Rob McLean: “Bulletproof problem solving” is an expression we used at McKinsey that meant that what you came up with to present to the client was ironclad. It really was a test of just how rigorously you’d gone about defining the problem, breaking it down, and doing the analysis.
The Seven Steps to Bullet-Proof Problem Solving are:
Step One: Define the Problem
How do you define a problem in a precise way to meet the decision maker’s needs? The important first step is to describe the context and the boundaries of the problem that is agreed upon by those involved in making the decision. A weak problem statement is a common problem. “Rushing into analysis with a vague problem statement is a clear formula for long hours and frustrated clients.”
Step Two: Disaggregate the Issues
How do you disaggregate the issues and develop hypotheses to be explored? Every problem needs to be broken down into its basic issues. “We employ logic trees of various types to elegantly disassemble problems into parts for analysis, driving alternative hypotheses of the answer.”
Step Three: Prioritize the Issues, Prune the Tree
How do you prioritize what to do and what not to do? Once you have defined the issues, you need to decide which ones are the most important or have the greatest impact on the final outcome.
Step Four: Build a Workplan and Timetable
How do you develop a workplan and assign analytical tasks? “Once the component parts are defined and prioritized, you then have to link each part to a plan for fact gathering and analysis. The workplan and timetable assigns team members to analytic tasks with specific outputs and completion dates.”
Step Five: Conduct Critical Analyses
How do you decide on the fact gathering and analysis to resolve the issues, while avoiding cognitive biases? Some problems don’t need complex analysis, others require more complex tools. A structured approach will help to eliminate bias and a massaging of the facts. Having a diverse team allows for different viewpoints to be brought together.
Step Six: Synthesize Findings from the Analysis
How do you go about synthesizing the findings to highlight insights? “Findings have to be assembled into a logical structure to test validity and then synthesized in a way that convinces others that you have a good solution.”
Step Seven: Prepare a Powerful Communication
How do you communicate them in a compelling way? Finally, a storyline needs to be developed that links your solution back to the original problem. Importantly, it needs to be told in a way your audience understands and is made relevant to them. In other words, tell a great story.
BULLETPROOF PROBLEM SOLVING The One Skill that Changes Everything - book by Rob McLean, McKinsey director emeritus and Charles Conn, McKinsey alumni.