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Outline: Learn how to use some of the techniques of one of the world’s top strategic consultants from McKinsey & co. to help you improve your academic performance and boost your grades. The following McKinsey problem solving techniques mentioned were revealed in “The McKinsey Way”, a book written by a former McKinsey consultant. This article is the first part of a series of articles on problem-solving techniques and methodologies that will help you break down problems like top consultants.

Problems are a daily challenge many people face at work every single day. Whether you’re solving a problem for a client, supporting those who are solving problems, or discovering new ones to break down, the problems arising in your way can vary a lot. Problem-solving – the process of working through details of a problem in order to break it down and reach a solution – is also something many university students have to deal with on a regular basis.

McKinsey consultants have their own set of problem-solving methodologies and these same methodologies can be applied throughout the university journey by students.

Thinking About Problems And Building The Solution

In order to solve the business problems their clients face, McKinsey consultants approach everything looking for ways to improve it. “Why is something done this way? Is this the best way it can be done?”. They are required to be profoundly sceptical about everything. The firm’s problem-solving process has three main attributes: the solution will be fact-based, rigidly structured and hypothesis-driven (FRH solution).

So first, you need facts. On the first day of an engagement, all members of the team dive into an ocean of articles and internal research documents to gather enough facts to be prepared to conduct an initial analysis of the problem for the first team meeting. After drawing up an initial hypothesis for the problem, the team then starts gathering the facts necessary to support or refute it. Basically, the whole process boils down to a quite careful, high-quality analysis of the components of the problem, aligned with an aggressive attitude towards fact gathering. Facts bridge the credibility gap, and that is one of the reasons why they are so important.

Any student can apply the same process, not only to solve any sort of problems, but also to know how to approach a certain course. This is much easier to do if you have feedback on a course from people who have already took it. Let’s say your problem is getting at least 17 (out of 20) on the Strategy I course (Nova SBE, MSc in Management). To solve this problem, first you should check out what people who already took that course have to say about it. Then, based on these facts, a careful planning is required and defining a set of hypotheses will exponentially increase the chances of reaching your goal. That way, you’ll have a plan for (or at least a fantasy about) what you’ll be doing as the semester progresses.

Structure Your Thinking

To structure your thinking when solving business problems (or anything, for that matter), a consultant must be complete while avoiding confusion and overlap. Top consultants use MECE (you should pronounce it “me-see”), which stands for “mutually exclusive, collectively exhaustive” and it is one of the key principles of the problem-solving process at McKinsey.

MECE starts at the top level of your solution – the list of issues making up the problem you need to solve. After you think you have determined the issues, take a hard look at them and ask yourself the following questions: is each one a separate and distinct issue? If so, then your issue list is mutually exclusive? does every aspect of the problem come under one and only one of these issues, that is, have you analysed all the relevant angles?

If you can’t find an answer straight away, just turn the problem inside out – you need to know the details of the problem. A definition of it is a starting point and then you need to define it further. The same structure can be applied to classes, and this is important to make you avoid asking stupid questions and annoy your peers and teachers.

Are You Trying To Solve The Right Problem? Is That Even A Problem?

Just knowing the essence of the McKinsey problem-solving process does not mean you can now go forth and ace your courses by being fact-based, structured, and hypothesis-driven. No two problems are identical and you must figure out how to approach each problem in order to devise the best solution for it.

Imagine that problem solving is something organic and complex, like medicine. A patient will come into a doctor’s office and say that he thinks he has the flu. He will then tell the doctor about his symptoms. The doctor will not immediately trust the patient’s conclusion: he will take the patient’s history, ask some questions, and then make the diagnosis. The patient may have the flu, or a cold, or something more serious, but the doctor will not rely on the patient to diagnose himself.

This is a problem that many students face, and most of them don’t even realize it: they are not able to realize what are the real problems they are facing, what is really keeping them from reaching their goals. So what can you do about it?

On the next article of this series we will provide further advice on more techniques leading companies are you using and how these same techniques can help you boost your academic performance.

DISCLAIMER: The articles featured on our platform were prepared or accomplished by students in their personal capacity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of UDUNI. UDUNI does not accept any responsibility or liability for the accuracy, content, completeness, legality, or reliability of the information contained in these articles. It is part of our mission to empower students, by providing them access to real testimonials and opinions, and we believe that is the reason why some of our articles may not please everyone.
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