How To Be MECE

How to be MECE (Mutually Exclusive and Collectively Exhaustive). This is definitely something that every new – and aspiring – consultant needs to learn as soon as possible. You must be MECE in your case interview approach, and on the job. If you’re not MECE, then you haven’t done your job. We’ll save you that embarrassment and explain how to be MECE. Listen as Jenny Rae unpacks the term and how it should be used in your consulting experience.

How To Be MECE YouTube Transcription

MECE, MECE, MECE. It’s a term that consultants throw around as if everyone should know what it means. But based on conversations that I recently had with people who are outside of the consulting world. And yes I do have conversations with people outside of the consulting world. MECE is not a common term outside of the space.

MECE Meaning

Here’s what it means, here’s why it matters, and here’s how to be MECE and make sure that you’re using it when you’re thinking about case interviews, and also projects for consulting firms. MECE means, “mutually exclusive, collectively exhaustive.” And in total, that means that you are being non-overlapping, or discrete with the work that you’re doing, and also complete. So discrete and complete. Those two things together really matter for MECE.

What does Mutually Exclusive Mean?

Ultimately, why does it matter? MECE is used both in case interviews, and also on the job, as a methodology to do two things. Number one the “ME” in MECE is the mutually exclusive piece. It is meant that you are efficient in your problem-solving. In a case interview, how that looks is that you identify the mutually exclusive ways to look through the data, and to identify what’s important, and what’s not. It means that you’re not overlapping, you’re not repeating yourself, and you’re going through the most efficient pathway to solve the problem. That’s incredibly important when you have a time limit, 20 or 30 minutes, to solve the case interview.

On the job it’s even more important. At Bain, we were paid by the project, not by the hour. So, our efficiency and being able to actually solve problems using data, was incredibly important. So we didn’t want to look over two sets of data at the same time, we didn’t want to look over sets of data that somebody else was also looking over. We wanted to make sure that, both across the entire team, and also each individual, was operating in a way that was discreet. We were chunking out the work and making sure that across all of it there were no overlaps.

MECE- Mutually Exclusive

What does Collectively Exhaustive Mean?

When you go to the other piece, the “collectively exhaustive” piece, that’s also important. Both in case interviews and inside your work projects. For case interviews, being collectively exhaustive means that you’re looking at all of the problems. Now admittedly in case interviews, “all” is a loose term, because you do have a limited amount of time. In 20 or 30 minutes, you cannot possibly look at all of the problems that a company can have. There’s not enough time to look at all of the data you can potentially look at, and all of the solutions. But the inference inside case interviews is that you look at the important ones, all of the important ones. So that’s layered on with another concept 80/20, which we cover in other parts of our material.

Fundamentally in the case interview if you are MECE, mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive, you could not only most expediently come to the answer, but you can also come to the answer with the most well-rounded, and the deepest insights. When do you think about the work project, and you think about being collectively exhaustive, that’s incredibly important for building client trust. When you go into a client meeting, and you say here’s some data that I looked at, and it’s incomplete, the client says well, “Did you look at this data? And did you look at this data? And did you think about it this way?” If you only explain what you did look at, and not everything that you could have looked at, how you prioritized, and fundamentally, what you decided was important, then you’re going to lose credibility with your client.

So being collectively exhaustive is also incredibly important in your client engagements. And in many ways, I would argue, for clients, more important than being mutually exclusive. So mutually exclusive for client engagements is an internal tactic, and collectively exhaustive is an external metric. A way that you’re proving yourself beyond what your clients need from you.

MECE-Collectively Exhaustive

Feedback Gives Clarity In How To Be MECE

Finally, when you’re trying to evaluate whether you’re being MECE or not, it’s actually really difficult to do in isolation. MECE is something that requires feedback from other people. Often you will not realize when you are overlapping, if there are things that you’re doing that are redundant, or could be more expedient. Ask for feedback from someone else. In the case interview that means you go through a case interview with an expert. In work and in life, you work with a mentor, and you explain your process and your plan. Ideally you do this before you go through all of it, and then you identify where potential overlaps or gaps are.

When you’re thinking about being collectively exhaustive, it’s the same thing. How are you gonna know what you haven’t thought of if you don’t get outside input? So collectively exhaustive is really important to get feedback from other people. This is one of the main reasons why in the interview you have an interviewer to work with you, somebody to give you insights, and on the job you have a team, both of peers and of supervisors. To make sure that there are things that you haven’t forgotten as you’re thinking about the big picture. If you can make sure that you’re applying MECE in your standard work processes in the job that you’re doing now, and also in your practice for case interviews, it will help you be more efficient and more successful overall.


Remember, fundamentally, how to be MECE means being discreet and being complete. We hope that you enjoyed this video on MECE, and we would love to share more about what we do in corporate training for MECE, as well as how we train for case interviews using the MECE concept.

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Filed Under: Case Interview