Consulting jargon buster

Here's a quick guide to some of the most common terms you'll encounter in this sector

80/20: Refers to the Pareto Principle, a rule stating that 80 per cent of effects come from 20 per cent of causes. In consulting, this term is most commonly used to refer to the fact that 80 per cent of your results will come from 20 per cent of your work, so you can get to a significant chunk of an answer without having full information about the problem. You have to realise when you've reached the 80/20 point and move on to the next part of your project (unless you want to your work-life balance to suffer!)

Being on the beach: Refers to the period of time when a consultant is not assigned to a project. Occurs when one case ends and the next one is not due to start for a while.

Benchmarking: The process of gathering information about other companies in an industry to compare against your client's performance.

Boiling the ocean: An inefficient way of doing a task.

Buckets: Categories - for example, "I ordered these terms alphabetically rather than grouping them into different buckets."

Buy-in: The agreement of a stakeholder, usually a client, on a particular aspect of a project - for example, "Once an approach to answering a problem has been decided, it's essential for the project leader to get the buy-in of partners and the client."

Case: A consulting project, usually focused on answering a specific question for a client. Cases can be as short as one week or as long as six months.

Core competency: What a company does best.

Deck: A Powerpoint presentation presenting the findings of a project.

Deep dive: A detailed analysis of an aspect of the project, also known as a "double click" on an issue. For example, a consultant might need to do extra research on the financials of a certain competitor, or present a more detailed view of a particular country if a company is active across many markets.

Deliverable: A project output.

Due diligence: Comprehensive analysis of a business, including risks and market dependencies. Usually done for a private equity client considering buying a company.

Elevator pitch: A 30-second summary of your project that you'd present to the chief executive of the company that's your client.

Freecap: A period of time when a consultant is between projects and supports another team. Usually the client is not billed for this additional resource.

High level: A summary of an issue without the analytical detail behind the conclusion, typically presented to senior management.

Low-hanging fruit: Initial opportunities and areas of exploration that are easy to cover and will produce results immediately.

MECE: Stands for "mutually exclusive, collectively exhaustive". Consultants ensure that their hypotheses cover all aspects of a project, and that no hypothesis overlaps with any other.

Pushback: Issues that might be raised by a client or by a partner leading a project on a consultant's analysis of a problem or their proposed solution.

Quick win: A small step or initiative that will bring immediate results.

Reach-out: To call or email someone.

Staffing: The process by which consultants are assigned to projects. Managed by a devoted HR employee, staffing usually involves balancing the wishes of consultants, who can express their preferences (for example, for particular industries, countries or types of work), consultants' development needs, business needs, and partner preferences.

Takeaway: Key point to be retained from a piece of work.

Touching base: Meeting to discuss the status of a project or task.

Up or out: A policy in consulting firms that dictates that employees are either promoted upwards on a set timetable or have to leave the business.

Upward feedback: Evaluating your manager's performance.

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