Let's clear the air upfront. Consultants often have a negative reputation and are the butt of many jokes. We're tempted to share a few right now, but we'll just stick to the classic banana gag:
(If you know where this comes from, please let us know so we can properly credit it.)
Cheap gags aside, we'd argue that consultants can add considerable value to a business or challenge. The best consultants are systems thinkers who synthesise broad inputs as they help to make sense of the complex and recommend practical ways forward.
We'd argue that embedding a diverse Latticework of Mental Models is even more important for consultants than your average person. Indeed, our initial list for this Playbook consisted of about 30 models and we could have kept going!
It's no wonder, consultants are parachuted into new contexts and have the models in their head and their experience to quickly make sense of the situation and add value. With each engagement, they must also identify takeaways and replicable ideas (dare we say, mental models) that can be applied in other contexts, for future clients.
Being a consultant is also extremely contextual, depending on your industry, value proposition, and focus. As a result, the models we've collected here are by no means the be-all and end-all, but they represent a solid start to the consulting world.
To really succeed as a consultant, you'll need to use this as a starter kit and consciously develop your own latticework of models — perhaps finding many more on ModelThinkers, but also developing your own frameworks and understanding by reflecting on each experience you have. Essentially, you really have to get serious about being a model thinker (and yes, to fast-track that process you really should join ModelThinkers as a member).
But enough context — please jump into this Playbook. As we've warned, it's the longest Playbook that we've published and could easily be much, much longer.
Let us know which mental models resonate and which ones we've missed.
Use these foundational models to prepare for your consulting journey.
You might know about this model, but did you know it originated decades ago from McKinsey as a recruitment tool? Even then, they knew that consultants needed T-Shaped Capabilities.
As we said upfront, this model is important for everyone but is absolutely critical for consultants.
ANALYSE & DISTIL.
You'll need to quickly make sense of mountains of information and inputs. Use these models and frameworks to move quickly and uncover insights.
Patil was Obama's Chief Data Officer and this model was born from a 'note to himself' that he carried as a constant reminder for how he could deliver value. As a consultant, you're on borrowed time so take a page from Patil's book (literally) and let this model drive your thinking and action.
Your client is likely in reactive mode. They're buried in business-as-usual and barely keeping their head above water. So yes, use this foundational learning model to continuously learn and develop your own mental models, but also apply it to your client. Use the reflective looping process to help them draw greater insights and takeaways from their experience.
Take a moment to identify the sort of terrain you're facing and what level of understanding exists around it. The level of complexity and knowability about your situation will drive your approach moving forward, and this framework will help. Decide whether to move quickly to a 'best practice' solution, or focus on probes and prototypes to find out more.
Consultants are parachuted into new businesses, teams and contexts all the time. The clock is ticking to build trust and influence and this model will help.
INNOVATE & DELIVER VALUE.
You're going to have to provide new ways of viewing familiar challenges as you find ways to deliver value.
And on the topic of baselines and measuring progress, does your client really know what good looks like? Have you informed your client with industry-based standards and practices? Maybe it's time to explore benchmarking. It's the difference between saying "you should try x and y" to "80% of leading companies in this field do x and y, we need to meet them there and look for a differentiator in z."
And finally, you'll have to pitch your insights and recommendations to senior stakeholders. They're busy, distracted, and want the bottom line up front — so go with Minto's Pyramid. But don't just save it for the big end of engagement meeting, experiment with applying this model to your general communication — from conversations to emails.
Your client is overwhelmed. They've hired you to sense-make, identify patterns and make recommendations to move forward. Use Occam's Razor to try to identify the main narratives and issues at play as you simplify and seek the path of least assumptions.
Your client expects fresh, innovative perspectives and fast. Fortunately, this versatile and reliable model will help you to turn things on their head to deliver new insights. It's a cheap, useful tool for quick results.
Depending on the nature of your consultancy, it's likely that you're going to have to understand the state of a business. This framework is a useful, accepted approach from the world of management accounting to get started — even if you just use it as a base to develop your own customised scorecard that better speaks to your domain. It will help define a baseline and targets moving forward.
Is part of your engagement about supporting a new product or service offer? You might want to apply this classic management consulting tool to assess the market.
There was a clear pain point that led them to put the cash on the table to hire you but, before you unleash your problem-solving skills on the pain point as they've framed it, take a moment to ask: 'what's the problem behind the problem?'. Use this model, ideally combined with the 5 Whys, to identify the underlying issues at play.
It's likely that you've been engaged to support innovation and it's also likely that your client is focused on innovating their product or service? Help broaden their perspective by working through Ten Types and explore the full end-to-end opportunity.
You can't do it all, you'll need to identify high return on value for your audience.
Help your clients align to clear, powerful customer value. If they can't express this quickly and in a compelling way, then you haven't done your job properly.
This simple model provides a checklist for your marketing strategy.
It's not enough to be innovative and come up with new ideas. You'll need to consider risk. Use this to help.
Does part of your project involve identifying requirements for a product, tech platform or even a tender? Then this business analyst favourite is a simple go-to as you develop the requirement document.
Identified a number of options that can be actioned? Prioritise with this matrix.
Time is money and your client can't afford to keep throwing cash at you. Prioritise, timebox and be disciplined about what you deliver and what you pass over.
I could have included Agile Methodology, Lean Thinking and a cluster of such models. But this popular initiative manages to pull many of those approaches together for startups and innovative enterprises alike.