I would thereafter play the response in the perfect case solution video. This will ensure I am even more engaged and gain a deeper understanding of the case. I will use this approach going forward.
• Another approach I found useful is to watch perfect solution videos while I am watching the coaching session with the candidate. For example, when Felix finished the payphone estimation case, I stopped the video and worked through the perfect solution video for that case and only thereafter went back to the session with Felix. Again after she finished the ice cream brainstorming case I worked through the perfect solution video prior to moving back to session with Felix.
Score out of 10: 6
Strengths: I worked diligently through the material and my analyses were logical.
Opportunities: My decision trees were not always MECE. I made a mistake in the estimation case by not accounting for how long money remains in the phone booth throughout the week.
My brainstorming solution was not creative/insightful enough and I found the full case to be tiring which means I need to increase my stamina.
I am going to discuss my experiences of working through Felix’s session 8 videos. I spent 8 hours in total going through in great detail mainly because I did all the reading Firmsconsulting recommended.
Preparation before the session:
• I read news and business articles (mostly NewYorkTimes, Economist and Washington Post) every day to build my general knowledge (4-5 articles per day, mostly from the business section). Specifically, I try to select articles that pose a question that I can brainstorm prior to reading the article.
• I worked through the first chapter of The mind of the strategist by Kenichi Ohmae, recommended by Firmsconsulting. The chapter is called “Analysis: the starting point”. Some key points to remember:
o A strategic thinker should identify a critical issue, dissect the problem/situation into parts, get a clear understanding of each part, discover the significance of each part, and restructure parts into a new pattern to maximize the advantage.
o The key question should be framed in a way that points towards the solution. This reminds me that Firmsconsulting seems to be the only firm teaching this clever way to structure problems.
o The author presented a sample issue diagram, which was in a Yes/No decision tree format. I think there was a mistake in how this diagram was structured (figure 1-4 for those who have this book). The issue diagram’s question is “Can product A’s cost be lowered?”. Fixed cost is examined only if the answer to the question “is the design specification too expensive?” is “No”. Variable cost is only examined in the diagram if the answer to the question “are the fixed costs too high?” is “No”. What if the design specification is too expensive and both fixed and variable costs are too high? I think all 3 variables must be given equal weight during initial stage of analysis. Consequently, I think Yes/No type of the decision tree in this particular case does not allow in examining important parts. This makes me think that Yes/No decision trees are very limiting and in most cases should not be used in brainstorming or full case analysis.
A strategic thinker should identify a critical issue, dissect the problem/situation into parts, get a clear understanding of each part, discover the significance of each part, and restructure parts into a new pattern to maximize the advantage.
o One observation I have is that although the information in the book is useful, it is not presented in a way that is interactive and easy to remember. For example, when I watch Firmsconsulting’s videos such as sessions with Felix, brainstorming videos, estimation videos, perfect answers etc, information that was presented is actually easy to remember and the learning process is interesting and enjoyable. Reading this book is less interesting, although the content is valuable. I think this is because it is not interactive.
• I watched/listened to the following Firmsconsulting’s training videos/podcasts: Brainstorming with decision trees during full cases, NYC concierge total market size per annum in US dollars (estimation case) and Networking mistakes.
What was accomplished:
Resume and Cover Letter – I completed yet another revision of my resume and cover letter. I removed work experience prior to consulting from the experience section and moved some of it to the personal section. I expanded on my experience in consulting and industry, as these two sections should be allocated the most real estate. I went through cover letter a few times to make sure there is a good story and not too much details. The cover letter still requires more work.
LinkedIn – I updated my LinkedIn profile by deleting experience that did not add value to my profile and including more details on experience which are key to my profile. I finalized my resume first and used the same wording for LinkedIn. The only outstanding item for LinkedIn that remains is to find a better photo, which I will do within the next 2 weeks.
Felix Session 8 – I worked through session 8.
Some of my observations follow:
• The challenging part was to estimate how many planes are in the fleet and how many flights there are per day/month etc. I was not sure if it was ok to just provide a guess for this or if I should have done a separate estimation for that part of the equation. After watching the training it was clear that I had to do calculations/separate estimation to determine the number of planes/number of flights. I think Felix’s way to estimate number of flights made sense, it was better than just guessing the number of planes/flights.
• Felix assumed that only mascara applied during the flight should count. My understanding was that it does not matter when mascara was applied, as long as it was on during the flight. This seems logical since flight attendants need to also look good prior to the flight and not only during the flight, so most of them probably apply make up at home/in a hotel.
• I think it is not likely that all flight attendants will be using the same bottles of mascara. Mascara is a personal item and is usually not shared with others. So my equation assumed that each flight attendant would be using her own mascara. I also assumed that regardless of whether or not the mascara is used by flight attendant between flights, it will dry out, so I assumed that each flight attendant will have to purchase 4 mascaras bottles per year (that each mascara will be used on average over 3 months) to be able to apply mascara for flights.
Emirates airlines growth brainstorming:
• I also broke revenue into price x volume, but it is now clear that it would make much more sense to break it down into revenue streams. It is also very important to include category called “other” to ensure that this level of decision tree is MECE.
• One minor mistake I noticed in Felix’s performance is that she was saying that to increase capacity Emirates could have promotions. This will not increase capacity. This will increase capacity utilization. The only way to increase capacity is for Emirates to move more people.
• I actually did not know how important cargo revenue is, which was concerning. I should have known this.
• I think one key thing I learned from this brainstorming session, specifically from the perfect answer training video, is the blind navigator technique. That is a very useful technique I can use in my current role.
• Because the interviewer did not wanted to provide information on the amount of sales/volume in airports, I assumed this should be estimated and completed a mini-estimation case. My strategy would be to offer the interviewer my estimated amount and see if the interviewer will confirm it or correct it. I also planned to ask about revenue breakdown between the two streams of revenue, which would give me more data to more accurately estimate volume within the airports.
• Similar to Felix, I assumed number of meals meant how many times people are served during the flight (e.g. dinner and breakfast). Now, looking back, the actual definition should have been obvious to me.
Score out of 10: 7.5
Strengths: I moved through cases rapidly and my analyses were logical. I feel my level of general knowledge is sufficient to allow me to make reasonable assumptions during cases.
Opportunities: I should have estimated number of flights for the Mascara estimation case. I knew how to do it, I just decided not to do it because I felt that it was not necessary or I just was lazy. I am still not consistent in ensuring my decision trees are MECE, I should watch this carefully. Although my general business knowledge is high, I should continue enhancing it as there are some obvious things that I should have known, that I find I do not know as I progress through The Consulting Offer training. I think my thinking is still very unstructured. I need to work on this.
Questions to Firmsconsulting:
• I still build decision trees on paper. I wonder at which point I should start building it in my head? I think there is value in firstly learning to build it on paper, so I learn the right technique, and thereafter when it will become second nature I can do it in my head.
• In the book “The Mind of the strategist” the author presented a sample issue diagram, which was in the Yes/No decision tree format. Is there a mistake in how this diagram was structured (figure 1-4 in chapter 1)?