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The McKinsey Way
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Let s take a closer look at McKinsey. For that we have an excellent guide, Ethan Rasiel, author of The McKinsey Way and coauthor with Paul Friga of The McKinsey Mind.5 Rasiel is a former McKinsey consultant. His first book mostly describes McKinsey s methods, and the second book gives tips on how to use them yourself. In The McKinsey Way, we learn the three major steps of strategy consulting: thinking about business problems, working to solve business problems, and selling solutions. Thus, the first thing you do is think. That s fine, if we remember that Finkelstein and Hambrick s research in Strategic Leadership showed that Strat-
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The Art of Synthesis
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egists combined thinking and intuition. Does the McKinsey method do the same Not quite. The McKinsey problem-solving process combines very careful, high-quality analysis of the components of the problem with an aggressive attitude toward fact-gathering. Analysis plus facts: that s the formula. So, any McKinseyite will tell you that no business problem is immune to the power of fact-based analysis. Do McKinsey s facts and analysis leave room for intuition Rasiel tells us that facts compensate for lack of gut instinct. It seems that most McKinsey consultants are generalists who know less than the specialists in the companies they assist. The folks who have been running the distribution operations of Stop & Shop for the last 10 years know more about inventory management practices for perishable foodstuffs than any McKinseyite can. Gut instinct will let those Stop & Shoppers solve an inventory management problem in 10 seconds, whereas McKinsey will go to the facts first. Curious. Gut instinct seems to be better than facts, but facts win because that s what McKinsey consultants can master. And note that McKinsey seems to be competing with the gut instinct of the Stop & Shop experts. Why not work together instead Because not all company staff members are so expert. It s true that with years of experience, as you see and solve more problems, you get a fair idea of what works in your industry and what doesn t. However, Rasiel quotes a former McKinsey consultant, now a merchant banker:6
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A sharp manager with a lot of business experience can often reach the same conclusions as McKinsey and in a much shorter time by gut instinct, but most executives aren t that good.
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The consultants at McKinsey can take the time that even the best executive cannot, and so can produce a more robust solution. Rasiel concludes, So even though your initial instinct may be and probably is right, take enough time to verify your gut with facts.
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198 T H E A P P L I C A T I O N O F E X P E R T I N T U I T I O N
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Good. Here we have facts and gut instinct working together. But wait: It s the gut instinct of the McKinsey consultant, not that of the Stop & Shop experts. The company s staff is still out of the picture. That s all we hear directly about intuition in The McKinsey Way. But can we find it indirectly Let s follow McKinsey s fact-based analysis through the cycle of a consulting assignment and see. Rasiel presents two major tools of fact-based analysis. The first is MECE, or mutually exclusive, collectively exhaustive. MECE uses an issue tree that starts with an initial hypothesis and breaks it down into sub- and sub-sub- and sub-sub-subissues, as far as you can go. Figure 8.1 gives an example.
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Sales Force Organization
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Change Sales Strategy
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Sales Force Skill Base
Promotion Strategy
Product Quality
Increase Widget Sales
Improve Marketing Strategy
Packaging
Consumer Advertising Strategy Raw Materials Sourcing
Reduce Unit Cost
Production Process
Distribution System
Figure 8.1 Issue Tree for Acme Widgets (from The McKinsey Way by Ethan Rasiel
1999 The McGraw Hill Companies)
The Art of Synthesis
Rasiel identifies the three major items of change sales strategy. Improve marketing strategy, and reduce unit cost as the initial hypothesis. But where did that initial hypothesis come from It emerges from the combination of facts and structure. The structure is the issue tree. But to make the issue tree, you start with the initial hypothesis. That s circular reasoning. It doesn t make sense or does it Rasiel admits that of the various parts of McKinsey s problemsolving process, the initial hypothesis is the most difficult to explain :
The essence of the initial hypothesis is Figuring out the solution to the problem before you start. This seems counterintuitive, yet you do it all the time.
Rasiel gives the example of driving to a restaurant. It s in a part of town that you don t know. However, you have instructions: Take the third left off Smith Street, then the first right, just after that corner. Since you know where Smith Street is, you ll just follow your directions from there. Congratulations, you have an initial hypothesis. So the initial hypothesis is a road map, albeit hastily sketched, to take you from problem to solution. At first glance, this example makes no sense at all. To get to the restaurant, someone gave you sketchy directions to start with: third left off Smith Street, first right after that corner. But with a business problem, no one gives you the solution, sketchy or otherwise. So where does it come from Rasiel calls this process counterintuitive, but really, it s intuitive. He s struggling to describe coup d oeil. He calls it figuring out the solution to the problem before you start, but that s not quite right. You see the solution first, and that tells you the problem you can solve. Rasiel knows that the issue tree cannot give you a solution. Yet he puts the initial hypothesis far too early: After you ve brainstormed using your knowledge of the widget business, but before you ve spent a lot of time gathering and analyzing the facts. You can change your hypothesis later: If it turns out to be wrong, then, by proving it wrong, you will have enough information to move toward the right answer.
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