PMI - BOOK REVIEW - by Gregor Nicolas
Kris Safarova was born in Russia, where she lived until age 21. She left Russia with a simple Music Diploma, a broken English, and a lack of confidence that she could make it. Therefore, she had to prove herself in the next steps of her life. She left for South Africa. So, she tried to succeed without leveraging her piano background, which was not worth much at the time.
Kris Safarova received a Diploma in Music with a concentration in Classical Piano from DG Shatalov Music College, a Bachelor's in Communication from UNISA, and an MBA from Ivey Business School, University of Western Ontario in Canada, where she was President of the Public Sector Club and Editor of the Public Sector Journal. Before obtaining her business degree, she worked in management consulting; post-MBA, she was a banker and consulting engagement manager in Toronto, Canada.
Today more confident than before, and with some degrees to back up her knowledge and abilities, she is the author of five business strategy and management consulting books. She is the founder and CEO of FIRMSconsulting.com and its Over The Top (OTT) arm, StrategyTraining.com: a strategy streaming channel. Her firm works with a network of ex-members of prestigious consulting firm partners to produce original strategy/leadership training videos, podcasts, and books.
Kris believes in the power of logic, critical thinking, and storytelling to help our clients solve humanity’s most challenging problems.
FIRMSconsulting is a private equity firm that partners with governments and corporate clients to take ownership and operational control of businesses. They deploy seasoned ex-McKinsey, BCG, and partners to manage each business. This process is documented to produce original programming - books, analysis slides, videos, and podcasts - for the streaming platforms. Recent investments include digitizing a miner in Asia, an electric car business in China, a luxury brands boutique in Europe, and a new-age cosmetics start-up in California.
The book walks us through the steps a management consulting firm team goes through to provide insights to top management. It feels like getting into the team's day-to-day life while receiving impactful advice on ethics, business judgment, planning, and leadership. This book is essential for understanding the steps leading to the project’s business cases.
I believe the role of Project Management will soon require deep insights. Management lives off insights, and people feel motivated when something comes along their way where they can create and participate in the change they will be living.
This book leads you to understand how to manage the impact of delivering such insight. It guides you, so the insights are not boring reports but a value-added perspective helping top management decide on the next steps based on their available resources.
You will follow an engagement team as they assist a large company in diagnosing and fixing crucial and persistent organizational issues over an 8-week assignment. You will navigate with them a challenging client environment, frame the problem (Purpose) and limit the project to a focused scope (Charter), develop hypotheses (Potential Scenarios), build the analyses, and provide the final recommendations (Insights).
You can follow step-by-step as the team prepares for the study, all the way to the final report. You will be able to see the analyses produced and a walk through the slides developed.
The book starts with Ethics As A Competitive Advantage.
The main introduction to this subject came after reading: “We advise companies and industry leaders who make multibillion-dollar decisions on investments, new plants, hiring, firing, and more; what we do matters. Yet, who watches us? We are not a regulated industry.”
Accolades determine your worth and standing in life. As your career progresses, you begin to be judged more by your actions (ethos) and less by these accolades. Warren Buffet getting clients later in his life was no longer based on people he knew but on his ethical way of working and its success. Ethics helps you to keep a clear conscience and is required when the law is not written, not enforced, or wrong.
Ethics usually applies to three types of actions. Actions not covered by the law, activities for which the law is not enforced, or actions for which the law is wrong. Ethics is fluent and changes with time and region. The book mentions that future generations may see us as unethical beings who use to eat other animals' dead bodies. Anyone who tells you they know with absolute certainty that they are right is wrong.
Then we jump into Business Judgment or Acumen.
Judgment is the way one interprets information. To analyse data, we typically rely on our experience, the past, readings, and teachings, what we see in the media, our networks, the communities we participate in, life, and travel experiences.
Improving your judgment is vital to thinking and choosing carefully the knowledge you are acquiring.
First-principles analyses help you figure out what drove the issue, but you still need to apply judgment to determine what likely happened. If you have no unique judgment, we could essentially hire anyone who knows how to solve a problem from first principles or automate the task.
To push the idea of judgment further, Kristina explains that “the responsible person does what they are told, correctly. The accountable person thinks about why they are completing task x, determines if another task
should be done to achieve the intended goal and makes those changes. They own the problem and not the solution.”
Week 0: Week Before The Engagement
The objective of this week is to ensure the team fully understands as much about the client and the problem as possible before they arrive on-site. At the end of the week, the team must develop their solution and use the engagement to test their hypotheses. During the week, the Purpose is defined, the sponsor and project manager are selected, and the core team is mobilized. You may even have a high-level project description.
The team will review any documentation helping to understand the client’s business and the preliminary questions raised by the client or others on the subject of the mission. The team will validate the problem, and a breakdown will occurs in the form of a decision tree. The team applies the Mutually Exclusive and Collectively Exhaustive principle (MECE). See MECE as a full puzzle broken down into manageable pieces so no stones are left unturned.
With the breakdown, they go on with isolating a question or issue. The analysis allows the engagement team to test whether x, y, or z is responsible for the changes with high certainty. As for the Project Management (PM Breakdown Structure), the team uses the decision tree to break down a hypothesis into manageable components for analysis.
The business case team needs to ensure that the opportunities recommended will deliver the benefits stated.
Week 1: Alignment with the client, top-down analysis, operations strategy, and productivity
During that week, the team meets with the client to ensure they are on the same line and understand the mission description and outcome from the client’s perspective. They get a sense of where how far off the alignment exists between all parties. From this understanding, data requirements and resource allocation will be needed to help the team get the information on time for pertinent analysis.
It is a consulting rule never to go into a situation where the client has not been carefully prepared, and the outcome cannot be managed.
With the analysis, especially for longer and more complex engagements, the team needs concrete validation that their early hypotheses and focus were correct.
There are essentially four steps that are common to all well-planned engagements. Like any individual analysis, an engagement has a top-down step consisting of four parts: Focus Interviews, Financial Analyses, Benchmarks, and Case Studies. Case Studies and benchmarks are reviewed with caution to ensure the information is accurate and relevant for the particular mission.
Then come the operations and the productivity review. It is essential to understand the productivity cycle of the company. In the book, there is an anecdote about two girls competing to sell lemonade to explain the value of understanding productivity.
Some common mistakes consultants make to assume that productivity should first be increased on the new products and then the focus should shift to the existing production
The value tree is then created to develop the model architecture needed to answer the right questions and solve the more viable issue the company faces.
After the week, they created a charter and gained alignment and support from the client’s management team while getting other levels involved in the mission for data requirements.
Week 2: Validating the data and the hypothesis through focus interviews
During the second week, the team conducts field control and data validation. The best management consultants understand that it is impossible to properly advise a client without understanding the environment, culture, history, and challenges within the location where the solution will be implemented.
While refining the planning and confirming the deliverables with the client, the team conducts the focused interviews on the basis of these best practice principles:
- • Use the interview responses to test their initial hypotheses/ideas.
- • Have an objective for holding the focus interviews.
- • Use the interviews as an opportunity to build allies for the engagement team.
- • Build the questionnaire around extracting the data/information needed to answer the primary question for the work stream and build the model. Include ranking questions so that comparisons can be made between interviewees.
- • Focus on collecting data for comparisons. Order the questionnaire so that the critical questions are asked before the time limit is reached.
Week 3: Have the story make sense for the company
The story should flow horizontally across headlines, vertically down to the individual slide from the headline to the content, and finally, the kicker. The team often reviews the story to ensure quality and accuracy in the message delivery. Data serves as support.
The Storyboard should never be a diary of the work done or analyses completed. The story must stand by itself. By reading the story, the rest of the team must be able to understand the details.
Week 4: Presenting Feedback From Focus Interviews, presenting, and steering committee
Contrary to popular belief, findings and feedback from focus interviews are a significant part of the business case. Anecdotal evidence presented with complex data can build a compelling argument. Quotes are priceless.
The steering committee update comprises information from the following areas: Key Findings, Financial Baseline, Analyses, Quick Wins (usually presented in the third update but can be included earlier), Brief Operational Improvement & Services Update, Next Steps
A pre-presentation ensures the presentation material is vetted by as many as possible from the team and sometimes from the client side. The analyses are explained, and questions are answered. It offers a great way to build relationships and make allies.
Week 5: Mid-Engagement review and workshop
There is a review of the team performance on an individual and group level. The consulting team goes back to the mission's requirements. For these conversations and deliberations, client interaction and understanding engagement issues are essential.
During the week, a workshop is planned and led by the consultants. There are several reasons for a successful workshop: there was a clear and straightforward objective for the workshop.
When a workshop process is not known to the attendees, it is crucial to make it as simple as possible. The process was visible to all participants, and feedback was constantly captured and updated with flip charts and post-it notes.
The engagement team was prepared. There was an “aha” moment in the end when the 3X3 matrix collapsed into the 2X2 matrix. The engagement team facilitated the process, but the attendees reached their own conclusions. The participants must come up with their findings.
Week 6: Big Picture Thinking
Keeping an eye on the Purpose that is the link to the strategy is crucial. Therefore, it becomes vital for the team to deliver quality while performing detailed work and keeping an eye on the big picture.
Another important point is crisis management, as the risk register is a parameter to constantly and regularly monitor. It ranges from the good health of the team and team members to the relationship with the client and any upcoming evidence that may impact the analysis.
During that week, the consultants start forming their feedback for insights.
A consultant must over-deliver insight and quality, not the volume of slides. The consultant needs to be flexible to change its approach as understanding the client’s situation evolves.
Week 7: Business Case Sign-off and final Storyboard
A successful management consulting engagement ultimately comes down to the ability of the team to develop a set of recommendations that add value to the client. Business cases are not only about financial analyses. A successful business case consultant must also understand the business, break it down into the components that generate value, and map it into an Excel spreadsheet to test a set of carefully constructed hypotheses. When all analyses are completed and recommendations finalized, a short-written report is often required as a final deliverable in addition to a clear PowerPoint presentation.
The ideas must be joint ownership so that the client feels vested in the benefits case.
The sign-off is critical. By having the sign-off, the team has the explicit support of the executive who has approved the work. This buy-in is a critical requirement when going into the final update sessions.
Not every piece of analysis must be included in the Storyboard. But consistency is key. Forgetting or changing the model midway through an engagement is dangerous. It could derail the entire effort to mobilize the client.
Offer recommendations. The team must reach a point of providing recommendations to problems. Clients pay for recommendations that have employee support.
Week 8: Impactful handover
The process has seen the growth of some of the consultants. The firms have a move up or out policy. This encourages seniors to be coaches and for everyone to be responsible for their careers.
A management consultant must be aware of the impact their presence is having.
There is the final presentation to the client. The recommendations are presented for further action, and the team gathers the lessons learned.
Ass project managers, we should not miss the opportunity to share great readings with our team members. There is always a need to summarize our role or prove that we are worthwhile.
This book is another top choice for project managers and project team members wanting to push the envelope to explore the strategic origin of a project. It will be great to dig into similar resources for project management teams. The day-to-day or the weekly follow-up of a team
You can make the parallel between a management consultant and a PM even though they touch and affect different aspects of a business.
I recommend this book to all project managers and the senior PMs in conversations with the C-Suite.
The team activity is closely followed, but the incremental information about ethics, business judgment, buy-in, et al. are all great points to remember when developing a client relationship.
You see the importance of a charter to protect the team and the client and keep focus.
You have performance monitoring and review, coaching, and quality reviews back by data before delivery.
Following a team within an engagement keeps the mind focused on the related activities resulting in the project's success.
A few lessons from the book:
- Define the problem statement.
- Build a unique framework for the problem.
- Prioritize the framework for analyses
- Develop hypotheses.
- Prepare tests for the premises.
- Collect data for the tests.
- Build a storyboard.
- Yet, studies are about managing teams of consultants. This book shows you how to use the tools, and the soft skills, to manage the study and team:
- Project charters
- Project logic
- Opportunity charts
- Benefits charts
- Top-down vs. Bottom-up analyses
- Focus interviews
- Internal / Client project update meetings
- Implementation Planning
- Quick win development
- Managing a client workshop
If you are looking for a close view of how an 8-week work is for a management consulting group, this book is top. To gain the benefits of the whole story, it is also good to be familiar with the jargon or to have some experience.
Check out for more insights. https://www.franklincovey.de/en/project-management-essentials-for-the-unofficial-project-manager/