The MECE Principle: What Is It? And Why All Consultants Should Master It
MECE, pronounced as me-see, stands for Mutually Exclusive, Collectively Exhaustive. As a consultant, you’ll probably hear this term thousands of times in your career. Of all the different consulting frameworks out there, this is the one that consultants discuss the most. That is why you really, really need to get this right if you want to become a successful consultant.
As a consultant solving a problem, you cannot leave any stone unturned, and that is why you need to present every possible solution. But at the same time, having a lot of analyses and solutions can be confusing to present to a client. This is where the MECE Framework comes into play. The MECE Principle helps organize solutions to a problem in a logical and coherent way.
The “mutually exclusive” category must only include items that are completely unique and independent of each other. And the term “collectively exhaustive” means that all the items of the list must include every single solution or scenario—not even a single one can be left behind.
Still confused? Don’t worry. In this article, we will apply the MECE Framework to two practical situations and also explain why MECE is the right framework to choose.
Practical Applications of the MECE Principle
The MECE Principle may be difficult to understand without a couple of examples. However, even though the MECE Framework looks complicated in the beginning, once you get used to it, it will help you make complicated processes way simpler! So, let’s consider an example.
Suppose a client, an American toy manufacturer, seeks your help in finding new foreign markets to expand into. After conducting in-depth research and analyzing several options, you come up with a list of the following international regions:
- The European Union
Is the list mentioned above in accordance with the MECE Principle? No! Because Germany is in the European Union and that is why the list of all solutions is not mutually exclusive even if it includes all the possible solutions and is collectively exhaustive.
Now, let’s consider another list of solutions for the same problem. Here is the new list:
- The European Union
- The United Kingdom
So, is the MECE Framework used correctly in this new example? The answer to that question is a resounding yes! Since the UK is no longer in the EU, this list is mutually exclusive. Also, given that the aforementioned regions are the best foreign markets to expand into, the list is also collectively exhaustive, meaning that all the possible international markets that are good for expansion are listed.
Great. Now, let’s consider another example (a slightly complicated one) to understand the MECE Principle even better.
Suppose a health and nutrition company, that usually sells protein supplements, approaches you to help them with diversifying into the fitness equipment industry. And they want you to answer one question: Will they be profitable if they start selling their patented home exercise machine?
To answer this question, you, as a consultant, will need to create and analyze two different buckets of lists: Costs and Revenue.
Why Should Consultants Master the MECE Framework?
There are several consulting frameworks, like SWOT Analysis and the BCG Matrix, that consultants will use from time to time. But the MECE Framework is the one that needs to be used quite often to solve all sorts of problems.
Also, the MECE Principle helps keep things simple. You see, in the second example, the consultant was only asked if this new undertaking would be profitable or not. That is why only two aspects of business, revenue and costs, were considered. And under each list, every item was mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive. This means that every single unique scenario was mentioned and considered before giving recommendations.
And that is how consultants work! Instead of adding a giant load of irrelevant information and complicating things, consultants keep it to the point and precise. Furthermore, there is no room for guesswork or amateurishness in a consultant’s job. Well-thought-out, logical, and viable solutions are expected from every successful consultant.
Bear in mind, however, that even though it was mentioned that the second example is a bit more complicated than the first one, a real-life example in a professional consulting role may be a lot more complicated than the second example. And in that sense, both of the aforementioned examples were simple.
But have faith, if you’re new, you’ll learn how to use the MECE Framework like a pro in no time if you have the right mentors around you. And if you’re already a pro, you could always practice more and hone your craft. In both cases, going for a certification in MECE is definitely a good idea.