As one of the most prestiguous management consulting firms, McKinsey & Company is a firm that I have wanted to know more about for some time. McKinsy may not be as large as the Big 4 firms – Deloitte, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Ernst & Young and KPMG – but it has an excellent reputation. While I may not ever work at the work, I was determined to learn some insights about how the firm approaches work. In that respect, “The McKinsey Mind” by Ethan M. Rasiel and Paul N. Friga was a successful book. Written in a very light and accessible style, this is one of the few business books I’ve read that would be easy to read on a trip (and still gain valuable insights). In this review, I will share a few key insights I learned from the book on framing business problems, gathering data and managing the client. While I found aspects of the book valuable, several people have commented that “The McKinsey Way” is a better book.
Defining the problem, whether in science or business, is absolutely vital – otherwise it is easy to spend energy and resources in the wrong areas. The key concept from this section is “MECE” (mutually exclusive, collectively exhaustive) helps people think through problems comprehensively. The advice to follow a structure reminds me of The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande – it’s great advice. Without a template or checklist to follow, it’s easy to forget important steps as one works toward a goal. While I wouldn’t quite agree with the following statement: “When McKinsey-ites exit the Firm, they are often shocked by the sloppy thinking processes prevalent in many organizations,” I would agree that more attention to the art of problem solving would certainly be worthwhile. Logic trees – systematically mapping out the various factors at play in a given problem – is one way to visualize the different players involved. The advice to develop an initial hypthesis early on the problem solving process also has merits.
Without the right data in hand, there is simply no way to know if one’s proposed solution to a business problem will work. The external data gathering sections (i.e. which resources to use at the library) was nothing new to me and may not be particularly valuable to a professional who is already aware of what is happening in their industry. The most valuable advice the authors share here concerns interviewing as a way to gather data. While it’s easy to focus on data that comes neatly packaged in databases and spreadsheets, many critical details can only be discovered through interviews. The advice to develop an interview guide (i.e. list of questions), listening actively during the interview and following up with a thank you note are excellent ways to use intervieewing to gather data.
Even if you don’t work in a consulting firm, you have clients to manage. For example, if you work in a corporate function like IT that provides services to others in your company, this chapter of the book has some interesting ideas. For example, the recommendation to “make the client a hero” strikes me as interesting but challenging to implement. In some cases, a line of business requesting software or some other support simply wants the goods and they are not really interested in this kind of engagement. On the other hand, for large projects that require extensive change management effort, the book has plenty of good ideas on implementation.
Transferring insights developed at a consulting firm to a broader audience is a challenging task. Rasiel and Friga succeeded on several points – especially the early chapters on Framing the Problem, Designing the Analysis and Gathering the Data. At times, the authors came across as unreasonably confident that McKinsey practices can be implemented universally. For example, a professional who has been at their firm several years versus a consultant brought in for a 90 day engagement are likely to approach problems differently. The consultant approach outlined in the book will not be appropriate in all cases, but specific practices in the book such as Prewiring A Meeting do have near universal value. I recommend the first half of the book but seeing as the whole book is approximately 200 pages, it is just as easy to read the entire volume.