The pyramid principle and MECE is a powerful combination of tools for making sense of large amounts of complex information and then structuring that information to be communicated in a memorable and powerful way.
Consulting teams use these two principles as guiding framework around the “how” – the consulting problem solving process. In a typical consulting project, making sense of information and coming up with your “story” is not a one shot deal. Typically the team iterates over and over again, sometimes hundreds of times, to get to the key takeaways.
Here is a simplified version of this process:
This can be a painful process – as you are challenging your ideas over and over again. If there isn’t a high degree of trust within the team or the team loses faith in the project leader, things can go off the rails quickly.
In my experience, however, the process is worth it. The type of work I’ve created in these teams far exceeds the quality of work I’ve created in other corporate environments. In typical corporate environments, the goal is not to get to the best answer, but instead to get to an answer that the boss will not criticize too much.
The Process – Both Top-Down and Bottoms-Up
As you see in the beautiful chart above, the consulting process is both a bottoms-up and top-down process. After defining your problem using the SCQA approach, you start researching. This is when you start using the Pyramid Principle and to structure your thoughts as well as revisiting some of your initial hypotheses.
Often as soon as you start researching you find that your initial assumptions or wrong or you missed a big piece of the puzzle. When you realize this, you take a step back and start revisiting some of your high level hypotheses. You might shift your initial structure and hypotheses for how you are thinking about the problem. This may repeat over and over again – a shift back and forth between bottoms-up rabbit holes and town-down re-assessment of the problem and key questions.
Here is a more detailed breakdown of the process with what happens at each phase of the project:
A student who took my course and was looking at this slide asked “how long does this process take?” The actual chart may be a lot messier and have a lot more ups and downs, but would be typical at a conceptual level for a three month project that a consulting firm would work on.
This chart might also map to a 3-hour solo research session that I might do on a certain topic. Instead of working with a team, I would go through my own process of challenging my thinking and continually refining the framing and questions through deep research.
Explore More 👉 For a deeper dive on this process and see how it fits with the SCQA and Pyramid Principle frameworks click here
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