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Luca

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8

Lost in the middle of cases

Hi all,

I have practiced around 30 cases as of now. I have noticed that my structure is actually very well organized, and actually is almost always in line with probable case solutions. The issue is just, that I run out of ideas during the case. Especially, when I am not familiar with the industrry, e.g. Telecommunication, where I find you need quite some industry knowledge to solve the cases.

My Question: Will my interviewer assist me a little bit in such cases and do you have any general advice on how to elaborate better on the structure I defined?

Hi all,

I have practiced around 30 cases as of now. I have noticed that my structure is actually very well organized, and actually is almost always in line with probable case solutions. The issue is just, that I run out of ideas during the case. Especially, when I am not familiar with the industrry, e.g. Telecommunication, where I find you need quite some industry knowledge to solve the cases.

My Question: Will my interviewer assist me a little bit in such cases and do you have any general advice on how to elaborate better on the structure I defined?

8 answers

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Hello,

There are some things that you can do when you feel lost in the middle of the case.
First of all: use your structure. Especially if you feel that your structure is well organized and in line with solutions, you ahve to use it. Everytime you have to be conscious of where you are in your structure and understand from there for the next step.

Secondly, do a little recap of your findings so far. It can help you both to take some time and to make clear the solution process that you are following.

If you have still no idea of where to go, you can ask for 30 seconds to think, and the interviewer will probably give you also some hints.

Hope it helps,
Luca

Hello,

There are some things that you can do when you feel lost in the middle of the case.
First of all: use your structure. Especially if you feel that your structure is well organized and in line with solutions, you ahve to use it. Everytime you have to be conscious of where you are in your structure and understand from there for the next step.

Secondly, do a little recap of your findings so far. It can help you both to take some time and to make clear the solution process that you are following.

If you have still no idea of where to go, you can ask for 30 seconds to think, and the interviewer will probably give you also some hints.

Hope it helps,
Luca

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Hi Anonymous,

it seems you have issues in terms of structuring inside the case. In general, I would recommend the following steps to improve how to structure inside a case:

  1. Recap the situation until that moment
  2. Ask for one minute of time to structure your thoughts
  3. Identify some key MECE areas. This is something you can do even if you have never seen that question before. If you go blank, you can use a structure as X vs Non-X. Potential divisions include: Long term vs short term; Current vs New; Financial vs Non-financial. The more you practice cases in the right way, the more you will be able to derive appropriate MECE areas fitting a case.
  4. Brainstorm inside each of the areas. Your creativity in this area is directly correlated with the number of cases you have done. If you feel weak in one specific industry, the most effective strategy is to go through consulting MBA casebooks (there are many available for free online – although not all are good) and screen the list for the industries interesting for you. MBA casebooks are not good in terms of the structure of the case but can help to develop creativity.

I provided an example below.

---

Interviewer: So, generally speaking, how would you decrease the cost of raw materials?

Step 1: Recap the situation

Interviewee: So, if I understood correctly, you would like now to move to the elements that could decrease this cost. If it is fine for you, I would like to do a small recap and then move through the key elements that can help to do so. In the beginning, you asked me what brought a decline in profits. We have identified the problem lays in Product A, and in particular in the cost area. We then found out that the main increase in cost was related to raw material.

Interviewer: That’s right.

(Note you may have gained 30 seconds of additional time summing up information to think)

Step 2: Ask for one minute of time to structure your thoughts

Interviewee: Do you mind if I take 1 minute to think about it?

Interviewer: Please take your time.

Step 3: Identify some key MECE areas

Interviewee: Thanks; I believe there are two key areas to decrease the cost of raw material; we may decrease the cost of each unit, or we may decrease the number of units we buy. I would like now to go a bit deeper into these two components.

(Note that even if you are brainstorming, you are first presenting a list of the MECE areas. This is fundamental to brainstorm correctly)

Step 4: Brainstorm inside each of the areas

Interviewee: Well, in order to decrease the cost per unit we may do a couple of things, keeping in mind we want to maintain revenues at the same level:

  1. we may negotiate a lower price;
  2. we may look for other suppliers.

In order to decrease the number of units, we may do the following:

  1. we may start to use a more efficient technology for our raw material, so that we have less waste;
  2. we may use a new kind of raw material for which there is less waste.

---

As for your second question: the interviewer won’t help unless you ask the right clarifying questions. With the right questions, you can solve cases also for industries you are not familiar with.

Please PM me if you want to know more about how to better structure inside the case, I provide an ad-hoc session on that.

Best,

Francesco

Hi Anonymous,

it seems you have issues in terms of structuring inside the case. In general, I would recommend the following steps to improve how to structure inside a case:

  1. Recap the situation until that moment
  2. Ask for one minute of time to structure your thoughts
  3. Identify some key MECE areas. This is something you can do even if you have never seen that question before. If you go blank, you can use a structure as X vs Non-X. Potential divisions include: Long term vs short term; Current vs New; Financial vs Non-financial. The more you practice cases in the right way, the more you will be able to derive appropriate MECE areas fitting a case.
  4. Brainstorm inside each of the areas. Your creativity in this area is directly correlated with the number of cases you have done. If you feel weak in one specific industry, the most effective strategy is to go through consulting MBA casebooks (there are many available for free online – although not all are good) and screen the list for the industries interesting for you. MBA casebooks are not good in terms of the structure of the case but can help to develop creativity.

I provided an example below.

---

Interviewer: So, generally speaking, how would you decrease the cost of raw materials?

Step 1: Recap the situation

Interviewee: So, if I understood correctly, you would like now to move to the elements that could decrease this cost. If it is fine for you, I would like to do a small recap and then move through the key elements that can help to do so. In the beginning, you asked me what brought a decline in profits. We have identified the problem lays in Product A, and in particular in the cost area. We then found out that the main increase in cost was related to raw material.

Interviewer: That’s right.

(Note you may have gained 30 seconds of additional time summing up information to think)

Step 2: Ask for one minute of time to structure your thoughts

Interviewee: Do you mind if I take 1 minute to think about it?

Interviewer: Please take your time.

Step 3: Identify some key MECE areas

Interviewee: Thanks; I believe there are two key areas to decrease the cost of raw material; we may decrease the cost of each unit, or we may decrease the number of units we buy. I would like now to go a bit deeper into these two components.

(Note that even if you are brainstorming, you are first presenting a list of the MECE areas. This is fundamental to brainstorm correctly)

Step 4: Brainstorm inside each of the areas

Interviewee: Well, in order to decrease the cost per unit we may do a couple of things, keeping in mind we want to maintain revenues at the same level:

  1. we may negotiate a lower price;
  2. we may look for other suppliers.

In order to decrease the number of units, we may do the following:

  1. we may start to use a more efficient technology for our raw material, so that we have less waste;
  2. we may use a new kind of raw material for which there is less waste.

---

As for your second question: the interviewer won’t help unless you ask the right clarifying questions. With the right questions, you can solve cases also for industries you are not familiar with.

Please PM me if you want to know more about how to better structure inside the case, I provide an ad-hoc session on that.

Best,

Francesco

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In these situations, I recommend recapping what you found before, take 1 minute, restate your hypothesis and change your structure/approach.

Best,
Antonello

In these situations, I recommend recapping what you found before, take 1 minute, restate your hypothesis and change your structure/approach.

Best,
Antonello

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Ideas are a dime a dozen! That's not your problem. Your problem is a mindset shift towards solving the problem. A few tips/thoughts:

1) Remember the prompt/objective: Think "What do I need to learn about to figure this out?"

2) Picture yourself at the client: The case is a simulation of the real world. What if you were in a room, with your team, at a client site, and you needed to figure out what to do for the day?

3) What don't you understand: If you don't know the industry, what don't you know about it? Dive into the business model, or the workings of the company. It's ok to ask questions if they're clearly driving towards a deeper understanding of the problem.

Remember: A hypothesis isn't just " I think x is happening because of y", it's also "I need to identify what's happening in a, b, and c, by finding the answer to x, y, and z, and if alpha combo happens, then our answer is ____"

Ideas are a dime a dozen! That's not your problem. Your problem is a mindset shift towards solving the problem. A few tips/thoughts:

1) Remember the prompt/objective: Think "What do I need to learn about to figure this out?"

2) Picture yourself at the client: The case is a simulation of the real world. What if you were in a room, with your team, at a client site, and you needed to figure out what to do for the day?

3) What don't you understand: If you don't know the industry, what don't you know about it? Dive into the business model, or the workings of the company. It's ok to ask questions if they're clearly driving towards a deeper understanding of the problem.

Remember: A hypothesis isn't just " I think x is happening because of y", it's also "I need to identify what's happening in a, b, and c, by finding the answer to x, y, and z, and if alpha combo happens, then our answer is ____"

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If your issue is genuinely not structuring and it is more about idea generation here are some tips I recommend

1. Consistently read the business and finance sections of reputable journals like the Economist, Wall Street Jounal, Financial Times etc. This will give you a very broad base across a number of industries you can leverage during your interview

2. Spend time thinking on your own about how money is made across industries - think of mobile service operators, oil pipelines, Airports, Hospitals. This exercise is actually very helpful in developing your skills and does not require much additional effort

3. Talk to people in different industries (at least the top 10 ones) and develop a perspective on their challenges and areas of growth

All the best,

Udayan

If your issue is genuinely not structuring and it is more about idea generation here are some tips I recommend

1. Consistently read the business and finance sections of reputable journals like the Economist, Wall Street Jounal, Financial Times etc. This will give you a very broad base across a number of industries you can leverage during your interview

2. Spend time thinking on your own about how money is made across industries - think of mobile service operators, oil pipelines, Airports, Hospitals. This exercise is actually very helpful in developing your skills and does not require much additional effort

3. Talk to people in different industries (at least the top 10 ones) and develop a perspective on their challenges and areas of growth

All the best,

Udayan

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Hi!

Sorry to maybe break your perception here - but if you get lost in the middle of cases, this is a surefire indicator that you are NOT structuring your cases very well. A good structure makes it practically impossible to get lost along the way, because it has an inherent logic such that you know exactly what tests/analyses/ideations you will have to do before having even started the analysis.

And to your point on being familiar or unfamiliar with the industry: this is irrelevant if you know how to properly think through strategic questions. Being familiar with the sector is simply not a requirement for crafting a bullet-proof approach.

Structuring does not mean coming up with ideas, but devising a top down logic according to which you can answer the question that the client has asked. This is the big misunderstanding that has been planted into the heads of people by the "Bucket Approach" that is omnipresent in most guides out there.

Cheers, Sidi

Hi!

Sorry to maybe break your perception here - but if you get lost in the middle of cases, this is a surefire indicator that you are NOT structuring your cases very well. A good structure makes it practically impossible to get lost along the way, because it has an inherent logic such that you know exactly what tests/analyses/ideations you will have to do before having even started the analysis.

And to your point on being familiar or unfamiliar with the industry: this is irrelevant if you know how to properly think through strategic questions. Being familiar with the sector is simply not a requirement for crafting a bullet-proof approach.

Structuring does not mean coming up with ideas, but devising a top down logic according to which you can answer the question that the client has asked. This is the big misunderstanding that has been planted into the heads of people by the "Bucket Approach" that is omnipresent in most guides out there.

Cheers, Sidi

(edited)

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Hi,

I can see what is your issue just from your first sentence. You are talking about the initial structure and the Ideas. But your structure is not just the initial structure. You should be constantly structuring though the case. There is no space for random ideas

  1. You draw the initial structure
  2. You go through your structure looking for an insight
  3. Once you find an insight - you drill deeper by drawing a new structure

Best

Hi,

I can see what is your issue just from your first sentence. You are talking about the initial structure and the Ideas. But your structure is not just the initial structure. You should be constantly structuring though the case. There is no space for random ideas

  1. You draw the initial structure
  2. You go through your structure looking for an insight
  3. Once you find an insight - you drill deeper by drawing a new structure

Best

To your first question: structured questions and curiousity are always good. If I'm unfamiliar with the industry, I find it useful to have a bucket for "product" at the beginning of a case to really understand what the company is actually selling, or the service they provide. This is particularly important to avoid any assumptions on your part, where it is very easy to think you know what the company does, but don't actually. You're not expected to know everything, and so being able to tackle that in a structured way is very important both in case interviews, and as a new consultant.

To your second: try to get more familiar with more industries. Take a look at the offices your applying and get a sense of the work they do, and then do some reading on that. Businessweek is a pretty good resource (though US-focussed) as the articles are pretty straightforward and easy to read. Same with the Economist.

Finally, when you're in the end bit of a case on "what should our client do", think about the assumptions you've been given and challenge those. If, for example, they tell you up front "our company is targeting the women's shampoo market" (or whatever), then suggest selling men's shampoo as well. If they say that regulations are limiting their options, then suggest lobbying to change the regulations. Build on any and all information you've been given.

For profitabilty cases, which are a decent chunk of cases you'll see think about 1) selling the same thing to more people 2) new things to the same people 3) both. To your telecommunications example, this would be increasing revenue from existing subscribers (e.g. late fees, new plans, new types of phones), or trying to get new subscribers (e.g. cheaper phones, cheaper plans, expanding into new markets). You don't necessarily need to be an expert in telecoms to at least start coming up with ideas with this simple approach.

To your first question: structured questions and curiousity are always good. If I'm unfamiliar with the industry, I find it useful to have a bucket for "product" at the beginning of a case to really understand what the company is actually selling, or the service they provide. This is particularly important to avoid any assumptions on your part, where it is very easy to think you know what the company does, but don't actually. You're not expected to know everything, and so being able to tackle that in a structured way is very important both in case interviews, and as a new consultant.

To your second: try to get more familiar with more industries. Take a look at the offices your applying and get a sense of the work they do, and then do some reading on that. Businessweek is a pretty good resource (though US-focussed) as the articles are pretty straightforward and easy to read. Same with the Economist.

Finally, when you're in the end bit of a case on "what should our client do", think about the assumptions you've been given and challenge those. If, for example, they tell you up front "our company is targeting the women's shampoo market" (or whatever), then suggest selling men's shampoo as well. If they say that regulations are limiting their options, then suggest lobbying to change the regulations. Build on any and all information you've been given.

For profitabilty cases, which are a decent chunk of cases you'll see think about 1) selling the same thing to more people 2) new things to the same people 3) both. To your telecommunications example, this would be increasing revenue from existing subscribers (e.g. late fees, new plans, new types of phones), or trying to get new subscribers (e.g. cheaper phones, cheaper plans, expanding into new markets). You don't necessarily need to be an expert in telecoms to at least start coming up with ideas with this simple approach.

(edited)

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