Sunday, February 2, 2014

4 Reasons Issue Trees are Used for Problem Solving at McKinsey

"Issue Trees" are especially useful for solving problems - especially large, complicated ones.  In this post I'll cover what they look like and some reasons why they are the preferred problem-solving approach at McKinsey

What is an Issue Tree?

Issue trees are used to solve problems by breaking them down into their component parts.  That makes them particularly useful for addressing large, complicated problems.

They are called trees because they are narrow at the top - starting with the problem statement - and wider at the bottom as the problem is broken down into increasingly wider levels of issues and sub-issues.

Why are Issue Trees used?

Issue trees are a preferred method of problem solving at McKinsey because they...

1.  Break down a problem into manageable parts

Most problems faced by McKinsey teams are complex and difficult.  Breaking them down into issues and sub-issues results in smaller problems that are easier to solve.

2.  Enable solving the larger problem by solving the right component parts

Because the sub-issues and issues build up to the problem statement, addressing the right ones will solve the overall problem.  Proper prioritization allows teams to focus on the issues and sub-issues that drive the greatest impact and contribute most to solving the larger problem.

3.  Align the team on nature of the problem and path to the solution(s)

The issue tree provides a shared understanding of the issues that comprise the problem.  By aligning on the most impactful issues and sub-issues and how to solve them, the team will also have a shared vision of how to solve the problem statement.  This understanding can be increased by having team members participate in the creation of the issue tree.

4.  Provide insight into missing issues and sub-issues

As the team strives to make each level of the issue tree MECE, it will become apparent if elements are missing.  That will allow the team to investigate areas of potential impact that might have been missed if an issue tree had not been created.


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  4. You can create Issue Tree online for your organisation with Eris Solver

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  10. Thank you for sharing about issue tree. I think that mind mapping software such as MindManager ( or MindMapper ( are great in mapping out the issue tree to solve complex problems. You can use the paper, but I find that it can get quite messy and time consuming.

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