Product Design Shifts Create a Need for Consultants

The market is changing so fast in product development — particularly in consumer products — that companies can lose 12 points on a competitor in a year if they do not monitor their processes carefully and change with their market, said David Fedewa, consultant for McKinsey & Company.

“It’s hard to beat rolling up your sleeves and digging into the product design,” Fedewa said, described the state of consulting today during the keynote at the 9th Annual Consulting Symposium, sponsored by the student-led Booth Consulting Club at Gleacher Center on July 23. “This kind of work allows you to make fundamental changes in what you’re offering and, therefore, in your value proposition.”

The daylong symposium provided an opportunity for about 140 students in the Evening MBA Program and Weekend MBA Program to meet with 56 representatives of 20 consulting firms to learn more about the field.

Fedewa shared his insights about working with such products as digital cameras, cars, and mouthwash. Consumers have less money to spend in today’s market, he said. In many product categories, they want simply the basic features, Fedewa said. “The message they’re sending is, &lsqo;Just make it work the way it’s supposed to work. I don’t care about the bells and whistles,’” he said.

At the same time, consumers have access to much more information than before the Internet, Fedewa said. Brand means much less to them than it once did, he said. “Because they can tell better what’s in the product, they don’t have to rely on the brand to tell them whether it’s good or not,” Fedewa said. “Brand still means a lot, but it’s not what it used to be.”

Designing products to value incorporates analysis of many aspects of product development, including engineering, research and development, consumer insights, and supplier insights, he said. “You need to be able to bring facts to the debate and say, ‘What are people willing to pay for?’” Fedewa said. “Some of those facts are qualitative and some are quantitative. Regardless, you need to have your own independent sense of what’s going on.”

Because of the pace of this change, McKinsey cannot keep up with the demand for analysis of product design, he said. “We literally cannot staff all the projects coming in,” Fedewa told students. “This is a good problem to have, but at the same time it makes it critical for us to get folks like you into the business as quickly as we can. We want you to take our thinking even further in the way we approach these kinds of problems.”

To get those jobs, MBAs must establish meaningful relationships with prospective employers, said Evan Acharya, a student in the Evening MBA Program who co-chairs the Booth Consulting Club. “Networking is a ritual in the consulting job search,” Acharya said. “Since consulting is a ‘people business,’ it is imperative that students develop relationships that go beyond just email and phone calls with prospective employers. Consultants want to meet you in person.”

Qian Lin, an evening student, met with six consultants from Accenture. “They shared their background and experience and talked about how they started with Accenture,” Lin said. “Since they each have different expertise, I was exposed to different segments of the consulting business. I was able to observe how they acted in a group, which tells me a lot about the firm culture.”

—Shane Graber

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