Transitioning from Consulting to Product Management (shit is hard)

Trading in Suits and Ties for Hoodies and White Vans

It began when I left my position at DC (that’s Deloitte Consulting) to join a Seattle based startup. I wasn’t a career consultant, I had worked at startups in the past. But my experience centered around helping others use data to discover insights.

Fast forward to today. We were acquired by Microsoft as part of Office 365. After a few months, I joined the product team to help build and launch a new product in organizational and people analytics (check us out here).

Below are my observations to date from both perspectives. For those thinking of making the consulting to PM transition, there are some striking similarities and differences to point out.

(For the trolls, going to be upfront and say this is strictly based on my opinion)

Similarities

  • Launching a great product requires the ability to pitch and articulate value to different audiences. In consulting, successfully advising a client requires skillful convincing of a particular strategy or analysis. In essence, both require the ability to influence others.
  • Domain expertise is highly valued. Especially important in the junior ranks, when going from pure generalist to specialist.
  • But not just expertise in one domain. Orit Gadiesh, chairman of Bain & Co, coined the term “Expert-Generalist”. This means having the ability and curiosity to master many disciplines, which allows someone to draw from a “pallet of diverse knowledge to recognize patterns and connect the dots across multiple areas”. In both consulting and PM, this translates into bringing creativity to products and engagements.
  • Having a great team and passion for what you are doing is the absolute key to success and happiness.

Differences

  • Getting into consulting is a relatively straightforward but very difficult process. You typically interview in business school as a MBA hire or undergrad as an analyst. Typical backgrounds are usually economics, business, or technical. Academics are highly valued. You go through rigorous case and behavioral interviews. Job offer rates are very low. In contrast, product management backgrounds are widely varied. Some are more technical, others more design and experience oriented. Some don’t even have college degrees! There isn’t a typical path into Product Management (note: There other paths into management consulting, but think 80/20).
  • In consulting, if you don’t like your project, team, or whatever, just suffer for a few months and there’s usually a light at the end of the tunnel. In PM, that concept isn’t nearly as clear and its highly dictated by the market. You end up living and breathing your product ALL THE TIME. There isn’t always a clear exit in your product the same way as a consulting engagement.
  • Different revenue models creates different incentives. Consulting revenue is a function of hours times the rate per hour of a consultant. Growth can only be achieved by selling more work (duh), increasing billing rates (harder each year due to competition and outsourcing), or reducing overhead (creates attrition risks). Scaling this revenue is very linear and creates a bad incentive to do the impossible for clients in order to win business. In contrast to products, revenue can scale very non linearly, especially in software, where the variable costs per incremental unit sold is usually negligible. Customization for a customer is mostly a means to understand the market and get the early adopters to sell the message. Nothing illustrates this more when comparing the revenue per employee of Accenture ($92K) versus Google ($1.2M) versus Apple ($2.1M).

Making the transition

Read up on other people’s experience and research industry or function specific skills needed to be successful. Go into “blind focus” mode and dedicate your waking moments to learning the craft. Learn what skills are transferrable and which skills would be a detriment. And lastly, don’t be afraid to seek help and advice wherever possible (I sure as hell have).

Thank you for reading my first foray into Medium. Would love to hear your feedback, comments, and experience from other former consultants. Please feel free to find me on all my social outlets from http://www.shihzy.com.