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Good framework to use for public sector or non-profit cases

non-profit Public Sector
New answer on Nov 17, 2020
5 Answers
3.8 k Views
Anonymous A asked on Oct 08, 2020

Especially for questions like "should the government implement this project" (Project launch question when profit is not the key metric)

I have been trying to revise my structure for project launch evaluation questions (which consists of market attractiveness, project economics (ROI calculation/Payback period), and non-financial considerations). That is when profit to be the main metric to measure success. How can I change this framework to fit a public sector case? I believe the government also wants to discuss profit or cost effectiveness despite it not being their first priority for these projects.

Thank you!

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Best answer
replied on Oct 09, 2020
McKinsey Senior EM & BCG Consultant | Interviewer at McK & BCG for 7 years | Coached 350+ candidates secure MBB offers

Hi! The most important message first:

>>> There is no conceptual difference between profit and non-profit cases! <<<

This perception just comes from the tradition of "case frameworks" that have been spread across the globe in the last 15 years. In my experience, using these frameworks to approach cases is extremely damaging to your ability to think through issues, hence making it far more difficult to be successful in MBB interviews.

If you really understand how to tackle strategic issues, it is completely irrelevant whether your focus metric is profit or something else! It can be quality of an education system, vaccination share in a population, youth unemployment rates, or hundreds of other things. It just makes ZERO difference to the approach if you really think through it in a rigorous way.

It also has absolutely nothing to do with "knowledge" about public sector (this is NOT what MBB are testing! Kowledge is irrelevant for the assessment of generalist candidates if they show the problem solving abilities needed!).

In essence, what you always have to do in order to set up a robust approach is to, firstly, define the objective (if it is not profit, it usually needs to be clarified into a clear KPI (like, e.g., share of children going to school)).

The rest then depends on the form of the question.

  • If the question is something like "How can we achieve XYZ?", then you disaggregate this metric into its conceptual drivers, usually one or two layers deep. An THEN you develop qualitative ideas how to infliuence these conceptual/numerical drivers.
  • If the question is "Should the client do XYZ in order to achieve ABC", then you need to first define the criterion when ABC is attained. And then you need to assess each element of the criterion to check whether and how you can realistically meet it. This sounds a bit abstract, but it is extremely straight forward and easy to conceptualize once it is properly shown and explained.

Cheers, Sidi

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Content Creator
replied on Oct 08, 2020
#1 BCG coach | MBB | Tier 2 | Digital, Tech, Platinion | 100% personal success rate (8/8) | 95% candidate success rate

My approach

Public sector cases are tricky because they feasibly be any case type (Product Launch - new service for citizens; M&A - merging two departments; even Profitability - cost cutting mandate). For any public sector case, I recommend:

  1. First identifying the type of case it is.
  2. Second, leverage your knowledge of the public sector as constraints/considerations.


Regards #2, you know that public perception is particularly important to consider in any public sector move. Additionally, you can count on bureacracy/slowness in implementation. You should identify the goal/mission of the organisation as well and keep this top of mind (if it loses money, but achieves it's goal of helping the poor, no problem). Howvever, just because the government sector doesn't have profit as a target, doesn't mean you should ignore the profit tree altogether - governments are still obliged to take into costs (and sometimes revneues) in decisions (example: setting up a public transport initiative). Don't get tricked into thinking you can't consider the economics of the case!

Other items to consider include, but are not limited to:

  • Politlcal landscape (i.e. upcoming elections, special interest groups)
  • Sustainability
  • Private-public partnerships
  • International vs governmental vs state vs local partnerships/alignment
  • Income = taxes/budgetary landscape
  • Digitialization of government

Framework Resource

In terms of resources, the UPenn Wharton 2011 casebook has a framework for public sector. It's split into:

  1. Strategic rationale (Mission of organisation and stakeholder reactions)
  2. Deal economics (planned investment and returns, if any)
  3. Other (Required capabilities and risks)

Practice Cases

If you want some practice cases:

  • Tepper 2008's "NGO Effectiveness"
  • Colombia 2011's "MadeCasse"

Hope this helps, and please don't hesitate to ask any follow-up/clarifying questions!

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Content Creator
replied on Nov 17, 2020
#1 MBB Coach(Placed 750+ in MBBs & 1250+ in Tier2)| The Only 360 coach(Ex-McKinsey + Certified Coach + Active recruiter)
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replied on Oct 16, 2020
BCG | Received offers from all MBB & Tier 1Firms | Supporting you secure your top tier consulting offer

Hi there,

Make sure you define the goal of the case at the beginning. This goal is not always profit-related and it can be literraly anything, so make sure you clarify this with your interviewer before drafting your structure.

I also agree with the other experts in saying that there is no difference between "for-profit" and "non-profit" cases in terms of the structure and the approach, the difference is rather on the goal of the case.

All the best,


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Content Creator
replied on Oct 09, 2020
McKinsey | Awarded professor at Master in Management @ IE | MBA at MIT |+180 students coached | Integrated FIT Guide aut


Many people ask about public sector and non-profit cases as if they were somehting totally different from the other cases.

However, they are not! The principals are the same.

Even when profit is not what we are looking for, profit is not always the target for the "rest" of the cases.

Hence, treat them as all cases: a business problem you need to help with .

Hope it helps!



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Sidi gave the best answer


McKinsey Senior EM & BCG Consultant | Interviewer at McK & BCG for 7 years | Coached 350+ candidates secure MBB offers
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