Core Practices All Consultants Should Master

If you are new to consulting it is good to have a high level view of practices to master to ensure you deliver results systematically. If you are an experienced consultant it’s good to step back and review the practices you already apply-you may find a thing a two you want to improve. Here are the areas topics I’ll cover: Planning, Execution, Tracking, & Prioritization.


At the end of the day consultant is measured by his practice or manager by billable hours. Every minute spent for nothing could have been a billable minute; likewise for hours, days, weeks, and months. Key attributes of any plan includes scope of deliverables, timelines, and resources. The consultant is the resource and deliverables are generated as a consequence of billed hours. What’s left is to apply the billed hours on the timeline. Let’s develop an annual planning for billable hours, breaking it into months and weeks. Here is an example accounting for public holidays, potential sick leaves, vacations, public services, etc.:

Public holidays: 10 days
Sick days: Assume 6 days
Community Service: Let’s take 18 days
Vacation: 20 days
Training: 8 days
Unforeseen: 6 days
Weekends: 52 weeks x 2 days/ weekend = 104 days
Grand total: 172 days off
Based on this calculation there are 316 – 172 = 193 workable days a year. This maps to 193 x 8 hours/week equals 1544 hours. Now let’s consider theoretical workable hours-consultant speak for all potential working hours per year, excluding weekends-52 weeks times 40 working hours gives us 2080 workable hours. The utilization rate we would achieve if we would bill all 193 days is 74% (1544/2080*100%). This is a high utilization rate; typical utilization is around 70%. Now let’s estimate potential revenue. Billing all 1544 hours corresponding to a 74% utilization rate with a billing rate of 100 dollars generates a whopping $150,000 in revenue a year for your practice. Try the math yourself to estimate revenue at $200 or $500 per hour.

This exercise provides an annual perspective on what could be achieved by executing on this basic plan. Seems easy-just work 8 hours each day, enjoy vacations, and celebrate holidays, & the money will pour in, right? Well…yes and no. It depends on execution.


Precise execution is what can get you closer to you objective-maximizing billable hours. Much that could go wrong or add friction. Less time spent on non-productive work frees time for productive work-both can be billed to the customer but be mindful that less time spent on thoughtful productive work will produce lower quality results. Customers object to lower quality results especially when they are billed premium rates. Let’s suppose you have 8 hours to create and deliver a customer report. That includes researching, collecting, distilling, summarizing, writing, & reviewing-all thoughtful, productive work. But it requires searching, formatting, typing, correcting, fixing, re-writing, asking, and responding. All that is mechanical work. If you could spend 6 hours out of 8 for thoughtful work it would produce much better results compared to spending only 4. So how could you reduce the mechanical friction and liberate, say, an additional 2 hours of thoughtful work? Here are few ideas:

Create your own knowledge base (KB) by aggregating relevant info nuggets into boilerplate as you find them. Relevant paragraphs can be a few clicks away in a snap versus being flooded with noise when searching online. Leveraging your KB can be especially useful when offline which is a typical scenario when on-site with customers.

Write effective emails avoiding ping-pong and spending time on clarification questions and answers. Write self-explanatory subjects; the first sentence should be a one-line question or statement, then elaborate and add only relevant details. Do not expect your emails being all read.

Use boilerplate templates for Statements of Work (SOWs) and actual delivery documents-never write such documents from scratch.

Use checklists to review you work and to make sure you covered all relevant aspects in one pass.

Maintain a network of related people you can trust and rely on for their quick response to questions. Enlist yourself as their reviewer and respond very quickly when they ask for it.

Keep your email inbox clean; make “Inbox Zero” your normal policy. Move info nuggets to your KB; batch action items per project and immediately schedule them; respond immediately when appropriate to do so. Spam gets deleted on the spot.

Reduce meetings to a minimum. Defend your time! Most collaboration can be done online without spending time on commuting, unless the customer is paying for that as well.
You are now an unstoppable delivery machine. Boom Boom Boom! But how do you know you are making any progress? Or maybe you’re way ahead? Tracking is key.


Can you instantly tell me what your current projects are? Can you instantly tell me what deliverables each project should produce? Can you instantly tell me what your immediate action items in each project are? Can you instantly tell me how much is done or left to do for each deliverable? Trackability is the ability to quickly assess what’s on your plate. Trackability is your ability to map your plan to execution. Doing so helps you quickly determine whether you are on target or off, whether you’re are going to hit 74%utilization, 70%, or miss your mark entirely; whether you’ll be able to work normal hours or will have to burn the midnight oil.

Complex systems to track your progress or keep track of your daily tasks aren’t necessary. In fact the simpler the system the less friction it takes to manipulate your records. I use Microsoft Outlook and maintain records within self-posts. To create self-post in Microsoft Outlook press Ctrl+Shift+S. Or simply send an email to yourself. You can always revise the content and save it with the original one. Using Microsoft Outlook is also beneficial since you take advantage of instant search and you can always forward the item upon request. List your projects, list your deliverables, list your action items and start executing them one-by-one-all the while keeping your eye on the prize: billable hours. Provide status to key stakeholders and relevant people to stay in sync and to make sure they are aware of the progress and that you’re on track. For example:

Project 1. Performance improvement, Customer X. 60 hours allocated, 40 hours billed.
Deliverable 1: Improve performance by 3 seconds for scenario Y
Action Item 1: Conduct interview with Dev lead – Done
Action Item 2: Collect metrics from the computers – Done
Action Item 3: Write report
Action Item 4: Verify implementation of the report.
Deliverable 2:…
Project 2…
Deliverable 1…
Action Item 1:…
Action Item 2:…
Action Item 3:…
Action Item 4:…
Deliverable 2:…
Using this simple technique you can easily see your plate and how much you can bite off without choking. You can easily assess if the remaining hours are sufficient to complete your action items and hit your deliverables.


Billable hours are finite and scope creep is a constant threat. Trackability provides an easy way to assess your status. When you do not have enough hours, which is all too common, you need to decide what will fall off your plate-an action item, deliverable, or perhaps even a whole project. Of course, you can decide to do it all, burn the midnight oil, and attempt to deliver every deliverable. I would not recommend this path-a surefire path to burnout and misery-and for a low actual billing rate. For example, you charge 100 dollars an hour and you have committed for a deliverable scope for 20 billable hours. Due to some circumstances you actually invested 40 hours to delivery. Your billing rate has just been halved to only 50 dollars per hour. Your goal is to raise your billing rate and reduce your work hours, not the other way around. To achieve that goal, you first need to learn to keep up with the pace and invest only the hours you were allocated. Do so by applying aggressive prioritization practices.

In summary, the core practices all consultants should master are:

Planning: Know how much time you are allocated and how much scope you are committed for.
Execution: Keep your eyes on the prize: billable hours. Be mindful of scope. Reduce friction. Invest your time in what gets the deliverables closer.
Tracking: Track your progress using simple tools. Have an immediate view of what’s on your plate and how much work and time is left.
Prioritization: Make brutal decisions and let less important things fall off your plate. Remember that not all urgent things are important. Say “No” to low priority asks-it’s as simple as that.