HBS FIELD 2 – A good sneak-peek into consulting

One of Harvard’s most interesting experiences during the first year of the MBA is FIELD 2. FIELD 2 is a program where students work in small teams to complete projects for companies operating in emerging economies around the globe. In my case, this meant being paired with five unknown classmates in a trip to Malaysia.

I was incredibly lucky. We were going to work with the global partner AirAsia X (our client), one of the most successful airlines in the world which, to the astonishment of the whole industry, has made low-cost long-haul flights a reality. I was very interested in the assignment because I had worked for Airbus as a project manager before coming to HBS and was familiar with the industry. However, I must confess that I was skeptical of the whole FIELD 2 concept: How much work can really get done in 10 days in the field, regardless of our US preparation? Will we really deliver value?

“Don’t worry, Yolanda. This will be like consulting: you are going to be amazed at the intensity of the experience”- One of my team mates, a former consultant, said when we landed in Kuala Lumpur.

And it was true.

My first surprise was to see was how open and collaborative AirAsia X was in its way of working: We had to solve a problem in limited time and therefore they made sure that we had access to all the resources we needed. Small meeting with the chief of marketing? Of course! Problems in understanding technology? Let’s ask the relevant engineers. Data on consumer insights? Sure! In other jobs, access to these resources is usually a limiting factor. As “HBS student consultants”, it became a matter of asking the right questions to gather the right information. The collaboration and partnership atmosphere helped us have a great start.

Getting to understand the real consumers was also a challenge. Interviewing passengers and realizing their actual needs, turned upside down part of the assumptions we had before arriving in Malaysia. Second consulting lesson then: make sure to get customer feedback early and that you don’t get lost in theory. Thankfully, this also went well.

As days passed I was not so optimistic though. Our team analyzed the data and tried to extract conclusions, but the first analyses did not answer our questions. Step by step we tried to understand what was going on: small financial model, excel data filtering, hypothesis validation with data… We were trying without success, and that made me nervous. However, by the end of our stay the pieces of the puzzle started coming together and the picture became clearer.

My consultant friend was not so surprised: “Yolanda, this always happens. The amount of work is substantial and at the beginning it seems that you won’t get to anything valuable… But the responses appear in the end if the work has been done properly”.

Before leaving Malaysia we made our final presentation to the CEO. He was satisfied with the results, happy to receive a fresh perspective and thinking about implementation and next steps. It felt great to have such impact, helping in the understanding of customer behaviors that the company didn’t know before, and setting it more prepared for improved financials with our project. The best part for me was working in the team. If I had been lucky with the client, I had been even luckier with the team. Spending so many hours with smart and fun people, getting to learn from them, and being so coordinated while still having such diverse backgrounds was fantastic. Overall, FIELD was a beautiful consulting experience that has reaffirmed my desire to work in consulting for the summer. Great work and great team.

– Yolanda Anton-Perez, MBA 2015

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