MECE is every consultant’s favourite principle. It is the chief characteristic of every slide, conversation and thought for a consultant.

MECE means mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive. It is designed to limit the number of uncoordinated project parts, make sure everything is covered and ensure that nothing is covered twice.

Barbara Minto originally coined the term and it underlies her Pyramid Principle.

When thinking about a consulting interview, this will be critical for case studies. However, it will also be vitally important that you show examples where you have used this or similar principles in your experience to date. How did you think about the problems facing your student organisation? Would MECE have helped you do it better? If you can fit this into a FIT interview or imply it in a cover letter, definitely do so!

Usage

MECE breaks down a seemingly big and wide-ranging concept into smaller buckets. That means that the content of the buckets won’t overlap with any of the over buckets and as a whole, the buckets cover the entire extent of the problem.

It can be used for a whole range of things both in business and just in life. The most simple form of MECE is just to break-down a list. A group of people can be divided up by country of birth. For a consulting example, if, during a project, a consultant needs to consider the problems of a merger, three MECE buckets might include the following:

  1. Technological integration problems
  2. Cultural integrations problems
  3. Tax and legal problems

This is a simplified example, but strategy consultants employ this idea on a vast range of problems. Any “consulting framework” that you come across will almost certainly be mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive.

The difficult part here is of course choosing the right buckets. On a business case there might be unlimited variables and so they can be hard to categorise and might seem to overlap extensively. This is one of the biggest challenges to facing a case interview. For example, cultural merger problems relate to the personnel whose country of origin and place to work is important for taxation.

For breaking down a full case, this is obviously harder. The only simple iteration is in profitability problems. 99% of the time that looks like the following:

  • Break down profits into revenues and costs.
  • Break down revenues into volume and price.
  • Costs are then broken down into fixed costs and variable costs.
  • Variable costs can be further broken down depending on the type of business into volume and cost per unit.

For other issues like market entry etc, it will be entirely context dependent.

Problems

Of course, this methodology has earned extensive criticism. Most importantly, it is often unclear whether mutual exclusivity is beneficial or important. For example, if a consultant is thinking about a profit chain, and splits the problem into two buckets, revenue and cost, it could hide more than it reveals. Distribution is just one issue that go in both or either.

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