Ex-consultants: Are they destroying product management?

The popular new career for consultants wishing to leave, particularly those coming from the large organizations like McKinsey, Boston Consulting, and Bain, has been Product Management lately, but I personally don’t like it.

The slight shift in PM culture is what bothers me. I can see elements of consultant culture leaking into the PM world from some of the ex-consultants I’ve interacted with (not all), and I’m concerned that PM culture may change into the gruelling McKinsey way of life.
Of course, PM is what I would advise if you’re a consultant looking to break into the tech industry. However, I would rather the McKinsey groupthink remain outside.

What do you think, guys?


I believe that we PMs are recruited to accomplish shit. It’s crucial to have a plan so that you act appropriately. It’s crucial to execute so that you truly accomplish anything. People matter, so be careful not to enrage them all and risk a mass departure and bad luck.

Often, the first component of product management receives far too much attention from consultants. Even then, it frequently involves pitching the idea to the company rather than linking it to a workable strategy that makes sense.

You need to speak with a tonne of customers, be completely familiar with the product, and have some idea of how the job is done. If a developer asks you whether a certain feature behavior important, you should have enough understanding of the consumer to know whether it probably does or doesn’t and be able to uncover evidence to either confirm or refute that assumption (where required).

Some people, from what I’ve observed, simply dislike the details and want to keep things vague. At that point, everything starts to go wrong. If you don’t have any expertise in the subject matter, your developers will have to figure it out on their own.

Its just a sad time.


@MarcoSilva, as a former coder, this relates to me deeply. The engineering team rarely respects PMs who are unwilling to get their hands dirty and consider the details that arise during execution. Making up a good story is simple, but the devil is frequently in the details.


@DonovanOkang, Totally! I also enjoy working with the development team. They are incredibly intelligent and enjoyable to work with in my two teams. And I enjoy taking part in the activities that make it happen. It is the main task at hand.


Okay, this is useful; at last, a somebody who clearly describes what the consultant thing is.

As an ex-engineer and designer, you can expect that I’m very comfortable with being in the details, but in my opinion, a lot of the younger PMs I work with have ZERO grasp of the business side of a product.

There are a tonne of PMs, particularly in FAANG companies, who talk like designers or engineers but who are unable to explain how their products will be profitable, who are unable to think in terms of margin or ROI, and who find it challenging to comprehend how broader societal trends affect product choices.

Being very tactical is bad for a PM, particularly if you want to advance beyond IC.


Since consultants prefer to think analytically and systematically, the skill set is not all that different. The work is undoubtedly interesting; I myself interned there while I was in graduate school.

However, the main hazards include a lack of empathy for their client, their team, and their stakeholders, as well as a process-focused approach (creating slides or spreadsheets) rather than one that truly drives results.

I wouldn’t hire someone directly into PM from MBB unless they already have strong expertise in software engineering or design, possibly from their studies as well, but I have seen a lot of former consultants switch into Strategy and Operations first, then Product management in the same company, which is undoubtedly more logical.


Yes, I became acutely aware of this when I accepted a position with a company that turned out to be nothing more than a collection of former consultants. Beautiful PowerPoint decks and spreadsheets were used to present the results, but they lacked depth. Instead of results, it was all about outputs. That’s another reason why I left after 3.5 months: given the current state of the industry, I couldn’t imagine staying in that setting.


I find the PowerPoint deck culture to be really strange. After merging with another firm, our heavily document-driven product organization changed, and now everything must be presented in stunning, branded color slide decks. I haven’t had to utilize that talent in a very long time, and now I’m being judged because of it. It will be wonderful, of course, but I do miss our document/prose culture because it felt so much more comprehensive.


Without a doubt, they are ruining it.

Take a peek at the numerous postings requesting frameworks and templates.

Bunch of numptys. Their primary objective is to enter the tech industry for the increased pay and title; they have no notion what a product is. They are step-followers, order-takers, and total drones with extreme anxiety. They will turn on you, have no empathy for others, just think about themselves, and bring politics.


This happened to me last year.

I once saw someone set arbitrary deadlines and speak to his staff in a way that would make a poor dog trainer blush while I was working with another engineering team led by a PM who had previously worked for a big brand name.

Our portion of the integration was accomplished months ago, but they made no mention of any further developments.

Then, one day, they were fired by the parent business and removed from my Slack org.


I would argue that not all requests for templates, frameworks, or procedures come from consultants.

People who are just getting started in PM could look for more confirmation that what they’re doing is correct. Let’s face it, most businesses don’t really have a system in place to encourage and develop PM skills. Throughout my experience in PM in a variety of jobs, a lot of the advise I’ve seen and heard is often vague at best.

To have a viable product on the market, there should be a solid balance between hard data (science), determining what problems are worth solving for your clients (art), and combining these two.

Although I agree with your assertion that processes and templates are not a panacea, I do believe there is value in having conversations about what works for individuals at various stages of a product’s and company’s growth. There will always be people at different stages of their careers, and not everyone will have the experience to know that while it’s helpful to contextualise problems in a way that can be solved, that those things are merely tools and need to be treated as such. The reality is that there will never be this sort of purity to the craft that you’re aspiring to.


Sigh I can connect. They are a lot in my organization, which is a complete disaster.

Not even tried to grasp the product, the architecture of the product, etc.

Even though I was a beginner and switched careers in the middle of my career, shouldn’t you at least be humble and willing to learn?


The politics and backbiting I’ve observed have become extremely, extremely widespread among everyone in technology, not just consultants. I want to quit the entire industry because of it.


@PriyaVarma, there are competent people working as consultants. The value of consulting might vary.

But in this case, a typical consultant is someone who:

Creates slides based on two weeks of quick study and suggests “hey you should do this” without taking responsibility for the results.

Status-seeking MBB types who may be competent at the product transition but offend the more DIY/libertarian/hacker types who made up the original tech body with their arrogance, elitism, and credentialism.


@RobMartin, How many consultants have you worked with as Product Managers to form such an opinion?


No less than twelve if we limit it to software/AI since Covid started. Prior to this, I had a sizable amount of experience working with McKinsey/QuantumBlack and even some Deloitte personnel. Actually, by removing the failures of many of these folks, my AI business was able to emerge from seed and into a fair growth phase (160mm raised).

Having said that, I’ve also come across a number of smart, accomplished individuals who also happened to work as consultants. It’s not a one-size-fits-all thing, as I previously asserted, yet it seems that I still made that generalization, :slight_smile: .


Is anxiety a contributing role in their poor PMs? I’m a PO who wants to become a PM, however I do struggle with anxiety and ptsd. My curiosity about what the ex-consultants’ nervousness motivates them to accomplish has been piqued by your statement, and I’m trying to figure out how to prevent letting it effect my performance.


@NatashaMartin, You’ll be all right. I personally experience anxiety, but everyone has some kind of fear or insecurity. The common problem for some individuals who have come from renowned consulting firms is the attitude that they know better than everyone else, including developers and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), lack of empathy for users, a lack of focus on driving execution, and a strong emphasis on process and rigorous frameworks.

It was an excellent foundation for me to begin as a PO. It helped me to empathise with and comprehend developers and architects greatly. I also developed a strong understanding of how my product operated from end to end. Having a strong foundation in prioritisation, dependency management, and a concentration on execution/deploying to prod are the other major advantages of beginning as a PO.

I didn’t understand how many of these skills were lacking in people who just jumped into the role until I started working as a project manager.


High responsibility is a hallmark of PM; your product decisions will make or break you.

Consulting frequently isn’t… Due to lack of investment, it is not uncommon for a business or its engineers to be left to pick up the pieces.

There is value in someone with experience supporting products through various lifespan phases and who can adopt a long-term perspective (for most products, but not all).


@LawrenceMartin, Recently, a long-time consultant who had never had to plan more than six months in advance transferred over. And it does, to be honest

I frequently discover consultants to be excellent pitchmen, editors, or occasionally both.

I haven’t yet encountered somebody who is a terrific builder or supporter, both of which I believe are essential for product success (in tech at least).

Additionally, although it’s not really their fault, they frequently don’t have the ICs on their side, and that’s just, well… Isn’t that one of the main responsibilities of the position?