Four concepts that should be part of every aspiring consultant’s toolkit. You use these concepts in interviews, in networking events, and even in conversations with consultants and clients in your day-to-day role. These concepts might be helpful for you in a broader perspective as well, with respect to any corporate job that you are doing right now. These concepts are
- MECE (pronounced mee-see)
- 80/20 or Pareto principle
- Top-down approach / Pyramid principle
- Elevator pitch
MECE, which stands for ‘mutually exclusive, collectively exhaustive’ sounds like a super complicated word, and is hard to understand at first glance.
But if you understand this topic, you are unlocking the fundamental way in which consultants think. It is essentially a way of breaking down a complex problem into simpler parts.
These parts in isolation do not overlap with each other (mutually exclusive), and together, cover every aspect of the problem (collectively exhaustive). This is difficult to visualize just with a definition, so let us give you an example:
Let’s say you are a consultant, and your client is a major automotive player in India. They ask you
“Why their sales are dropping, despite them being the top automotive player in the market”?
Right off the top of your head, you can think of a hundred reasons why this may be the case – maybe:
- There’s not enough customer demand?
- Production problems?
- Not investing in EV?
- Government has come up with new regulations?
Now let’s think of this in a MECE way, and structure this complex problem by breaking it down into simpler parts. Let’s break it down into two buckets – internal factors, and external factors. Individually, these are mutually exclusive – there can’t be an overlap between internal factors and external factors. And together, they are collectively exhaustive. Every reason you can think of will definitely have to fall within these buckets. THAT’S A MECE ANSWER
But this doesn’t yet answer the client’s question. So let’s try to be MECE with these buckets again.
FOR INTERNAL FACTORS
- It could be problems with the car itself or problems with the process in which cars are manufactured/delivered/serviced to customers.
- This again could be broken down further – problems with the car could be that there are engine problems, tire problems, or many other car-related reasons.
- Process reasons could similarly be broken down: maybe we are not manufacturing enough cars due to some bottleneck in the process, maybe delivery to customers is taking too long, maybe customers are not happy with the service provided, and many more
FOR EXTERNAL FACTORS
- It could be from a customer perspective, or competition perspective, or a government perspective (of course, there could be many more).
- For customers, maybe there is a new trend that customers strongly prefer hybrid vehicles.
- From a competition perspective, maybe our leading competitor is offering a new car model that is more attractive to prospective customers.
- From the government, maybe they are pushing for customers to purchase certain kinds of cars (locally manufactured? EV?). There could be many reasons.
But the point is that the internal and external reasons are independent of each other (mutually exclusive). And if you combine all the reasons, they cover a vast majority of possible reasons, or might even combine to give you an answer (collectively exhaustive).
That is MECE