Problem Solving: The McKinsey Way
Updated: Jan 6
February 1999 saw the publication of The McKinsey Way by Ethan M. Rasiel, followed by The McKinsey Mind in 2002. Rasiel was a former associate of management-consulting powerhouse McKinsey & Company. Since its founding in 1923, McKinsey & Company has become one of the world’s most successful strategic consulting firms.
In his book, Rasiel shared his anecdotes on how to solve business problems and insights on how McKinsey thinks about business problems, showing us what it means to be fact-based, structured, and hypothesis-driven.
The McKinsey problem-solving process begins with the use of structured frameworks to generate fact-based hypotheses followed by data gathering and analysis to prove or disprove a hypothesis. A hypothesis greatly speeds up the quest for a solution by sketching out a road map for research and analyses that will guide the work throughout the problem-solving process, all the way to the presentation of a solution.
McKinsey has leveraged its experience with structured problem solving through numerous frameworks that help its consultants rapidly visualize the outlines of many common business situations. Your company may have its own frameworks, and you should take advantage of them if possible. Otherwise, develop your own problem-solving tool kit based on your experience.
Thus, framing the problem, followed by gathering the necessary fact-based information and giving the structure to the problem is a good start. Ask yourself:
What is the problem?
What are its dimensions?
What are we going to do?
Is it achievable?
Do we have the resources financially?
Can we get the support need?
What are the potential ramifications? Now, we’ve reached the “end product” which means, the actual message that you will communicate. According to McKinsey, this is a subtle distinction but a meaningful one. Your interpretation of the data leads to a story, that is, what you think the data means. You select those portions of the story that you believe your audience needs to know in order to understand your conclusion, along with the supporting evidence, and you put them together into your end product.
Finally, you’ll communicate that end product via one or more presentation media. Rasiel finished his book with the following statement: “Find the truth wherever you can, and the world will be a little bit better for it. We hope this (insights) helps you in your quest”. Understanding the problem-solving process make a better company, and also a better world.
Ethan M. Rasiel & Paul N. Friga, 2002, “The McKinsey Mind: Understanding and Implementing the Problem- Solving Tools and Management Techniques of the World’s Top Strategic Consulting Firm”, McGraw-Hill, USA