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Strategy and Problem Solving Skills

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.

Session 7

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:

General:

• 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.

Estimation cases:

• 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.

Brainstorming:

• 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.).

Networking:

• 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.

Some observations:

Payphones estimation case:

• 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.

Ice cream brainstorming case:

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.

Cost reduction case:

• 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.

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