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What is a top down approach?

Anonymous A asked on Jul 17, 2018 - 2 answers
  • Giving the recommendation first, and then explaining the supporting point?
  • Sharing the bigger buckets first, and then smaller buckets, e.g., in brainstorming.
  • Prioritizing the list of activities and saying I'd first focus on these two, and only after that then will go down the list?
  • What else is a top down approach?
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replied on Jul 17, 2018
McKinsey Engagement Manager & BCG Consultant | Interviewer at McK & BCG for 7 years | Coached 100+ candidates secure MBB offers
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Hi Anonymous,

the top-down way of communicating is also sometimes refered to as the "Pyramid Principle". It emerges on the grounds of the mantra: "Think about your audience, first!"

As a consultant, you’ll be presenting your findings to busy C-level executives. In your interview you’ll be dealing with consulting Partners, who work everyday with CEOs and share their manners and approach. Hence, often the most challenging constraint you’ll face is time. What they expect from you is a short and clear main message or recommendation. Then, if they are interested, they’ll ask for details. This is called “top-down” communication.

top down approach for your case interview

It follows the principle that ideas should always form a pyramid under a single thought. The single thought is the answer to the executive’s question. Underneath the single thought, you are supposed to group and summarize the next level of supporting ideas and arguments. Then, for each supporting idea or argument, break that further into more ideas or arguments until you have formed a pyramid. Ideas at any level in the pyramid must always be summaries of the ideas grouped below them.

When comunicating your "pyramid", you should first lay out all elements of the upper levels before diving deep. For example, if the peak of your pyramig disaggregates into 3 buckets on the first level, list the three elements first before deep diving into any of them.

Cheers, Sidi

Benjamin replied on Jul 18, 2018
ex-Manager - Natural and challenging teacher - Taylor case solving, no framework
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Hi Anonymous,

In addition to Sidi answer which is very clear on the principles of pyramidal communication, I would like to share 1 or 2 pragmatic tips to help you build a top down approach.

In general, consider you are always limited by time to communicate your messages. So you want to make sure that if you don't have enough time to tell the full story you wanted at least you will have deliver the key messages.

Personnally I always ask myself "what is the minimum that I should say if I am time constrained? ". That helps me build the first level of the pyramid

To build the next level you just assume that you have a little more time to details more about your arguments.. and so on..

Hope this helps.



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