Lessons Learned from Management Consulting at ZS

I’ve passed the 2-year mark at ZS, and I’m thankful for getting to learn and grow from various colleagues and projects. At my work-from-home setup, in the offices and client sites, and on the top floor of the famous Skokie DoubleTree, I’ve have the opportunity to make things happen at the intersection of analytics and management consulting. My position has also evolved over the past few years; I started as a Decision Analytics Associate Intern, returned as a DA Associate proper, and am currently a DA Associate Consultant.

To celebrate the three levels I’ve experienced at ZS so far, here are three lessons from my time in management consulting:

Add a Little Structure

Most of the projects and internal initiatives I’ve worked on started with very unstructured questions. The same can be true more broadly, and to get to a solution, a little structure goes a long way.

Some of the most impactful projects I’ve done have been in the area of revenue leakage, where the main question was distilled to “how do I mitigate fraud in [area of organization]”? Even a broad structure can help map out the next few weeks/months, ensure that you have adequate support, and create room to identify major findings: data + stakeholder review –> exploratory analysis –> deep-dives and consolidation into KPIs –> summary of findings and recommendations.

The Right Question is Better than the Right Answer

It can be easy to come to a recommendation based on a given question, but a lot of effort is wasted if that isn’t the question you need to solve.

Active listening is important here: people are fond of giving answers and solutions, but the underlying “why?” behind those ends is what matters. If you can get to the right question, the effort you put into solving it becomes far more valuable and actionable.

This approach has also help me on the business development side. We’ve won proposals by identifying that our clients place a high premium on access to experts throughout the duration of a project, instead of a couple high-level experts checking in at the beginning and then disappearing. The question on our clients’ minds wasn’t just “how do we solve X”, but also “how can I get the partnership I need to comprehend the scope of X”?

Be Candid About Working Styles

Whether you are managing up (to a direct boss and levels above) or managing down (to your reports), establishing working styles is important for any healthy working relationship.

When I join new projects or get new team members, one of the first things I do is ask about my teammates’ preferred working styles, non-negotiable commitments, areas of interest, and areas of flexibility. My project teams stretch across 4 timezones and 3 continents, so understanding the little things for my teammates helps everyone with balance. This can be as simple as trying to avoid scheduling lunch-hour meetings, or alternating team meeting times so it’s not always at a painful hour for team members in a far-off timezones.

Candor also helps establish trust, which creates greater flexibility over time. If you confirm with your team about leaving a little early one day to make it to an event, explain how you’ll take care of things (e.g. finish up a little later), and follow through, your teammates will get to verify the trust they place in you. These healthy team dynamics also open the door for more efficient collaboration: an early riser and a night owl can work a little asynchronously, passing workflows off to each other to tackle during periods of uninterrupted free time earlier or later in the day.

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