Home Business The MECE Principle: How to Adopt the MECE Mindset

The MECE Principle: How to Adopt the MECE Mindset

by Olufisayo
The MECE Principle

If there was a vote for the most popular word in a consultant’s vocabulary, the chances are that the word would be “MECE”.

Most people outside of the consulting world will not even be familiar with it and a lot of consultants that use it won’t even be sure that they’re pronouncing it correctly. But still, every problem you come across will raise the question “Is my approach MECE?”.

Ok, saying it would be THE most popular word among consultants might be a bit over the top, but that’s because the MECE principle is something that is considered the most basic knowledge in the consulting world.

You need not only know how it works and what it is, but you need to know how to use it in every situation and adopt the MECE way of thinking when approaching pretty much any problem you get.

Defining the MECE Principle

The MECE principle is a framework used for solving complex problems by organizing them and breaking them down into sets of smaller ones. The name MECE stands for Mutually Exclusive, Collectively Exhaustive.

This means that the elements that you break the problem down into are not interlaced, aka they exclude one another, and that they are covering all possible options, hence the collectively exhaustive part. By thinking in this manner, you are approaching the problem logically and taking it to step by step, and this process is certainly topping the list of your consulting interview essentials.

MECE Example

To set an example, let’s divide the world’s population by age. Let’s use two groups – those who are under the age of 30, and those who are over the age of 50. Is this example MECE?

The answer is no, it isn’t. While these groups are mutually exclusive, as any person below the age of 30 can not belong to the group of people aged over 50, and vice versa, it is not collectively exhaustive. That leaves a huge gap of people aged between 30 and 50, so this division does not include ALL related elements, making it not MECE.

If we had divided the population into those who are 30 or younger, and those who are older than 30, that approach would be MECE. There is no intersection between the groups, and this method covers any possible human age, so this version would get the green light.

This is of course the most basic of examples just to explain the essence of the principle, real business problems are far more complex and involve gargantuan structures and issue trees to break the problem down efficiently.

Why Is It So Important?

It is systematic, efficient, and most of all, proven good infinite times over. It is a top-down structured approach to problem-solving that eliminates double work, provides good support for creating an issue tree, and helps make sure that you don’t leave out important elements of the problem.

By breaking the problem down into smaller chunks, you are creating an organized, systematic approach. This is a big plus, as in complicated business problems you need to isolate the key factors which can be worked on, and taking the MECE approach prevents chaotic structuring and premature assumptions.

By creating MECE subdivisions, you are making sure to avoid any double work by creating mutually exclusive subsets. You are also logically adding more subsets until you are certain that you have covered all the factors and all possible options that could be affecting the initial problem.

Using MECE In The Right Manner

MECE is obviously a great framework to use. However, to make it efficient, there are certain things you have to keep an eye out for when applying it in problem-solving.

For starters, you need to make sure that you are using the right drivers for segmentation. Logical thinking is essential here, as you need to analyze the problem beforehand and select the crucial factors by which you want to start the division into subsets.

For instance, if you’re calculating potential sales in the market for a product, you have the option of dividing your consumers in a variety of ways. Be it by age, income, gender, etc. However, depending on what exactly it is you’re selling and what type of consumers it attracts, not all of these factors will be important in your case.

Second, you want to make sure that you are using the right segmentation approach. Basically, you should be using the mathematical approach whenever the situation allows you to do so. This guarantees a MECE framework and is very precise, e.g. splitting a company’s revenue into Average Product/Service Price x Quantity.

Finally, you want to work your way through the issue tree in a top-down manner. You’ll be breaking every subset into more subsets until you reach the most simple of elements that could be the cause of the problem you’re looking into. Always keep your eye on the levels above your current subsets, as adding more factors and spreading your issue tree can sometimes affect them as well, changing your approach.

Once you’ve broken it all down and found possible causes, you can start working your way back up the tree with a preset hypothesis based on what you found in the simplified elements on the bottom of the issue tree. If it all checks out in the end, you’ve solved your problem. If not, you’ll see at which point your hypothesis is hitting a bump, and you’ll start over by editing or completely changing the hypothesis.

To Sum It Up

The MECE principle has been the root of consulting knowledge for a long time, and mastering it is considered one of the basic steps towards a successful consulting career. The better you get the hang of it, the more you’ll adopt it as a part of your mindset and use it when approaching any sort of problems, professional or personal.

You’ll make less mistakes, have a more organized and structured approach to things, and even communicate your solutions better by using the MECE principle.

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