The McKinsey Way Summary (Book Review For Consultants)

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How can you — the solo consultant or small consulting firm owner — consult like the most prestigious consulting firm in the world? 

In this article, we’ve broken down the book The McKinsey Way to help you do exactly that.

The McKinsey Way by Ethan Raisel (Background)

McKinsey & Company is a consulting firm founded in 1926 by James O. McKinsey, an American management consultant and accounting professor.

McKinsey is both the oldest and largest of the “Big Three” consulting firms, with over 38,000 employees and 130+ offices worldwide. The firm’s revenue is over $15 billion dollars per year.

Originally, the firm provided financial and budgetary services. However, James O. McKinsey decided that he wanted the firm to start providing business advice based on data-driven analysis.

In the 1930s, Marvin Bower joined the firm and significantly influenced its direction. Bower emphasized professionalism, client relationships, and ethical behavior — principles that became foundational to McKinsey’s culture.

During the 1950s and 1960s, the firm began its international expansion. McKinsey introduced several consulting business frameworks during this time, such as the 7-S framework and the GE-McKinsey nine-box matrix.

The McKinsey Way, written by Ethan Raisel (a former consultant at McKinsey), describes how the firm thinks about, approaches, and solves client problems. Here are the five parts of the book:

  1. The McKinsey Way Of Thinking About Business Problems
  2. The McKinsey Way Of Working To Solve Business Problems
  3. The McKinsey Way Of Selling Solutions
  4. Surviving At McKinsey
  5. Life After McKinsey

The McKinsey Way: Book Stats

High-Level Thoughts

The McKinsey Way contains powerful insights into how to deliver world-class consulting work. There’s a reason why McKinsey is perceived as the most prestigious consulting firm in the world. Delivery skills might be all you need if you’re a consultant employed by McKinsey. However, if you’re trying to build a successful consulting business yourself, you’ll need more skills than what’s described in this book.

The McKinsey Way Video Book Notes

The McKinsey Way Summary Notes

Most people working at McKinsey are generalists. Solo consultants and boutique firms cannot compete with McKinsey directly — but they can stand out from them by specializing.

As a consultant at McKinsey, problem-solving is your main focus and what you provide to your clients.

Before you start working on client projects, you start by gathering facts and data. You might have a gut instinct or reaction, but you must find the facts to support your opinions. McKinsey goes to the facts first. And facts impress and persuade your clients.

“No matter how brilliant, insightful, and original you may feel your initial hypothesis to be, you must always be prepared to accept that the facts may prove you wrong.”

Understand the MECE concept: maximum clarity, maximum completeness. The framework helps you boil down the key points and issues down to 3. This helps prevent overwhelm and helps you get focused and clear on the problem and solution. And this is the power of clarity.

A good “issues list” has 2-5 issues — but 3 issues is best.

Every client project starts by developing a hypothesis. However, you must have data to develop and support your hypothesis.

Initial hypothesis example: “IHs produced by teams are much stronger than those produced by individuals.” The initial hypothesis created when ideas bounce back and forth and come at it from different angles is superior. This is an important reminder for a solo consultant to get out of the ‘building’ and have conversations, get feedback, and talk to more people.

McKinsey challenges their clients: “At McKinsey, we found that clients were often no better at diagnosing themselves than a doctor’s patients.” As the outside expert, challenging your clients on their thoughts and ideas is a key part of being a consultant.

“The only way to figure out if the problem you have been given is the real problem is to dig deeper. Get facts. Ask questions. Poke around.”

This is important for you to remember. As a consultant, you’ve been brought in for your expertise. If you simply accept what your client tells you they want and think without getting the facts and asking questions and digging, you’re doing a disservice to your client AND your reputation.

So how do you respond when a client is pushing you in the wrong direction? Here’s an example: “You asked me to look at problem X, but the real impact on your performance will come from solving problem Y. Now I can solve problem X, if that’s what you really want, but I think it’s in our interest to focus on Y.”

“Don’t let a strong initial hypothesis become an excuse for mental inflexibility.” Be prepared for the facts to prove you wrong.

This kind of 80/20 result shows up in almost every aspect of life and business. If you know how to look for it. Both Richard Koch and Perry Marshall have done great work to expand on this concept.

For example, when McKinsey worked with an investment firm and their trading desk they found that “80% of sales came from 20% of brokers. 80% of orders came from 20 percent of customers. 80% of profit came from 20% of traders (stocks/markets).”

“Don’t boil the ocean” means even though you gather a ton of data, you shouldn’t overwhelm your client with it.

For example, we had a Clarity Coaching client that used to deliver clients with a 150-page report. What do people do with a 150-page report? Nothing! It’s too much to consume. Instead, we helped them develop a 15-20 page report that was more actionable. The result: the client implemented more of it and was more successful. A win for both sides.

Consultants can be long-winded. P&G tells its managers to write one-page memos. When you’re sharing recommendations with clients, give them your top 3 recommendations. Start with the highest priority, the ones with the biggest payoff. Don’t share all the details right away. You can do that when there is more time.

“It’s impossible to do everything yourself all the time…If you don’t leverage the other members of your team to solve these problems, you are wasting valuable resources.” The idea here is that a solo consultant or small firm must focus on where they create the most value. Don’t try to do everything yourself. Learn to delegate.

How does McKinsey build its brand and have people lining up to work with the firm? The author explains that McKinsey doesn’t sell. Instead, they market.

“The Firm [McKinsey] waits for the phone to ring. And ring it does, not because McKinsey sells, but because McKinsey markets.” “The Firm produces a steady stream of books and articles…and publishes its own scholarly journal…which it sends gratis to its clients.” Your IP, insights, experience, and expertise will do the selling for you — but only if you get in front of your ideal clients and the marketplace consistently and share it.

It’s key to focus on one project at a time with each client and avoid scope creep. This enables you to do great work — and great work leads to more work.

Use the power of “Prewire.“…McKinsey consultants engage in “prewiring”. Before they hold a presentation or progress review, a McKinsey team will take all the relevant players in the client organization through their findings in private. That way, there are few, if any, surprises on the big day.” This is an excellent way to get feedback, make adjustments, and ensure everyone is aligned before you give an official presentation.

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