Saturday, November 16, 2013

"Laundry Lists" at McKinsey and 3 Ways to Fix Them

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Your McKinsey boss might give you feedback that your work reads too much like a "laundry list".  This is also a common error during consulting case interviews.  In this post I'll explain what "laundry lists" are and how you can fix them in 3 easy steps...

What is a "laundry list"?

A laundry list is simply a long, disorganized list of items.  At McKinsey and other consulting firms, the term is used pejoratively.  Some common topics that end up as laundry lists include: a) recommended initiatives, b) possible root causes / sources of impact, or c) next steps.

What's wrong with a comprehensive laundry list?

The major downside of a laundry lists is that they tend to overwhelm and/or bore your audience, causing their eyes to glaze over.  There's simply too much random information for it to be compelling and/or actionable.

In addition, putting a list together isn't that difficult - laundry lists don't show a lot of thought or added value beyond simply collecting information and ideas.  Putting a laundry list in front of your client or McKinsey boss might make you look naive, lazy, and/or incompetent.

How do I fix a laundry list?

Laundry lists are often the result of too much focus on being comprehensive and not enough thought given to organization and efficiency.  There are three ways to take the contents of a laundry list and turn them into something more useful.

1.  Edit

In consulting, it is often the case that less is moreTrimming a laundry list will make it more manageable and the next two steps easier.  It's likely that you have included a lot of unimportant items in your effort to be comprehensive.  By applying the 80/20 rule and focusing on the critical or vital few items, you can streamline your list and make it easier to organize and digest.

2.  Bucket

If you look at your list, you will find that you have similar items that you can group together.  Each group goes into its own "bucket".  These buckets are then used to organize clusters of related items rather than having to organize many more individual items. 

3.  Prioritize

No two items will have the same priority.  Each will be different in terms of the factors that often define priority, like:
  • Potential impact
  • Ease of implementation
  • Importance to the project
  • Urgency to get it done
As a result, you can organize buckets - and items within buckets - by priority, with the most critical ones listed first.  This will help your team and the client optimize the investment of time, effort, and resources to maximize impact.


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