Book of the Week: The McKinsey Way

In this weeks edition of “The Book of the Week” I would like to present you “The McKinsey Way: Using the Techniques of the World’s Top Strategic Consultants to Help You and Your Business”. The book was released in 1999 by worlds famous business consulting company McKinsey. It was published at Mcgraw-Hill Professional publishing house.

You can subdivide the book in two parts. Part One is about The Mckinsey way of thinking about business problems, the second part is about The McKinsey way of working to solve business problems. For now we gonna take a look at the first part of the book…

Building the solution

  • Facts are friendly: Facts are the bricks with which you will lay a path to your solution and build pillars to support it. Don’t fear the facts.
  • Feel free to be MECE (Mutually Exclusive, Collectively Exhaustive): Too structure your thinking when solving business problems (or anything, for that matter), you must be complete while avoiding confusion and overlap.
  • Solve the problem at the first meeting – the initial hypothesis (IH): Solving a complex problem is like embarking on a long journey. The initial hypothesis is our problem-solving map: Defining the IH, Generating the IH and Testing the IH

Developing an approach

  • The problem is not always the problem: Sometimes a business problem will land on your desk and you will be told to solve it. Fair enough. But before you go rushing off in any particular direction, make sure you’re solving the right problem – it may not be the one your were given.
  • Don’t reinvent the wheel (part 1): Most business problems resemble each other more than they differ. This means that with a small number of problem-solving techniques, you can answer a broad range of questions. These techniques may be somewhere in your organization, either written down or in the heads of your fellow employees. If not, use our experience to develop your own tool kit.
  • …But every client is unique (No cookie-cutter solutions): That there are many similarities between business problems does not mean that similar problems have similar solutions. You have to validate your initial hypothesis (or our gut) with fact-based analysis. This will put you in a much better position to get your ideas accepted.
  • Don’t make the facts fit your solution: Avoid the temptation to view your initial hypothesis as the answer and the problem-solving process as an exercise in proving the IH. Keep an open and flexible mind. Don’t let strong initial hypothesis become an excuse for mental inflexibility.
  • Make sure your solution fits your client: The most brilliant solution, backup up by libraries of data and promising billions in extra profits, is useless if your client or business can’t implement it. Know your client. Know the organization’s strengths, weaknesses, and capabilities – what management can and cannot do. Tailor your solutions with these factors in mind.
  • Sometimes you have to let the solution come to you: The McKinsey rules of problem solving, like all rules, have their exceptions. Your will not be able to form an initial hypothesis every time. Sometimes, the client will not know what the problem is, just that there is a problem. Other times, the scope of your project will be so large – or so vague – that starting with an IH will be worthless. Still other times, you will be breaking new ground and nothing in your experience will point to a solution. Don’t panic! If you get your facts together and do your analyses, the solution will come to you.
  • Some problems you just can’t solve… Solve them anyway: Eventually, you will run into a brick wall that is tougher than your head. Don’t keep pounding; it has no effect on the wall and does your head no good.

80 / 20 and other rules to live by

  • 80 / 20: The 80/20 rule is one of the great truths of management consulting and, by extension, of business. You will see it wherever you look: 80 percent of your sales will come from 20 percent of your sales force; 20 percent of a secretary’s job will take up 80 percent of her time; 20 percent of the population controls 80 percent of the wealth. It doesn’t always work (sometimes the bread falls butter-side up), but if you keep your eyes peeled for examples of 80/20 in your business, you will come up with ways to improve it.
  • Don’t boil the ocean: Work smarter, not harder. There’s a lot of data out there relating to your problem, and a lot of analyses you could do. Ignore most of them. Find the key drivers Many factors affect your business. Focus on he most important ones – the key drivers.
  • The elevator test: Know your solution (or your product or business) so thoroughly that you can explain it clearly and precisely to your client (or customer or investor) in 30 seconds. If you can do that, then you understand what you’re doing well enough to sell your solution.
  • Pluck the low-hanging fruit: Sometimes in the middle of the problem-solving process, opportunities arise to get an easy win, to make immediate improvements, even before the overall problem has been solved. Seize those opportunities! They create little victories for you and your team. They boost morale and give you added credibility by showing anybody who may be watching that you’re on the ball and mean business.
  • Make a chart every day: During the problem-solving process, you learn something new every day. Put it down on paper. It will help you push your thinking. You may use it, or you may not, but once you have crystallized it on the page, you won’t forget it.
  • Hit singles: You can’t do everything, so don’t try. Just do what you’re supposed to do and get it right. It’s much better to get to first base consistently than to try to hit a home run – and strike out 9 times out of 10.
  • Look at the big picture: Every now and then, take a mental step back from whatever you’re doing. Ask yourself some basic questions: How does what you’re doing solve the problem? How does it advance your thinking? Is it the most important thing you could be doing right now? If it’s not helping, why are you doing it?
  • Just say, “I don’t know”: The Firm pounds the concept of professional integrity into its associates from their first day on the job, and rightly so. One important aspect of professional integrity is honesty – with your clients, your team members, and yourself. Honesty includes recognizing when you haven’t got a clue. Admitting that is a lot less costly than bluffing.
  • Don’t accept “I have no idea”: People always have an idea if you probe just a bit. Ask a few pointed questions – you’ll be amazed at what they know. Combine that with some educated guessing, and you can be well along the road to the solution.

Now that we took a long walk in discussing the problem we should take a short look at the second part of the book, solving the problems…for McKinsey this is basically selling a study.

Selling a study

  • How to sell without selling: Business problems are like mice. They go unnoticed until they start nibbling your cheese. Just building a better mousetrap will not make the world beat a path to your door. People who don’t have mice won’t be interested – until the mice show up; then they need to know you have the mousetrap. This might sound like the musings of a Zen monk (or perhaps a management consultant from California). But sometimes the right way to sell your product or services is not to barge into your customer’s home with a bunch of free samples. Just be there, at the right time, and make sure the right people know who you are.

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