The Mutually Exclusive, Collectively Exhaustive (MECE) framework is an important problem structuring principle that consultants use to organize data efficiently and comprehensively. In this article, we will cover how to utilize MECE in a case interview setting.
To watch a video of MECE being used in a case interview example, watch this case structure walkthrough video.
MECE in a Market Entry Case Interview
Imagine you’re sitting across from a consultant during an interview. She says to you, “Our client is ABC Tech Corp and they currently have three major revenue segments – smartphones, computers, and tablets. They are now looking into entering the TV market but want your help understanding which geographical market to enter into first. What would you recommend?”
If you’ve never heard of consulting case interviews, this kind of question might seem overwhelming, or even almost impossible to solve at first. However, let’s see how we can use the Mutually Exclusive Collectively Exhaustive (MECE) framework to find the relevant data needed to answer this question.
Building a MECE Framework: Case Interview Example
ABC Tech Corp is looking for advice on the right geographical market to enter with new TV products. Therefore, the following MECE categories could be one way to tackle the case:
- North America
- South America
- Rest of World
Breaking down the market into these geographies is clearly MECE – mutually exclusive given that there are no overlaps between any category, and collectively exhaustive because they covers all possible areas of the world.
For each of these geographical categories, you might ask for data for the following areas:
- Size of TV market
- Historical and future growth of TV market
- Profit margins
- Key competitors
- Customer segmentation
From here on out, you would continue to assess the data provided by your interviewer for each sub-category (size of market, historical and future growth, profit margins, key competitors, customer segmentation, and products). This MECE framework ensures that the data you uncover for each sub-category can be compared across the different geographies, helping you ultimately pinpoint the right geography for ABC Tech Corp to enter.
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Example of a non-MECE Framework
Using the same case example with ABC Tech Corp, let’s imagine you want to study the overall market and so you structure your framework into the following categories:
- Competition – Who are the major TV players and how intense is the competition?
- Market size – How big is the TV market and at what rate is it growing?
- Customers – Who are the major TV consumers and what kind of products do they buy today?
- Profitability – What do profit margins look like in the TV market and have they been increasing or decreasing?
- Regulation – Are there any barriers to entry in the TV market?
As you may presume from looking at this framework, there is a way to ask questions that limit the overlap between each category. However, you could ask questions that cause the categories to not be Mutually Exclusive, such as asking what the profitability profile is like for each major competitor in the market or the market size of each customer segment.
Additionally, you could fall into a trap of not being Collectively Exhaustive with this framework. For instance, you may ask for data about the size of the market and find that the largest opportunities based on the current players are in North America, Asia, and Europe. If you only end up focusing on those markets, you may fail to study the other geographical markets. It may be that ABC Tech Corp happens to have a strong presence in Australia and entering that market turns out to be the most profitable.
Concluding Thoughts on being MECE in the Case Interview
Ensuring that your structures are Mutually Exclusive Collectively Exhaustive (MECE) will help you become a stronger case interviewee. However, keep in mind that your frameworks don’t always need to be 100% MECE for you to crack a case. Given that case interviews are so short, it may not be possible or even necessary to be fully MECE. If there are some overlaps between your categories that cause you to not be totally Mutually Exclusive, or if you focus on the crux of a case’s problem but don’t cover all potential bases, you can still pass the case interview.
Therefore, our rule of thumb is to be as MECE as possible, but if you must choose, focus on being Mutually Exclusive. More importantly, be sure you are properly addressing the business problem within the case via a focused and relevant framework.