Is design thinking important in consulting interviews?

McKinsey McKinsey & Company Problem Solving
New answer on Oct 06, 2022
6 Answers
1.6 k Views
Akanksha asked on Aug 21, 2022

Hello preplounge community, 

I have been trying to work on different areas of focus (issue trees, structuring, brainstorming etc) to improve upon my case interview skills, and someone just recommended a book “Bulletproof Problem Solving” for issue trees - co-authored by two ex-McKinsey consultants. 
 

It does have a wonderful chapter on logic trees, however, I was also drawn to reading different chapters, the one that I’ve recently read about was on trying to define a problem before solving it. 
 

The chapter basically focused on some level of design thinking before truly defining the problem statement. For example, a case on trying to save salmon population in pacific involved trying to decide key decision makers (government, organisation, fisheries etc), key drivers for decision makers (good reputation, model for philanthropy), constraints (time, measurability and focus on outcomes and not activities) etc, and refining the problem statement 2-3 times more by doing haphazard research in a very unstructured un-MECE manner before presenting what the real problem was, in this case, was about trying to balance diversity in ecosystem through adequate food and habitat conditions. 
 

Now talking about some actual cases that I’ve solved, did never include me defining the problem as such, as it was already known. All what is needed is to analyse factors connected to it, brainstorming in MECE ways trying to find the ”why’s“ and when hypotheses have been tested, trying to find the ”how’s” and advancing the best recommendation. 

 

Design thinking process, especially in the problem definition area seemed very messy, and did not cover all areas. Am I just wasting my time here, by trying to define the real problem that client is facing (in case interview setting, which they don’t test really)? is it worth looking into it? 

Overview of answers

Upvotes
  • Upvotes
  • Date ascending
  • Date descending
Best answer
Florian
Expert
Content Creator
replied on Aug 22, 2022
#1 rated McKinsey Case and PEI Coach | 5 years at McKinsey | Mentorship Approach | 120+ McK offers in 18 months

Hi there,

Good thinking and cool book you mentioned; definitely helps with tackling problems on a grander scale.

However, rest assured that in case interviews - and specifically for McKinsey, you already start with a well-defined problem/a clear client question that you need to investigate and solve/answer.

Luckily, no need for design thinking there.

At the core, McKinsey wants to see creative ideas communicated in a structured manner, the more exhaustive the better. In order to give you the opportunity to do that, you will start with a well-defined problem.

Your goal should be to come up with a tailored and creative answer that fits the question. The framework should - broadly speaking - follow these three characteristics:

  • Broad
  • Deep
  • Insightful

In a McKinsey interview, you can take up to 6-8 minutes to present your structure, your qualification, and hypotheses. This is due to the interviewer-led format that McK employs. The interviewer will only ask 'what else' if you 

  • haven't gone broad or deep enough
  • did not explain your ideas well enough for them to stand out (again, you have time here)

The firm wants to see exhaustive and creative approaches to specific problems, which more often than not do not fit into the classic case interview frameworks that were en vogue 10 years ago...

Again, this only applies if everything you say

  • adds value to the problem analysis
  • is MECE
  • is well qualified
  • includes a detailed discussion of your hypotheses at the end

If you want to learn more about that process, check out the article I wrote on McKinsey case interviews: https://www.preplounge.com/en/mckinsey-interview

Cheers,

Florian

 

Was this answer helpful?
Emily
Expert
Content Creator
replied on Aug 21, 2022
Ex McKinsey EM & interviewer (5 yrs) USA & UK| Coached / interviewed 200 +|Free 15 min intro| Stanford MBA|Non-trad

Absolutely this is something you do on a real case. Often in the early weeks of the project you realize that the real question that needs solving is a bit different to the one you thought were solving; or it was so loosely defined in the first place that you need to refine it through inquisition into what challenges the client is facing.

In a case interview though this isn’t what they‘re looking for! Make sure you’ve understood the question at the beginning by repeating back to the interviewer what you understand the case to be about and clarifying any areas thag you’re unsure about. But they’re not looking for you to redefine the problem. They want to know how you break down and explore the problem you’ve been given. 

Was this answer helpful?
Akanksha on Aug 21, 2022

Hi Emily, thanks for responding! Thank god, it isn’t what I think it was. Although I am curious, if design thinking to try to define a problem is really used, there must be a systematic way to do so! The process detailed in the book seemed overwhelmingly messy, to the point I was questioning where to even start, not knowing whether I’ll fully understand all the facts before moving ahead. I would imagine if a real client wants to solve a problem on profitability decline, and we discover through a customised profitability tree that the actual problem is something else ( such as poor service and hence losing customers as a result), then I might understand that we need to redefine the problem, because we did so in a structured, MECE manner. Could you elaborate how you guys do it? Am I correct in understanding using regular frameworks to further define a problem?

Emily on Aug 21, 2022

It's almost impossible to say how this process works - it differs by client, by partner, by project. Similar skills and approaches are used e.g., define and refine the problem and as you get more information, refine where appropriate. But don't worry about this! It's something that you learn on the job and to be honest, Partners carry most of the weight of. By the time they get a team on the ground most of the time you have a clearer direction of where you're going. What is important to take from design thinking is testing things early (e.g., test ideas in 'strawman' form rather than making something beautiful and it later turns out, entirely wrong; and always be open to shifting when you get more information). It's part of the fun of consulting! And of problem solving more generally.

Cristian
Expert
Content Creator
replied on Aug 22, 2022
#1 rated and most recommended McKinsey Coach | 97% success rate (tracked) | Honest feedback: no sugar-coating

Hi there, 

You might be slightly overcomplicating this. 

Design thinking helps, but it's not expected. If you know how to do it, go ahead and do it and if you handle it well, it will set you apart from other candidates. 

Otherwise, try working on cases directly and developing your skills organically (i.e., from case to case and reading how in the solution they suggest you do the structure), rather than reading about or learning issues trees or frameworks by heart. The latter approach is a bit like learning to cycle with helper wheels. It's useful, but very soon you need to take them off otherwise they'll slow you down or make you trip.

Best,

Cristian

Was this answer helpful?
7
Lucie
Expert
Content Creator
replied on Aug 21, 2022
10+yrs recruiting & top BCG trainer & BCG Project leader & experienced hire & ICF coach

Hi there, 

I agree with Emily, what is the most important is understand what the question is – what are you solving for - as questions are often ambiguous, e.g. “Should we invest?” Why the client wants to invest, what the client looks for (e.g. open new market and it is ok to subsidize the investment for 5 years, or do client wants to build a cash cow and receive profit of 20% at least?)?

Once you broke down the problem to smaller pieces and found what are you truly solving for, then it is easy. 

Hence dont obsessed with the different processes how to solve the case, as long as you understand WHAT is the problem and what moves the needle. 

Good luck,

Lucie 

Was this answer helpful?

Was this answer helpful?
Akanksha on Aug 22, 2022

Hello Lucie, Thanks for your input! Glad to know that all what’s needed is this. Sure thing, I’ll do the needful and won’t obsess over problem definition for now

Sofia
Expert
replied on Aug 22, 2022
McKinsey San Francisco | Harvard graduate | 5+ years of coaching| Free 15 min intro call | Personalized approach

Hello,

I thought Clara's advice was spot on. If design thinking is interesting and intuitive to you, go ahead and learn it and apply tools from it when appropriate. However, you will not be expected to do this in a case interview, and this is not what they are looking for. If you are struggling to wrap your head around it, I would recommend not worrying about it and proceeding with more standard approaches.

Was this answer helpful?
emmaparkers replied on Oct 06, 2022

I believe that marketing is a crucial element that must be considered while designing a website so that customers will be drawn in. I can accomplish it more quickly with the help of the tools on this website, https://masterbundles.com/templates/presentations/powerpoint/real-estate/ which also has a ton of fonts, themes, and other elements. This choice is what I advise!

Was this answer helpful?
0
Florian gave the best answer

Florian

Content Creator
#1 rated McKinsey Case and PEI Coach | 5 years at McKinsey | Mentorship Approach | 120+ McK offers in 18 months
878
Meetings
14,477
Q&A Upvotes
84
Awards
5.0
396 Reviews