Never Too Early to Innovate
Seven first-year consultants discover the value of innovation, networking and friendship.
After a full day of new-hire training, Tiffany Wan headed to an evening of networking at Deloitte University's (DU) "The Barn." It was September 2011, and, as a new member of Deloitte Consulting LLP's Strategy & Operations (S&O) Federal practice, Wan was looking forward to meeting colleagues who shared her interests and maybe even running into others she would be working with day-to-day.
Little did she know that that evening, not only would she meet a group of fellow first-year consultants, but that that group would go on to break new ground. Among those she met were Tyler Durchslag-Richardson, Vetan Kapoor, Heath Clayton, Canaan McCaslin and Ross Rocketto – all newly hired consultants in S&O.
While some knew each other from their graduate student days at Carnegie Mellon, they all quickly bonded and discovered that a number of the group held similar degrees in public policy and management, including Wan who attended Columbia for public administration. With a common jumping off point, lively conversation ensued.
Building a team
About a month later, Deloitte Consulting announced the second annual Federal Consulting Innovation Tournament, or T2 – an opportunity for consulting professionals to build a team and develop innovative solutions that address especially difficult client challenges.
"I received an email from Ross suggesting that we get together and consider entering the tournament," says Wan. "We all work in Washington and had stayed in touch since meeting at DU. We all agreed it would be worthwhile. I had talked to colleagues who had participated in the previous competition, and they all said it was a great experience."
From the beginning, Wan and the others knew they wanted their tournament entry to focus on the intersection of finance and public policy – a turf in which all the players had practical experience and a strong professional interest. It was Clayton who first came up with the idea for what the team labeled "Proactive Policy Analysis (PPA)." It was a concept based largely on the experience that Clayton had while working with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services where he saw firsthand how the giant department consistently scrambled to react to government policies and mandates.
"I saw a need to help these large federal agencies and departments be more efficient by proactively preparing for incoming legislation and memos," says Clayton. "I suggested we develop an offering that would use our understanding of policy and its impact on financial budgeting to advise clients on the impacts of pending legislation and demonstrate the return on investment they would gain from an ability to plan proactively."
Together, the team began to round out the talent needed to build out their idea. Wan turned to Nick Florek, another first-year S&O consultant with a master's in public policy from Georgetown's Public Policy Institute and a background in finance and accounting. They devised the financial modeling for the project and proposed that the team create cost models – an idea that would become a central element of the new offering.
Clayton, McCaslin and Rocketto leveraged their many years of experience in the White House, on Capitol Hill and in the field of political communications to devise the policy scenarios upon which the cost models were built. Durchslag-Richardson and Kapoor provided their strong research skills and identified real-world examples of where PPA could help.
Refining an idea
"Given the unprecedented budgetary, legislative and policy uncertainty faced by every aspect of the federal government, we wanted to develop a timely idea that would incorporate our policy focus with all the other resources Deloitte has to offer," says McCaslin. "As a professional services organization, we are able to provide an outside perspective and help agencies look into the future, which is not something they consistently do."
According to Wan, Deloitte estimates the dollar value of the risks associated with each policy decision. "We are capable of providing ‘What if' analysis in any number of scenarios by modeling real-life changes in the economic landscape," she says. "Our idea can help government agencies mitigate the policy risks by bridging the knowledge gap between an agency CFO, its program divisions and its office of legislative affairs. This is value adding as performing this type of analysis in an integrated and dynamic fashion is an area of need focus for the government."
In other words, the team's idea would simulate the effects of budget cuts, policy and other factors on agency budgets, allowing an agency or department to proactively prepare for legislative or policy changes instead of just reacting to them. The result would be operating efficiencies and cost savings.
Feeling good about their idea, the seven first-year consultants entered it into the T2 Tournament. And with a team name like PB&J (Policy, Budget and Jitters), their idea couldn't help but garner attention.
"The tournament was a good way of getting involved and presenting what we thought was a strong idea," says Florek. "We were exposed to many leading Deloitte policy thinkers and leaders whose feedback lent differing perspectives that led to refinements to our thinking and helped us find a balance between our understanding of policy and the applicability of our idea to the marketplace."
The T2 judges agreed, and PPA (formerly known as PB&J) made it into the competition's final round where they finished as one of the top four projects.
"A key area of focus for our strategy service line is to help clients more effectively handle the impact of policy changes or to use policy to help them become more efficient in achieving their mission," says Ed Van Buren, a principal with Deloitte Consulting LLP and the Federal strategy service line leader. "PPA, as developed by this team of young professionals, directly supports our strategy in that way. It's a highly relevant idea and a great example of the innovation that can happen when our professionals are empowered to employ their creativity."
The PPA team is now piloting its framework and model internally with select Deloitte clients, building on the many valuable lessons that Wan and her colleagues learned from its development. "One big takeaway for me," says McCaslin, "is the realization that innovation doesn't need to be expensive or occur way outside the box. Sometimes real innovation just comes by asking how we can do something better or differently."