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13 McKinsey, Operations

Session 13: Operations Cases, Pivoting to the McKinsey Approach, Mid-Point Feedback & Unstructured/trend cases

All cases done from this session onward to the end are done in the McKinsey-approach and the answer-first approach. This is a tough session which builds on the techniques taught earlier. Only if a candidate can apply earlier techniques will they pass this round.

We leave it to Kevin Coyne, ex-McKinsey Director and World Wide Strategy Co-Leader, to teach McKinsey cases which cannot be solved with a framework. Listen to Kevin’s sessions with Felix to understand how to solve these cases. Approximately 50% of all McKinsey cases fall into this category and trying to use a framework leads to failure.

Operations cases are tough. Strategy cases are no match for them. Operations cases are always data intensive, they are not intuitive, nor are they easy to solve. Frameworks are hard to build so we teach a flexible approach to ensure all elements are covered. That said, math is important here, as is business judgement and the ability to visualize how things work. The candidate will have to visualize operations cases since their past experience will rarely yield any guidance. Within operations, productivity is an important concept, which surprisingly, most students, even those from the top MBA schools, fail to understand sufficiently.

Candidates should never commence their case preparation by learning the McKinsey approach. For the simple reason that if the interviewer is leading, which is the McKinsey style, how does the candidate know they would have identified the area of analysis without guidance? Those prompts from the interviewer are more important than candidates realize and many cannot solve cases without them.

So we start from the BCG approach – sessions 5 to 12, where the candidate must lead, and we can test their ability to prioritize and solve the case. Once they can prove this skill, we will switch and lead. McKinsey, and Bain, use an answer-first approach, sometimes called hypotheses – sessions 13 onward. The problem with building hypotheses is that they are messy; it is difficult to apply MECE and application usually requires some knowledge of the subject matter. Most candidates build terrible hypotheses.

We teach candidates a very clever and simple technique to build elegant, appropriate and MECE hypotheses by using the BCG style approach they have been learning until now. In other words, candidates have to make just one change to the approach we already taught them, and they can use hypotheses. Therefore, candidates are not under pressure to learn techniques that are dramatically different. After this session, candidates should now be able to handle Bain, BCG and McKinsey cases, but will still require lots of practice to perfect the techniques.

That said candidates must still learn how to handle answer first vs. interviewer led vs. interviewee led vs. hypotheses cases. They are different and can occur together.

Beyond a logical way to build hypotheses, we also teach a simple and useful technique to develop more than one key hypothesis. Candidates unanimously agree this is one of the most effective techniques to generate multiple relevant hypotheses.

There are profound differences between BCG, Bain and McKinsey, both in terms of their approaches to cases and the firms themselves. In this session we take some time to discuss these differences, and the implication for the candidate’s style of working and preferences.

Answer-first cases come in all formats, from just being given an exhibit with no information to a complete set of guidelines to solve the case. We will use a set of drills in latter sessions to exhaustively prepare candidates for all types of hypotheses-based cases.

Candidates have now been taught all the core consulting concepts. Going forward, we will simply expose them to tougher cases and zoom in on difficulties they experience in applying these concepts.

We also teach candidates a fun and clever technique to practice hypotheses development based on data/trends the candidate is forced to generate. It is like a game and a very useful technique for candidates.

For candidates targeting specific sectors like healthcare or energy, we dedicate time from session 13 onwards to review key consulting studies on their chosen sector, hold executive level discussions, and discuss key issues etc., all in the effort to ensure they completely understand the sector they are targeting. Although most consultants would join as generalists, candidates with deep sector expertise or pursuing an office dominated by one sector would find this process very useful.

It forces them to understand their chosen sector of interest, the way a consultant would. At the end of this process, we want them to not only discuss the sector issues, but do so in the manner of a management consultant.

Midpoint Feedback

We also provide the mid-point feedback at the end of this session.

During each coaching session, we tend to focus on the performance in that session, and rarely have time to step back and comment on the trajectory of the candidate’s overall performance. Moreover, if we say “you are doing well so far,” it is tough for a candidate to know what this actually means.

Does it mean he/she will receive an offer?

Does it mean he or she is just doing okay?

“Well” is not an explicit performance measure.

The mid-point feedback fixes this problem and is a detailed assessment of Samantha’s performance and our opinion on two things: first, would she pass a consulting interview today, and second, if she continued on her current trajectory, would she pass the interviews at the end of the training, and after sufficient self-practice after the training.

In too many coaching sessions a candidate is told they are doing fine or need to change x, y or z, but this can be interpreted in different ways. In the mid-point feedback we do the interpretation so there can be no doubts about the candidate’s performance. This is an important step in the training since we want to be unequivocal about where we think the candidate is going and what they need to do. It is then up to the candidate to rise to the challenge.

A candidate may be declined from the program at this stage if we feel insufficient progress is made.

In the session descriptions which follow, we are using one description for 4 different candidates. Yet candidates do not perform the same, and while the descriptions are mostly accurate, there will be some differences as a few cases are brought forward, others moved back or candidates fail to prepare adequately. While these differences are minor, they sometimes occur.

Cases questions taught in the session:

Felix’s cases recorded in the session; Estimate Japanese tires sales per annum, Brainstorm how to improve Chinese automobile quality, Audi operations production problem, BCG Auto sector data interpretation, Trend in luxury car sales hypotheses development & Healthcare article discussion.

Rafik’s cases recorded in the session; Estimate revenue of a company fixing seats for Singapore airlines, Brainstorm how this company could increase their revenue, Atlanta airport hub operations case, BCG transport sector data interpretation & trend in aviation hypotheses development.

Samantha’s cases recorded in the session; Estimate Emirates Airlines cargo revenue per annum, Brainstorm how to increase FedEx’s parcel revenue, FedEx right-turn only operations and profit case, BCG transport sector data interpretation & trend in logistics hypotheses development.

Sanjeev’s cases recorded in the session; Estimate Russian steel production per annum, Brainstorm improving Russian steel labor productivity, Russian steel operations case and BCG Russian steel sector data interpretation.

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