Consulting Approach to Problem Solving


This is the #3 course in the specialization on management consulting.

Management consultants excel at solving difficult and complex business problems. How do they do this? Shouldn’t clients know more about their situation than external consultants? Consultants are trained to systematically break down problems into logical pieces, then aggressively pursue answers with data:
• Think about the problem broadly; strategy, operations, people, technology
• Define the problem clearly; articulate “what does success look like?”
• Break the problem into “buckets” so it is easy to understand
• Use hypotheses to “guess” your way to the potential answer(s)
• Find and clean up messy data; convert the data into useful recommendations

What you will learn

Problem Definition and Scoping

Problem definition may sound abstract or boring, but it’s incredibly important to solve the RIGHT PROBLEM. Like a detective at a crime scene, a consultant needs to stay open-minded; think broadly about the problem and “look around” for obvious (and missing) clues. In practical terms, a clear problem statement helps the consulting manager keep the scope broad enough for flexibility and creativity, while narrow enough that the work can get done within the project time-frame.

Frameworks and Logical Structuring

Using the analogy of a jigsaw puzzle, the prior step of “problem definition” was looking at the picture on the box and defining the edges of the puzzle. This step of “problem break down” is sorting the puzzle pieces into different colors: red, yellow, blue, green. Different business frameworks help to simplify complex problems and identify the key drivers (e.g., 80/20 pareto principle). It also offers the opportunity to get early client feedback and form early hypotheses on what the answer(s) could be. Finally, it helps to organize the work so the team can divide up the work effectively.

Hypothesis-Based Consulting

Unless you are a scientist, the word “hypothesis” will likely seem a little strange. It’s the idea that you are making an “educated guess” on what the solutions could be. It’s a statement (not a question) that you work to prove through testing. How is this related to consulting? Consultants are often hired to solve the toughest problems in a short amount of time. The only way to accomplish that is by being smart and selective in what they do. This is the secret to how consultants successfully “crack the case” on their clients’ problems.

Consultants Love Data

Yes, consultants LOVE data. It is the raw ingredients in the cooking of useful recommendations. Too often, the data is messy, biased, old, fragmented, or missing. As a result, one of the first tasks in a consulting project is to identify and collect usable data sets. It’s an enormous task – often unglamorous – but also the only way you can test your hypotheses and develop recommendations. Data lends credibility to consultants’ recommendations.

What’s included