If you are solving a problem using the consulting process, you will use both the SCQA framework as well as the Pyramid Principle. SCQA will help you define your problem and the Pyramid Principle will help you synthesize your thinking and start thinking about how you may communicate your findings.

We can break the consulting process into five high-level steps:

#1 First, we define the problem!

We first start with defining the problem, making sure we are solving the right problem and not just a symptom of a deeper issue. To truly define a problem you want to gather as much data as possible. If you can do this in a team setting it will help you challenge each other’s perspectives and arrive at a better understanding of what’s going on. (To go deeper with defining a problem, you can also turn it into an issue tree.)

bottom-up sensemaking in strategy consulting

We use this to start thinking about a high-level approach to our problem, but not jump to any conclusions.

#2 Do some digging (Initial Research)

Once we define the problem, we want to do a little initial digging to confirm whether or not we are solving a real problem. We also will want to do the first scan of research to determine what some of the themes are.

bottom-up sensemaking in strategy consulting and pyramid principle

We’ll use the grouping and insight process of the pyramid principle to make sense of the information we have gathered.

#3 Formulate Your Questions & Hypotheses

top-down structuring using SCQA during the consulting process

From our initial digging into the problem, we likely have landed on a number of questions worth exploring. This will be the first time you start structuring your overall project into a group of questions or hypothesis. Remember the rule of three here to keep it simple for yourself. Grouping the questions will help you split up the work if you are in a team or at minimum to help you focus your attention in different areas.

#4 The Hard (and frustrating) Part – Fine-Tuning

Finding the “answers” to your questions is the next part and while it may seem straightforward it can be a frustrating process.
As you start to prove or disprove your hypotheses, you may find a few things happening:

  1. Your problem statement needs to be tweaked
  2. Your hypotheses may not be the right questions
  3. Your hunches about the direction of the findings is off and you need to rethink your approach to the research
  4. You are realizing that one factor in your research is much more important than you realized and may need deeper research

All of these are to be expected. You’ll want to get feedback from teammates and keep “pressure-testing” your own argument to what an outside audience might say. The key is to refine your thinking as soon as you get new information rather than clinging to a certain way of framing the information.

Fine-tuning the story over time

Towards the end of this phase, you’ll start to have a good understanding of the key themes of your research. This is the best time to start drafting an outline of your takeaways using the top-down pyramid principle approach.

You can do this by moving around full-developed or half-built slides as well as drafting an outline for yourself and seeing if you can iterate and find better ways of ordering your information.

Pro Tip: An executive summary is a great internal tool to write out your overall message and see if it makes sense to you. This helps you start to see flaws in the overall message.

#5 Telling The Story

Once you have done the final research to help fill the holes in your story, you’ll want write a final outline of your “story” – the main takeaway followed by your three main insights or arguments.

You’ll want to spend a lot of time thinking about your audience. What will resonate with them? What method of storytelling – direct or indirect – is best? What type of document to create?

communicate top down pyramid principle

To go deeper you can explore part two of the pyramid principle or twenty persuasion tricks for presentations.

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