If you are solving a problem using the consulting process, you will leverage the SCQA framework and the Pyramid Principle. In the way I teach students and clients about the consulting process, it involves shifting back and forth between the top-down modes and the bottom-up modes of analysis.

SCQA will typically play a bigger role in the top-down mode, while Part 1 of the Pyramid Principle will help you in the bottom-up mode, and then Part 2 will help you 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 by defining the problem and 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 better understand what’s going on. (To go deeper with defining a problem, you can also turn it into an issue tree.)

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 will shift back into the bottom-up mode and poke around in the information we have. If it’s a very data heavy type of project, this might involve a few hours of familiarizing yourself with a data set.

While doing this, you want to ask yourself, “What themes are standing out?” and “How is this impacting my initial conception of the problem?”

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

From our initial digging into the problem, we likely have landed on several questions worth exploring, some of which may be different than the initial problem that we defined. This will be the first time you start structuring your overall project into a group of questions or hypotheses. 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 are 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 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.

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 to 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?

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

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