The Tech, the MIT newspaper, has a very interesting account from one of its recent graduates about a stint he did with the Boston Consulting Group in Dubai. It's partly a look at how different the real world is from taking a whalloping course load at MIT (answer: quite different indeed). But it's also a look at how all too many consulting firms end up doing their work. This is only partly the fault of the consultants:
Despite having no work or research experience outside of MIT, I was regularly advertised to clients as an expert with seemingly years of topical experience relevant to the case. We were so good at rephrasing our credentials that even I was surprised to find in each of my cases, even my very first case, that I was the most senior consultant on the team.
I quickly found out why so little had been invested in developing my Excel-craft. Analytical skills were overrated, for the simple reason that clients usually didn’t know why they had hired us. They sent us vague requests for proposal, we returned vague case proposals, and by the time we were hired, no one was the wiser as to why exactly we were there.
I got the feeling that our clients were simply trying to mimic successful businesses, and that as consultants, our earnings came from having the luck of being included in an elaborate cargo-cult ritual. In any case it fell to us to decide for ourselves what question we had been hired to answer, and as a matter of convenience, we elected to answer questions that we had already answered in the course of previous cases. . .
I can't imagine that the BCG people are very pleased about this series of articles, but I don't think there's much they can do about it. As the author details) he walked away from an end-of-employment payment by refusing to sign a nondisclosure agreement. And not to pick on BCG particularly - because there are plenty of other people in this game - I note that they do advise the pharmaceutical industry from time to time. We are, fortunately, not quite Dubai. But here's a description (their own) of some of their work, and I'll leave it up to the reader to decide if it's an inspiring story of teamwork or an example of cargo-cult self-delusion.
At the onset, the BCG team helped provide structure and facilitation for our client's deep content knowledge, then helped them focus on the most important issues. We worked together to develop critical insights about the current and potential marketplace and the roadmap to success, then created and launched an execution plan that rallied the organization around that roadmap and started them down that path.
You might also want to speculate about how many times those phrases have been cut and pasted before.
Update: fixed with link to the story!