I just began a career in toer 1.5 consulting, and I realize I'm haing trouble properly allocating my time. If my manager asks for a task, I don't know how to realistically estimate wether it'll take me 3 days or 5. How do seasoned consultants deal with this?
Time Budgeting / Time Management in Consulting
Hello! Very good question, time management is one of the key skills required in consulting. I personally try to:
1. Really understand what it required and identiy all the key steps that needs to be done to solve the task at hand. You can break this down at different levels of granularity, sort of a work breakdown structure where you can drill down to the lowest level of detail
2. Order these activities and understand whether you work on some in parallel
3. Estimate for each activity how long it would take to complete the task either based on previous experience or common sense. This is where point no. 1 becomes really important, breaking down larger tasks into detailed ones makes it easier to estimate the overall time needed
If you're working on a long project, I recommend updating your estimates as you progress with your work and also update your project manager as and when needed.
Hope it helps!
We all had the same problem during the first 1-2 years in consulting.
My typical approach was to first understand the key deliverables and the analysis required. And then, I would multiply my estimation by 1.5 when I communicated to my project leaders, as consultants have the tendency to underestimate the work required in order to look ambitious and impress their project leaders.
As mentioned by others this is not an uncommon issue, and additionally you always have tight deadlines to meet so there is pressure to say 2 days if indeed it takes 4 days to get it right. Some things that I have seen work
1. Invest time up front - make sure you take the time to scope the work properly (this could be an hour or two), to truly understand all the needs (data needed, sources for data which could add to timeline, analysis to be done, interviews to be conducted etc.) Write down the tasks as well as the friction points and provide a reasonable expectation for both
2. Try and add a buffer - It is very likely that you have overlooked sources of delay in your planning so it is always useful to add a buffer
3. Have a backup plan in case something does not materialize - e.g., alternative data sources.
4. Do not be afraid to tell the truth! - Sometimes we are scared that we will be percieved as slow or inefficient. Get over the fear and be clear about why you think the task will take the requisite amount of time. Listen to any advice you get from your manager, but at least now they are fully aware of the dependencies and frictions involved
Hope this help,
I would recommend the following:
- Double-check all the key deliverables with the manager. Sometimes there may be additional parts or parts not needed compared to your first understanding
- Divide the task into subtasks
- Allocate time for each task based on your current knowledge. If you are in doubt, either further segment the task or ask support to colleagues that have done something similar before
- Add extra time for unexpected events – usually at least 20%
- Keep track of your progress. Identify the reasons why you are not following the timeline
- Align with your manager on your progress so that there are no surprises on your final delivery
I confirm that it's the typical problem of junior consultant :)
Experience will help to be more and more realistic on the estimation. The thing you can improve right now is managing the expectation: once you have a clear deadline, fix on your calendar micro deadline to achieve the big one, in order to be more efficient, monitor your advancement, and update your manager in case of a clear expected delay.
Hope it helps,