30 Consulting Buzzwords that Show You’re In-the-Know

30 Consulting Buzzwords that Show You’re In-the-Know
Jo Randall
Jo Randall

Former McKinsey and Bain recruiter

Management consultants drop consulting buzzwords without even realizing it. It’s like the industry has its own language. If you’re new to consulting or interviewing for a job, it’s fine to ask for an explanation, but wouldn’t it be great to be one of those people who are in-the-know?

Becoming familiar with consulting jargon will also give you insight into the work of a consultant.

We’ve picked 30 consulting buzzwords that trip people up to define for you. But first, what are consulting buzzwords?

What Are Consulting Buzzwords?

Consulting buzzwords, also known as consulting jargon, consulting lingo, or consulting terminology, are verbal shorthand for rules of thumb, principles, or processes that are commonly used in the consulting industry and sometimes in business in general. They relay complex concepts quickly, speeding up a discussion.

30 Consulting Buzzwords

  1. 80/20 Rule – Derived from the Pareto Principle. In consulting, it refers to working smarter to avoid getting bogged down in the detail of a problem. Consultants believe that 80% of impact can usually be achieved by investing effort into the top 20% most important issues.

Further context: in a consulting interview you might use the 80/20 rule to focus on the factors that have the largest impact on solving a case study question.

  1. Action Plan – A list of steps that need to be taken to achieve a specific goal.

Further context: you and your project team will develop an action plan to assess the value to the client of entering a new market.

  1. Back-of-the-Envelope – a calculation done quickly to provide a rough estimate of the value of something (the return on an investment, potential cost savings) to decide if a course of action is worth investing additional time to pursue or not.

Further context: you might do a back-of-the-envelope calculation in a team meeting to estimate how many people frequent a particular restaurant each year as part of a consumer behavior project.

  1. Bandwidth – a way of describing how much capacity you have to take on additional work, both from a time and energy perspective.

Further context: your bandwidth may be limited because you’re scheduled to do interviews as part of the recruitment team, as well as working on a busy client project.

  1. Blanks – a rough sketch of a presentation that needs further details and formatting. It may include only headings for each page or a high-level picture of what charts and information need to be included.

Further context: the partner leading your project team gives you a blank of a PowerPoint presentation to complete before a 4 p.m. team brainstorming meeting.

  1. Boil the Ocean – when a task or project has been incorrectly scoped so that it’s impossible to complete, or loads the team with more work than they can handle because it demands an unnecessary level of precision or detail.

Further context: you don’t always need to boil the ocean and get an exact number (for cost savings or the size of a market). An estimate is often sufficient, especially for a first pass to focus the team in the right direction for further work.

  1. Buckets – another word for categories, segments, or groups. Consultants frequently break big problems into smaller ones which are easier to solve by identifying the key buckets underlying the big problem.

  2. Buy-in (a.k.a. Syndication) – Previewing your idea or proposal with clients and team members to identify ways to strengthen it and get their support.

Further context: if you develop a proposal with your team, you’ll need to get buy-in from the project manager before you can proceed.

  1. CAGR – an abbreviation for compound annual growth rate. It calculates the average annual growth rate of a financial variable (e.g. revenues, costs, the value of an investment) over time. The formula for CAGR is:
CAGR - compound annual growth rate

 

Example: You might calculate the CAGR of your client’s revenue growth compared to the market’s revenue growth, to understand whether they are growing faster or slower than their competition. If client revenue grew from $100K to $700K in 3 years, the CAGR is 91.29%. If the market’s CAGR was 40%, that would indicate their performance was strong and that they’ve gained market share.

 

  1. Critical Path – The key steps that are essential to achieve a goal or complete a project, taking into account the dependencies between steps and the time taken to reach each milestone.

Further context: the team manager can monitor the critical path tasks carefully to ensure the project isn’t delayed.

  1. C-Suite – the most senior-level executives of a corporation.

Examples: Chief Executive Officer, Chief Operating Officer, Chief Technology Officer, Chief Marketing Officer.

  1. Deck (a.k.a Presentation) – the slides created for a project team or client presentation using software such as PowerPoint or Canva.

Further context: the team creates a deck to present the final recommendations to a client on how to implement their multi-region market penetration strategy.

  1. Deliverable – the items a team will give to a client at the end of a project.

Further context: the deliverables for your retail client include a deck (see above), supporting research documents, a spreadsheet showing the breakdown of all of your calculations, and an implementation plan to steer action on the next steps of the project.

  1. Drill Down – after a project summary has been given, this describes the stage of digging into the detail.

Example: you pitch your team on how the client can reduce the costs of their marketing strategy and the manager wants to drill down into the detail so a workable proposal can be developed.

  1. Engagement/Project/Case – a specific piece of work/problem to solve that a team of consultants is assigned to. Typically these last several weeks to several months.

Further context: your next engagement/project/case might be a value chain improvement strategy for a company that develops agricultural products.

  1. Facetime – being physically present, especially with a project manager or partner, to demonstrate your ideas and productivity. Facetime may include spending time in the office or at the client site to build relationships.

Further context: you may seek facetime with a partner you’ve heard great things about and would love to work with on your next project.

  1. Feedback – critique given on your work either verbally or in writing.

Further context: at the end of each project, some consulting firms collect 360-degree feedback from project teams so consultants can improve their performance on the next project.

  1. Low-Hanging Fruit – the quick wins, the easiest opportunities to address.

Further context: low-hanging fruit for a struggling retailer might be offering discounts to current customers to gain more of their business.

  1. MECE – an acronym for “Mutually Exclusive, Collectively Exhaustive” which describes a way of organizing information into categories. The best way of breaking things into categories is to make the categories Mutually Exclusive – there is no overlap between the categories – and Collectively Exhaustive – the items each fit into one and only one category.

Further context: in-depth details and examples can be found in our article on MECE.

MECE definition
  1. Must Haves – items, information, or requirements that are essential.

Further context: must-haves in a consulting project include an understanding of the client’s goal and required deliverables, a budget and timeline, and details of who the stakeholders are.

  1. Offline – to take a discussion offline is to meet separately to talk about something that either can’t be solved right away or isn’t directly relevant to the main topic of a meeting.

Further context: the project manager might suggest you take a topic offline so the current discussion can focus on the key deliverables that directly affect the project.

  1. On the Beach – a term used to describe when you’re in between engagements and, although you’re being paid, you’re not currently allocated to a project.

Further context: when you’re on the beach pending being assigned to your next project, you will frequently be asked to help develop pitches for future client work.

  1. Peel the Onion (a.k.a. Next-level Thinking) – to delve deeper into the detail or do further analysis to get to the root cause of the problem.

Further context: you might need to listen in on some customer service calls to really understand what differentiates good customer service from poor customer service for an insurance client.

  1. Pipeline – the list of upcoming or potential projects for consultants.

Further context: you’re excited to learn that there’s an eCommerce project in the pipeline as this is a sector you’ve been keen to learn more about.

  1. Scope Creep – describes how the requirements of a project can build over time and need to be managed carefully to maintain control of the timeline and budget.

Further context: the project’s manager is concerned about scope creep as the client has requested a meeting to talk about additional requirements which aren’t currently part of the project.

  1. Sniff Test (a.k.a. Smell Test) – assessing whether something makes sense at a high level before accepting it as the truth or correct. The term comes from a way to check whether fruit is rotten – you don’t need to slice and dice it to figure out it’s gone bad, just sniff.

Further context: your manager asks you to double-check your analysis before presenting it to the team because it doesn’t pass the smell test (doesn’t seem right).

  1. Strawman – a potential solution or course of action used, not because it is perfect, but just to generate discussion about its advantages and disadvantages so that it can be improved upon. Consultants often prefer to solicit reactions to a strawman than to start a discussion from a totally blank slate, because it is often more efficient.

Further context: a client is experiencing decreasing profits and one strawman proposal may be to expand its product range. The team meets to discuss the benefits of and problems with this option and develops further iterations until a final, workable recommendation is reached.

  1. Takeaway – the key points intended for an audience to understand, for example, from a presentation.

Further context: a key takeaway from reading this article might be that, love them or hate them, consulting buzzwords are part of the industry’s language and you need to learn them.

  1. The Weeds – the details, as opposed to the high-level context.

Further context: If you are building a financial model, the partner on the case is unlikely to get into the weeds of how it is built — she will just want the high-level conclusions you are reaching. But your direct manager might get into the weeds to ensure the two of you are aligned on methodology and key assumptions.

  1. What’s the So-what? – the key implication or real-world usefulness of a piece of analysis. Consulting project managers and clients usually want this ahead of the supporting information on your analysis.

Further context: you’ve discovered that the client sells more of its products in one particular geography, but what does that mean for the client’s overall goal to increase its revenue?

So there you go, 30 consulting buzzwords that you’ve got inside knowledge about.

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A Few More Consulting Buzzwords Because We Can’t Get Enough!

Consulting Buzzwords
  • 20,000-Foot View – to summarise a situation as a whole, without going into the detail.
  • Answer First – to put the summary or recommendation ahead of the reasoning or backup detail so that the team or client understands where your argument is going. For more on why this is useful, see our article on the Pyramid Principle.
  • AOB – any other business, usually the final point on the agenda of a formal meeting. It’s a catch-all for anything not directly related to the discussion or not previously placed on the agenda.
  • As-is / To-be – A common type of deck page in which you show what the client’s business or process looks like now and how it will look once the project is completed.
  • At The End of the Day – to close a discussion with a high-level summary of the implications of a detailed discussion.
  • Bottoms-Up – to start the analysis at the lowest level or smallest detail and work up. The opposite of Top-Down, where you start with the highest aggregation and complete the analysis by breaking the whole down into relevant parts.
  • Circle Back – to say that a topic will be discussed at another time, perhaps because it’s not as important as other discussion points or because further information is needed to make an informed decision.
  • Elevator Pitch – a brief statement to cover the key selling points of an idea or project. This statement needs to take no longer than a minute or two – the time you’d have if you met the CEO in the elevator and made the pitch on the ride up.
  • Greenfield – a new and promising opportunity or project.
  • Hard Stop – the time at which someone is no longer available so needs to stop working or leave a meeting for another commitment.
  • Leverage – to give or get support for one’s work. If you delegated a piece of analysis to the new analyst on your team, they would be giving you leverage.
  • Let Me Play This Back – used when a consultant wants to re-summarise the key issues to ensure they are understanding them correctly.
  • Push Back – questioning the recommendations of a client or team member when they aren’t realistic, manageable, or achievable.
  • Rock Star – a term for someone whose work has exceeded expectations.
  • Take the Lead On – taking charge of something moving forward.
  • White Space – an area of a business that hasn’t yet been explored but could provide a revenue opportunity.
Have you heard of any other consulting buzzwords? Let us know in the comments and we’ll add them to our list!

In this article, we’ve covered:

  • Why it’s important to learn and understand the key consulting buzzwords.
  • Our top 30 consulting buzzwords with context.
  • A few more examples of consulting jargon, just for fun.

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Still have questions?

If you have more questions about the consulting buzzwords, leave them in the comments below. One of My Consulting Offer’s recruiters will answer them.

Other people trying to get a handle on consulting terminology found the following pages helpful:

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