My first week on a new project


My name is Timo, and I am spending 3 months in Australia to help a client with a full-on transformation. While the program aims to make a significant improvement in financial performance, it is equally important to have a cultural and mind-set change in order to make the impact sustainable. This engagement is one of the largest transformations McKinsey is involved with on a global scale. It is run by our Recovery & Transformation Services or ”RTS” practice. This post describes my first week on the engagement, giving a glimpse of what many consultants go through every time they start working with a new client. On a personal level, it has been one of my most exciting weeks in the past year, and I’m looking forward to the impact that McKinsey will help this client achieve.


Woke up after getting a decent night of sleep in a new country and a new time zone. Arrival to Sydney yesterday was great and I had some time to walk around the city and soak in the atmosphere. Today is the first day of the new engagement and it will be important that everything goes smoothly. For me that means waking up 15 minutes earlier than normal. Whenever the project context is new, the first week’s learning curve is steep. I arrived at client headquarters and my engagement manager introduces me to the clients on my team, and explains the big picture of what will happen during the following 12 weeks. I ask my questions based on the material I received when I agreed to join the team. Then we have a “team talk” which means that we agree on the basic practicalities of working together. We talk about preferences and what having a good lifestyle means for each of us. In the afternoon my body reminds me that I have just changed time zones. Time to go for a walk and get an extra cup of tea. The rest of the day is spent meeting more clients and truly understanding their business. Although there is a lot of new information that I need to learn during the first days of an engagement, the most crucial thing is to start building trust with clients. This is the part that makes the job interesting for me. At McKinsey, one of our values is to work side by side with clients to create impact. Change can only happen if my clients and I know and trust each other.


Early morning wake-up call so that I can catch a 7am plane to Melbourne. I use the short flight to gather my thoughts from the previous day and to reflect on today’s agenda. Meetings go by and I gain a more nuanced understanding of the work ahead and the client. This project is definitely on a whole new scale compared to anything I’ve been a part of before. Fortunately, work has been scoped well between different teams, and it looks very promising that we will have quick impact. On the way back to Sydney, I take time to wind down by listening to some relaxing classical music (Ravel).


The day isn’t booked full with meetings and team working sessions, so I will have some time to clarify things for myself. Based on the information I have so far, it is time to ask important questions: What is the main objective of the engagement? What is my role? What regular meetings and discussions will we have? What data sources will I have? What are the biggest risks to impact? What are the main objectives over the next 2-3 weeks? Of course some of the answers will change, but it is good to have an initial perspective.


While the regular cadence of the team’s work is being established, there are continuous ad-hoc issues to address. The key word of today is prioritization. I find that it is important to clearly agree within the team what our approach to ad-hoc requests will be, and what our general guidelines for prioritization are. We work hard, but we want to use our time wisely. When you cannot do everything, the classic 20/80 approach is the way to go. Pick out the 20% of activities that generate 80% of the total potential impact.


Today I get to spend the day at the Sydney office of McKinsey. When entering the lounge area, I am struck by a jaw-dropping view of the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. Time to sit down, drink tea, and enjoy. Today is also a good chance to say hello to some people I’ve been in contact with prior to arrival. I have a development talk scheduled with the Partners on my team to discuss my development goals for the next three months. On Fridays, I find it is important to sort out any loose ends from the week, and make sure that I’m ready for the next week with the client. On Monday I will be ready to pick up speed and focus on delivering impact!