Strategy vs. Operations Consulting

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Question:

I came across your website and was wondering about Strategy vs. Operations consulting. It seems Strategy is more about growing the company whereas Operations is about making the company more efficient. Would you say that Strategy Consulting is harder to get into/ more prestigious than Operations? Are similar skill sets needed in both?

My Reply:

Strategy is harder to get into and more prestigious. The skills for strategy consulting is a super set of those needed for operations. Strategy consultants do work on operations as I do, but not vice versa. Operation consultants, particularly the senior ones, tend to have more functional or industry knowledge. Strategy consultants have more general problem solving skills.

The main client contact for an operational consulting firm is  typically the Vice President of a department like HR, Technology or Finance. The main client contact for a strategy consultant is almost always the CEO, President of a company or division of the company, and occasionally the board of directors.

In terms of the skills overlap, both need great interpersonal skills and strong communication skills. The importance of both can not be underestimated. It seems like these skills would be useful in any job, but they are especially critical in consulting, and the level of skills demonstrated by consultants in both of these areas is often extremely high.

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10 comments… add one
  • subhendu Mar 30, 2012, 6:02 am

    Dear Mr Chang,

    I find very interesting in each and every topic,
    thanks
    subhendu

  • my Aug 14, 2012, 11:25 am

    Dear Victor, thank you very much for your opinion. I am industrial engineer looking for operation consulting firms with the focus on production and manufacturing processes (best case: lean management). Can you recommend some?

    regards
    my/germany

    • Victor Cheng Aug 14, 2012, 12:56 pm

      Hi M.Y.,

      Unfortunately I don’t know of the top or largest lean firms as I don’t know that market very well.

      The manual way to get your answer is to google “top 100” consulting firms or something similar and the read each company’s website to see what they focus on.

      Victor

    • Victor Cheng Aug 14, 2012, 12:56 pm

      You might also try googling “lean manufacturing consulting firm” or “six sigma consulting firm” etc.

      • Aboud Feb 18, 2013, 1:41 am

        If I may chime in, the big players in the operations/implementation niche are:

        Alexander Proudfoot (oldest) and derivative firms:
        -Celerant (now Hitachi Consulting; also a derivative of AP)
        – – Evolve, formed by former Celerent consultants
        -Carpedia
        -PVA
        The Highland Group, Renoir, DBA, etc.

        There are many derivatives and spinoffs, just like in the strategy space.

        A better search tactic would be to go on LinkedIn, search “Proudfoot”. LinkedIn will automatically pull up similar companies.

        One slight note:
        It’s true that an implementation/operations consultant’s top client contact might be a department head, successful teams are those that closely involve the CEO and/or COO/VP of Operations with the project.

  • my Aug 31, 2012, 2:51 pm

    thank you victor!

  • Andrew Feb 26, 2013, 7:09 pm

    Hi Victor,

    I have been following your emails for some time and recently was accepted as a summer intern at PwC doing operations consulting.

    In preparation for this upcoming summer I was wondering if you had any book recommendations that you feel would be beneficial. Specifically I’m looking for something to assist me in preparing for the work I’ll do doing this summer as this is my first consulting type internship.

    Appreciate all the emails and the case help that’s provided by your website! It’s made all the difference.

    Regards,
    Andrew

    • Victor Cheng Feb 26, 2013, 7:11 pm

      Andrew,

      What kinds of operational projects will you be working on? Or what types of operational projects is you group typically accustomed to doing?

      You can get some general tips at:
      http://www.caseinterview.com/new-consultant

      If you give me more specifics, I may be able to make some operationally focused reading suggestions.

      -Victor

  • Daniil Mar 18, 2013, 5:53 am

    MY,
    McKinsey is expanding their Operations Practice currently (department as of 1997). You can check vacancy in LinkedIn. It is exactly what are you talking about.

    Victor,
    how can Operations Case Interview be different from the Strategy one? Can you please give any advice on preparation, except LOMS and other materials available on your site?

    p.s. Thank you for sharing all these insights about consulting job – it is quite useful for applying and getting the offer.

    • Victor Cheng Mar 19, 2013, 2:00 am

      Daniil,

      Unfortunately, I don’t know operations case very well. They can range from choosing an IT system , to a human capital decision, to process improvement. In all cases, organized thinking is always the best way to start and a strong synthesis is always a great way to close.

      The main variation tends to be in the best way to organize the problem at hand given the wide ranging definition of business operations. The key is to take a very big, hard to define type problem and break the problem up into smaller, easier to analyze pieces. It’s helpful if all the pieces combined comprise the whole problem and also helpful if the pieces are distinct and do not overlap. In strategy we call this MECE – mutually exclusive, collectively exhaustive.

      I’ve used this approach to tackle investment decisions, medical decisions, process improvement decisions, personal life decisions. It’s just a way of thinking that’s very useful for solving complex problems in any domain.

      Victor

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