Monday, July 22, 2013

What is a "3-4-5 Consultant"?

There are many terms in consulting that just sort of seep through our consciousness without needing to be defined. But this kind of "consultantese" can mean trouble for newbies. So it is with "3-4-5", an important but opaque term of art in this industry. What does "3/4/5" mean to a consultant?

Put plainly, "3-4-5" means that, for each week you're working:
  • You'll spend 3 nights at hotels
  • You'll spend 4 days working at the client site
  • You'll spend the fifth day back at the office
In other words, a 3-4-5 consultant can be expected to be away from home for four days and three nights just about every week.

Usually, the "3-4-5" schedule looks like this:
  • Board a regional jet Monday at 5:30 AM for a flight to some lame city (Rochester? St. Louis? Frankfurt?), spend a long Monday at a boring office park, skip dinner, and get a late check in at the Hampton Inn (since that's the best they've got out there)
  • Listen to a bunch of dispirited B- and C-players complain about their life all day Tuesday and Wednesday at the client site, the Applebee's, and the "inn"
  • Pack up Thursday morning, skipping the waffles, and make an excuse to disappear at noon so you can fly back home before missing another night
  • Fill out expense reports and attend "team meetings" all day Friday

Metaphorically, however, "3-4-5" is a promise from the firm. It means they intend to achieve some mythical level of "work/life balance" by "allowing" you to be home more than half your nights. "We're the good guys," they'll claim during your interview. "Unlike those body shops, we give our consultants a 3/4/5 week, treating them like the professionals they are!"

The new hire hears this and immediately dreams up a "3-2-2" scheme, traveling all day Monday, eating at fancy restaurants and going out clubbing three nights, and heading home first thing Thursday before skipping the last day of work. Do not fall into this trap. This is not how it is!

In reality, "3-4-5" often devolves into "4-4-5" or even "5-5-5", since the client never agreed only to have you on-site four days. Plus, "we have a staff meeting first thing Monday, and where were you Thursday at 4:30 when we needed you?" I've known many consultants who fly on Sunday and Saturday, even!

So there you have it. An ideal "3-4-5" consultant spends three nights and four days on the road. Sometimes.


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