Is the problem-solving approach MECE?

Chip equity
New answer on Jul 31, 2023
3 Answers
asked on May 09, 2023

Dear PrepLounge Team,

This was an interesting case, however I was not sure if the framework provided here is MECE enough. The framework consists of feasibility, target company and financials (synergies). 

1. I find the bucket feasibility a little confusing, since market attractiveness and market competition do not seem to demonstrate if the deal is feasible. 

2. There is neither a bucket on the client company nor on the strategic fit. 

Therefore, my questions are:

1. I assume then this problem solving structure is either not complete, or it is not a framework for the case?

2. What would then be the most suitable structure for this case? I would suggest: 

- Target company in the market (meaning both OnBoard and the market. Or this bucket is too huge?)

- Client company (product, supplier, customer, feasibility of the deal)

- financial synergies (client|s profit from the deal, ROI)

- strategic fit (new opportunities, operations…)

- Recommendation yes or no + risks.

I am not very sure though about the framework, since every time in an M&A-related case I want to pack everything and examine every issue…

What do you think of the framework I proposed?




Overview of answers

  • Upvotes
  • Date ascending
  • Date descending
Best answer
Anonymous updated the answer on May 13, 2023

Respectfully, and even while I'm not a coach officially, I would urge you to:

A] Get a coach! You need to re-align your Prep strategy and your learning goals asap! 

B] Stop practising with whomever is/are reinforcing certain bad habits which suggest themselves just by the manner you have posed your question.

It is not possible for me to answer your actual question, but I will address the unasked questions which, in my estimation, take precedence. The two unasked questions are centred around Communication and Case Prep strategies.

1) Your communication needs critical work!
At a minimum, a consultant's communication needs to be:

  • top-down
  • issue-driven
  • directionally-linear

This is absent in your posting and will serve you poorly in interviews. The communication layout of your post would inspire distraction in most and impatience in many because it bears the following flaws:

a) The posting doesn't clearly establish all the questions you're trying to ask upfront. In other words, it is not top-down.

One is forced to dig, re-read, re-frame, fill in the gaps and then, guess (at best) that you have two questions you're asking: 

I - What is the best way to map Case prompts to effective frameworks/issue trees? and

II - Can you guide me on the effectiveness  of the framework I provided for the following Case of XX doing YY with ZZ? Metrics of effectiveness could include its ‘MEness,’ ‘CEness,’ hypothesis-driven approach, et cetera.

This roughly top-down manner is essential to set the tone for your query and signal to your audience that they know the critical questions and are about to be provided with critical context.

I can't see any happy outcome if you were to communicate in this manner in an interview. And while I know this is not an interview, the near-total absence of a top-down approach concerns me.

b) The posting omits or misplaces some of the most critical information to be considered in order to render an effective response. Consequently, the main issues are not clearly identified and cannot drive the narrative.

Unless I am much mistaken, there is no text of the actual Case Prompt for which you sought validation of the provided framework. This is a tell-tale sign that your Prep approach is focused on framework-memorisation and not on organic problem disambiguation.

(By the way, problem disambiguation is just a way of saying I want to break the problem into distinct components that can be analysed efficiently: for example, most Cases on examining Profitability of an entity would ‘disambiguate’ Profitability into Revenues and Costs as a starting element)

But back to why this matters. 

I find little context here to tell me how to disambiguate the initial problem and start driving towards the solution. Let me offer a rather indulgent analogy to illustrate why no two problems are alike and should therefore attract targeted solutions as opposed to plucking things off the shelf. If I came to you randomly and asked you the best way to cook a Steak dinner. You might look at me quizzically and say, "Well, I'm missing a  bit of context here: what's the actual cut of the Steak you're planning on cooking? Depending on the cut, my advice could differ dramatically. What cooking utensils are available: good oven? Cast-iron pan to do a reverse sear? I normally tell people to stick with a traditional sequence, but depending on what you have in your kitchen, you might have to do a reverse-sear and keep a closer eye on internal temperature which in the oven. What vegetables are in season to build the right pairing sauce? If you can get those wild Chilies with a bit of heat and the weather is right, a grill would be the way to go. But it it's going to be a conventional creamy mushroom sauce, you want to be more subtle with your cook. What are the preferences of your dinner guests: rare? medium-rare? And so on and so on.

Context matters. Depending on the combination of answers in my little analogy, we could be looking at several different options. All for the same Steak question.

For discerning consultants, no two Merger studies are the same…neither are any two Acquisition studies. Don't fall into that trap of saying to yourself, “Oh, this is an M&A Case; it needs 4 buckets, here they are.” 

c) The posting lacks linearity in a most distracting manner.

Cases, business conversations, and client presentations should proceed as time does: linearly and unidirectionally. Discourse that deviates from this will lose your audience's attention span.

While reading your posting, some of my emotions were as follows: 

i) You said "I find the bucket feasibility a little confusing, since market attractiveness…"

…which made me wonder: are we critiquing Casebook Case frameworks? I thought we were talking about a structure that is MECE that you wanted us to look at?

ii) Where is this framework we should be looking at? Oh, you already stated it above when you said, “The framework consists of feasibility, target company and financials (synergies).” Except, I find out later that it's actually not the framework you wanted us to consider. You saved the best for last (which you should never do in Consulting! Best is first and second-best is next).

iii) You said “I assume then this problem solving structure is either not complete, or it is not a framework for the case?” which again made me go back to see if you had provided the reference Case prompt. You hadn't.

At this point I gave up. But then I realised I could do better than giving up,  so, I tried to re-frame the conversation around questions you hadn't asked to create a related teachable moment.  

2) Your Case Prep strategy needs critical work!
For reasons that have, in part, been outlined above, your Prep strategy is reinforcing some bad habits which you need to stop. In addition to the Communication and other Communication-related lapses, I see that you are:

a) Boling the Ocean and hoping that some of that ‘ocean vapour' will resonate with your interviewer and score you points. Problem disambiguation and issue prioritisation (among other things) is why clients pay consultants millions of dollars. They don't pay them to choose from one of Mike Consentino's Case frameworks and apply them to the Case. If that's all it took, client engagements would be shorter, easier, and less prestigious. 

So, what can you do?

Switch to customising standard frameworks to the Case prompt at hand and supplementing the customised frameworks with additional elements that tie to the problem. Less of the cookie-cutter models is usually more.

b) Not driving the Case structuring with a hypothesis. This does not mean you need to state something explicit up front; rather, you should lean towards designing frameworks that drive in clear directions. Directions which make the case For or Against clearer and clearer as you progress.

So, what can you do? 

Get some coaching to explain the best way to open Cases, identify the main problems, establish a working ‘hypothesis,’ and build a structure that supports all those elements.

c) Believing, as many do, that Recommendations are an element of problem disambiguation. How can they be? Going back to my cheesy Steak analogy, the final result which my dinner guests see on their plates will be a reflection of all those questions I asked earlier. But the plate contents are an outcome. They are not ingredients that were added during the cooking process.

Having a ‘bucket’ of recommendations illustrates that the candidate may not have fully grasped why he or she is performing the analysis and how each new insight unlocked throughout the analysis is what ultimately builds the recommendation.

So, what can you do? 

Get some coaching or find better Case partners who have a more grounded perspective on what Case excellence looks like and who can guide you towards that.

If the tone if my response is overly-critical, please understand that it is not directed at you personally. It is merely to call attention to critical blind spots and re-align you for success.

EDIT: I may have missed that the actual Case prompt was included as a link. Great!  :-)


Was this answer helpful?
Tian on May 10, 2023

Dear Tyrion, firstly, cool name. Many thanks for providing your perspective. I did not take your critique personally and was able to take some time to think about it. These points were helpful for me: - the tendency to memorize the framework without much customization, or similarly put, no disambiguation or issue prioritization. That is true: I am struggling to grab everything and feel highly insecure when I haven't included all aspects suggested by a standard framework - I ask myself what if the key metrics/info I need for the decision of investment (Y or N) are/is left unnoticed. This might be my "mindset" of approaching a problem. This might account the most for my effort to "boil the ocean", and the only difference is that I deem every water vapor relevant, or potentially relevant... I have been trying to reverse this tendency but admittedly it has not been very successful. If you have further recommendations on how one can overcome this ocean-boiling mindset, I would be happy to know more. 2. Hypothesis-driven problem-solving structure. That is also true: I do not feel very comfortable yet coming up with a hypothesis in the beginning until I get all the information, even if I am cognitively aware of the effectiveness of this mindset. It might partly result from my academic background - conducting qualitative research does not necessarily need to set a hypothesis upfront (or that is not always possible esp. for exploratory studies), and that is what I have done for my Master's. 3. Recommendation as a bucket Yes, and you are right: Recommendations themselves are derived from the hypothesis proven in the steps (buckets) before and do not disambiguate the problem further. My remarks on the failing communication: At first, it was indeed my only question to ask if the structure is MECE enough, as I was not sure about some buckets in the answer, esp. if they really cover everything that needs to be considered in that respective area. Then I thought it might help to see why I find it not MECE enough: Because I have a different approach. Therefore I posted my own approach so people can understand the why and potentially express their views on my own approach (of course and its possible flaws). But I did not have enough time to change the title of my post since I was in a hurry heading out... Plus, as you realized later, the case link is attached somewhere automatically in my post. Best, Tian

Anonymous on May 10, 2023

Tian, may I invite you to PM me?

Tian on May 10, 2023

Sure! :))

Content Creator
updated an answer on May 10, 2023
MBB | 100% personal interview success rate (8/8) and 95% candidate success rate | Personalized interview prep

Hi Tian,

I'm really sorry but neither of these frameworks are good.

Neither Conclusion nor Recommendation can be a bucket. Financial synergies and strategic fit should be combined.

Target company in the market is ok, but should be split.

This is a classic M&A case:

  1. Market (Printed Circuit Board (PCB) - Is the market this company is in attractive….TAM
  2. Company (Onboard)- Is this company an attractive company (doing well in the market)…what's standalone value of firm (NPV)
  3. Combined Value (ONLY is this is M&A and NOT just buying a stake in the company)…net value of synergies minus dissynergies
  4. Deal Logistics - does it actually make sense. Comparing purchase price to valuation (from 1,2,3). Checking that we have the $, that we can actually integrate successfully, and the this is the best investment across alternative (hurdle rate, IRR target, etc.)

You need a fundamental mindset shift in how you framework. Please reach out for coaching. At the very least, read this:



Was this answer helpful?
Content Creator
replied on Jul 31, 2023
#1 McKinsey Coach by rating & recommendation rate
Was this answer helpful?
How likely are you to recommend us to a friend or fellow student?
0 = Not likely
10 = Very likely