Tuesday, January 29, 2013

80/20 Thinking, 110% Execution - Why McKinsey Decks Are Often Warm


Image from Flickr.com
One of my favorite McKinsey client quotes is "I like McKinsey decks - they're always nice and warm".  The reason McKinsey decks are often warm to the touch is because they're fresh off the printer.  It's common for McKinsey teams to be making edits and adding content until the very last minute, then scrambling to print documents and race to client meetings.  You also might see this behavior if you work with or for a former McKinsey consultant.  Here's why this happens...


Why the last minute rush?

You would think with all the long days and late nights, McKinsey teams would have plenty of time to get their ducks in a row.  But there are a few reasons why McKinsey teams end up working on decks until the very last minute...


1.  Late feedback from leadership

McKinsey Partners, Directors, and Experts often make valuable contributions and suggestions to improve client deliverables.  But, because they split their time between multiple client engagement teams, their input is not always delivered in a timely manner.  Teams still have to reflect these edits in the deck, so there's often a race against the clock to make sure the deck reflects the Firm's best thinking.

One way to mitigate this cause is to schedule problem-solving sessions with your thought leaders before the deadline.  However, this can be difficult because they have such busy schedules - if you don't get everyone together at once, you might get input in series - in the worst case, each contribution conflicts with another - adding more and more churn to the process. 

2.  Endless problem solving

Although McKinsey promotes 80/20 problem solving and a focus on big picture, high level, hypothesis-driven answers, those hypotheses need to be supported by detailed analyses.  Teams are constantly working to improve and refine their analyses to make them bullet-proof.  Since there's no finish line to this process, it can go on as long as you let it.

A good way to limit this type of rework is for the team to agree on a date and time to "freeze" the deck.  After that point, no more edits can be made to the deck and the team moves on to next steps.

3.  Attention to detail

As superficial as it might seem, typos, formatting issues, and other small errors can undermine credibility and reduce the client's confidence in a McKinsey team.  So, while the team's approach should be 80/20, its execution has to be impeccable.  As a result, documents are constantly being proofread and scanned for mistakes - if something is discovered at the last minute, it needs to be corrected, even if it means reprinting an entire stack of decks.

Freezing the deck can also help with this cause as long as the team commits to limiting themselves to minor edits once the deck has been frozen.  Correcting typos and formatting errors are allowed, but revising analyses and adding new content is not.

Why is this important?

If you understand what causes these last-minute scrambles, you can seek to prevent them.  Not only are they incredibly stressful, but for some clients, being late to a meeting can be as damaging to your credibility and working relationship as a half-baked analysis or obvious typo in a critical document.

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