MECE Principle: Solve Business Problems Like a McKinsey Consultant

When hiring new consultants, top firms, such as Mckinsey, Bain, and BCG all use case interviews as a part of their selection process. The goal of this interview is to show how good you are at solving a specific business problem.

MECE principle plays a big role when it comes to the problem- solving methods. McKinsey interviewers along with other firms will mostly look at whether you know how to structure information in a MECE format.

Without the help of this method, the chances of cracking the case interview are pretty slim. Don’t worry this is something you can learn and practice.

That’s why in this article we are going to show you how to solve a business problem like a true McKinsey consultant by using the MECE principle.

Let’s dive in!

What is MECE?

MECE, which stands for Mutually Exclusive and Collectively Exhaustive, is the core of the problem- solving frameworks in consulting. Check principles used by top consulting firms like McKinsey that show how good you are at solving a problem.

Basically, most consulting companies will require you to think in a MECE way. You should segment information into sub-elements that are Mutually Exclusive and Collectively Exhaustive.

Here’s what that exactly means:

Mutually Exclusive points at reducing complexity by avoiding overlaps. Your job is to make sure that all the possible groups or solutions are not accidentally considered twice. By Proving exclusiveness, you carefully look at each option, which finally leads you to a much deeper understanding of the issue.

Collectively Exhaustive ensures a comprehensive collection without leaving any alternatives. Exhaustive means that you have considered all the possible options. The goal is to divide a problem into categories with limited numbers of general groups.

Which one is more important?

A lot of people are wondering which one is better. Actually, that depends on the problem you are trying to solve.

Being Collectively Exhaustive is sometimes a priority, especially at the very beginning of your case project or a case interview. In a way, it covers a wider range of options.

On the other hand, being Mutually Exclusive can save you time by not examining sets of information that overlap.

Now, when we explained what kind of method is MECE, let us show you how to solve a business problem.

Think Like A Consultant

You need to start with the right mindset, a good consultant always searches for a better way to do things, and it’s open-minded when it comes to shifting ideas and approaches.

Since business is mostly about problem-solving, having hyper-analytical skills is quite necessary, but the good thing is that you can learn certain techniques in order to become a good problem-solver.

Listening, communication, logic, as well as analytical and critical thinking are the basic skills you need to work on.

Once your mindset is at the right place, you are ready to approach and take certain steps in solving a problem.

Remember, Always think about the problem clearly and ask yourself what kind of problem am I trying to solve?

Develop a Hypothesis

The first thing you need to do is to frame and develop a hypothesis for the sake of uncovering the issue.

When you are framing a problem that you are trying to solve, it’s imperative to clarify your objectives, audience, and context.

Your hypothesis needs to be specific, measurable, results-focused, time-bound, and of course, achievable.

Generally, there are two approaches when it comes to thinking in a structured way. The first one is thinking from top to bottom, which is a good start, especially if you are still new in the consulting business.

The second one is a bottom-up approach, which requires having deep research.

Structure Your Approach

You need to have an issue tree, which is actually a structured way of approaching the problem. Like we already mentioned, this is one of the most important parts because it gives you a chance to break down a complex problem into parts.

The crucial part of this stage, right after brainstorming, is to arrange your branches using the MECE principle, which means you need to organize them without any gaps or overlaps.
In case your issue tree has some overlaps, your analysis will be bad; without the MECE approach, you won’t be able to see what kind of issues are influencing the problem.

Prioritize Certain Issues

First, you should focus on the issues that have the biggest collision on the problem, among your issue tree branches.

Make sure you know exactly what problem you are trying to solve. That’s why you need to have a precise hypothesis before you even start getting the necessary data.

When gathering all the data and facts, it’s important to determine the differences between assertions, facts, and opinions.

Interpret Your Findings

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Be upfront and tell your solution, but the most important part is to explain why and how you got to the solution. Be straightforward when providing your answer but follow it with logic, facts, and evidence.

When talking about your solutions, always tell the 3 that are the best. That will make you think through your options and give you a structured and concise manner.

Don’t recommend solutions just so you can say something, always recommend what is implementable and practical as a solution.

Wrapping up

Being a consultant is not an easy job. Landing a job at a firm like McKinsey is even more difficult, but not impossible. Practicing different techniques and mastering the MECE principle will help you in getting a job.

To become a good problem –solver work on developing hypotheses, your structure approach, and of course, delivery.

As you could see, MECE is a simple but yet powerful problem structuring framework. Once you master it, you will be able to create logical and organized buckets of analysis that cover the whole set of sub-analyses. Not only will this help you in your consulting job, but you can also use it in your personal life, and it will help you stay more focused.