A day in the life of a….Business Consultant

Ever wondered what Start with Data Consultants do? How they got into their area of expertise? What challenges they face? Or what value they add to our clients?

As part of our ‘A day in the life of a….’ series we interviewed one of our seasoned Business Consultants to answer some of these questions.

How did you become a business consultant?

My background’s in science, actually. I got a PhD in Chemistry and a lot of my work was around doing computer programming and data modelling to understand how chemical systems work.

After you’ve done computer programming for a while, you realise there’s a certain kind of person who is good at that. I understand how computers work, but I was interested in developing that people awareness and business awareness. So, I then had the technical understanding of how systems work and what they need to do and also the communication with people aspect. I started on small projects working with stakeholders on solutions and gradually built up a career with various organisations.

Can you give me a brief outline of what you actually do as a business consultant with Start with Data?

Well, you can get involved at different stages of a project, but I suppose my main role is about understanding what a client really wants to achieve or solve. At the same time, I’m informing myself about how the business operates – its organisation, processes, systems and so on. Then I come with ideas and strategies on how best to address the business problem…whilst not breaking everything else in the process!

I get involved pretty early on with an organisation just to understand – from a C-level management perspective – what it is they’re trying to achieve. Then I normally stay around to support the later phases of a project – the design and build phases – to cast a critical eye over our solution-building and check we aren’t solving one problem but creating another. So in a nutshell, I get up to speed quickly on what an organisation is currently doing and what they want to do to be more successful and then I drive that project to its delivery.

In the first phases, how long might you typically spend on getting a handle on an organisation?

To get a grip of who they are and what they do, the quickest you can do is a couple of weeks. It might be a small piece of work where you carry out an expert analysis on a particular project and how they can make it better. But a longer initial engagement would be around six weeks, if it’s a big project which hits lots of different parts of the company and you really need to get under the bonnet to examine its constituent parts.

What’s the main challenge?

You can’t take months to understand what the problem is. Clients won’t see much value in that. Once you’ve proved to them you know what you’re doing and they can see a way forward that they start to think, “Yes, this has got legs.”

What the main skill you need to be a business consultant in this field?

It can be hard to understand quickly what an organisation does but it’s a key skill you have to develop. Assuming you have that skill, the next thing is getting access to the right people, to speak to the right people.

What’s a typical day like, if there is such a thing?

A typical day has changed quite a bit throughout the pandemic, as has everyone else’s! But it can depends where we are with the client.

We have a daily call-in/catch-up every morning with everyone else on the team. In fact, the business consultant might be working by themselves, especially in the first couple of weeks. So on any given day, I’m planning for any investigations, scheduled meetings. I remind myself what the area is, what specific questions I’ve got about the current status. But I’ll also give thought to who is attending these meetings – what things they might throw at me, what kinds of personalities are involved. So it’s not only the ‘what’, but the ‘who’. If you’ve only got an hours, there might be people to whom you’ve got to prove yourself very quickly.

So that’s for investigation sessions. Another day might be “right, I’ve been here for a week, ten days. Let me pull together all the key things I’ve heard and start to shape what I think this project might look like, where I want to go next.” So that’s time when I switch my phone off, I switch Slack off and get those thoughts together. Because having thinking time can be a bit of a challenge.

Another thing I might be doing is gathering together my key finding and preparing a report, or a presentation pack of my key themes. Again, that’s where you’re thinking to yourself “what are the key points I need to get across? What is the audience?” Just producing that output is critically important. You need time to think about how you’re going to be presenting this information. You don’t have a lot of time, and you don’t want to be telling them things they already know. They’re paying for my ideas, my thoughts. So you very quickly need to get into what exactly it is you are going to do. You can even go as far as to plotting actions onto a visual ‘roadmap’ to show you’ve given consideration to the next phase. That’s where business change insights come in – ensuring you deliver success quickly – “what could we do easily” might solve some problems right now, and then going through to the longer-term actions. So it’s really all about trying to shape that programme of work.

It seems like there’s a premium on good interpersonal skills and your capacity to adapt your style of communication to different personalities and organisations.​

Absolutely. I did a session with a very famous high-end fashion retailer where everyone in the room was twenty-something, with the attention span of a goldfish. They were on their phones the whole time. I had to approach them with small, bite-sized chunks of information. I also worked with another company in the tech sector. The stakeholders there were predominantly male, in their 50s and all dressed in dark blue suits. In that case, I had to be very detail-focused in the way I communicated with them. They wanted that detail.

Another factor is that stakeholder availability can be difficult, especially at C-suite level. So, if you have an hour with a key stakeholder, you need to be able to quickly gain an understanding of how the organisation operates and what makes its people tick. 

What the main skill you need to be a business consultant in this field?

I think the key is preparation. If I’m running a workshop, it’s simply a question of preparing your time usage more closely than you would in a face-to-face workshop with a group of stakeholders.

You also need to be more careful and selective about who you invite to certain events. If you have a workshop, say, you may invite 12 people, who then cc another 30 people – I tell them, “I don’t need 40 people on a conference call! It’s pointless”. Of course, there are people who need to be informed, but I always stress that we need to go through the list of attendees and decide who needs to be involved in the design – everyone’s special, but some people are more special than others! It’s about stakeholder engagement and engaging the right stakeholders at the right time.

If you would like to find out more about how our product data management consultants can create value for your business, we’d love to hear from you – Ben Adams, CEO Start with Data

We’re always looking for talented people! Read more about our culture, the experience required and our current roles available. We’d love to hear from you – Joanna Hall, Head of Talent, Resourcing & People Operations