Sunday, November 3, 2013

What it means to "Sanitize" a document at McKinsey

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You might hear your McKinsey boss or colleague refer to a document as "sanitized".  Or, you might be asked to "sanitize" a document.  This has nothing to do with hygiene or disinfectant.  It has everything to do with confidentiality.  In this post I'll explain what it means for a document to be sanitized....

What is a "santized" document?

A "sanitized" document has had any sensitive information - data, exhibits, images, names, etc. - removed and/or replaced with place-holder, fake, "dummy" data.  Most often, this is a McKinsey PowerPoint (PPT) presentation or "deck", although occasionally Excel models are sanitized to remove client data but retain functionality.

What does a sanitized document look like?

If the sanitization is done well, the document should, at first glance, look indistinguishable from the original.  Only upon closer inspection will an audience see that some critical and/or confidential information has been redacted.  Some common signs that a document has been sanitized:
  • Numbers and data that might not add up or make sense
  • Information has been replaced by "XXXXX"s or other "placeholder" text
  • Names might be non-specific - e.g., "Division A", "Competitor #1", or "Employee X"
  • Images or exhibits might have been removed, blurred, or replaced with placeholders (e.g., a "sticker" or text box that says "logo of Competitor A", a generic graph with no labels or real data)

What's the point of a sanitized document?

Sanitizing a document allows sharing of the relevant content - e.g., frameworks, analyses, approaches - without disseminating sensitive or confidential information.

It can also allow people to focus on the high-level, overall approach or storyline without derailing the discussion with details.  A sanitized example can help a team align on an approach and agree upon what work needs to identify next steps required to fill in the sanitized sections with real data.

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