22 Jul 2020 20:41 IST

Six steps to problem solving in management consulting

A solution can be open-ended and complex in a business situation

Mathematics has been my favourite subject since childhood. So, at BCG, when I was told that problem-solving is one of the most valued skills in consulting,I felt I was in my comfort zone. However, with the problems being as open-ended and complex as typical consulting problems are, quantitative skills are just helping tools. And soon, I realised that problem-solving in consulting is a broader, and more encompassing space with the following six fundamental steps.

Structured thinking through MECE

As the name suggests, MECE, or Mutually Exclusive and Collectively Exhaustive, is a way to think and structure a problem which ensures that the solutions are robust to scrutiny and flexible to future changes, irrespective of the problem's complexity. It differentiates a group of English sentences from a strategy. From an overarching problem statement such as finding the impact of Covid-19 on a bank's portfolio; to the nth level analysis such as the likelihood of an account X to default, MECE is the bread and butter for any consultant.

Filter information through the 80-20 rule

Prioritisation is of essence while navigating through the sea of information available today, with timelines being so stringent. As the Pareto principle says, 80 per cent of the effects come from 20 per cent of the causes, one needs to pick relevant information smartly.

Look for 'So What?'

Upon analysing the above-filtered information, one can draw out multiple inferences. While some inferences may seem fancy and exciting on the face of it, one must take a step back and ask, "So what?" How does it add up to the overall end objective that one is trying to achieve? This makes the logic watertight. Getting into detail, this gets more easily missed than one would expect.

Look for things which others would have missed

Life is a bell curve. If you do what everyone else is doing, you will likely fall at the median. To move to the top ten percentile, one needs to question continuously - What is unique about the proposed solution? What are you doing that others are not?

Are the recommendations practical?

The proposed solution should be practical. In the context of the client's capabilities and restrictions, one needs to evaluate if the solution is implementable. A solution which is not practical will never go under implementation and thus will realise no value.

Use the pyramid approach for communication

Unless effectively communicated, even the most nuanced analysis holds little relevance. The pyramid approach of starting with the big picture and then digging into the specifics helps to improve the audience's comprehension.

The above six steps look intuitive but require conscious practise before they get naturalised. I wrote these on sticky notes and posted them on my working desk. By the end of the internship, I started using these more spontaneously,which made me confident about problem-solving.

(The writer is currently pursuing his MBA from IIMA. He is a mechanical engineer from IIT Bombay and has worked with EY for three years. He is passionate about both numbers and narratives. A trekking and debating enthusiast, he enjoys exploring social psychology and finding links between morality and law.)

Recommended for you