Problem solving – De-escaltion

Smart Structuring Methode Problem solving
Categorie De-escalation
Short overview

One of the most sustainably successful management consultancies relies on efficient methods to help its clients. A central task is the solution of business problems. McKinsey relies on a structured process. Not too quick ideas for solutions, which may be “shot from the hip” and incomplete in understanding. A structured approach enables the correct assessment of the context, the detailed consideration of the drivers of the problem, their prioritization, the sounding out of facts on the basis of an analysis plan – because without a sound factual basis, no understanding of the problem or development of a synthesis can take place, the elaboration of a synthesis and finally the recommendation for problem solving.

Developed by McKinsey
Online Reference 7-Steps of Problem Solving
7-Steps Mater Training Deck (PDF)
Book The McKinsey Mind: Review and Analysis, Ethan Rasiel, Paul Friga
Die McKinsey-Methode, Klaus Balzer (Kapitel 7)
Key words De-escalation, problem solving, structuring, synthese, Key Performance Indicator

McKinsey consultants used a 7-step process to solve problems for clients. New employees learn these methods as part of the onboarding process, which has the tremendous advantage that all consultants worldwide work with the same set of methods and can quickly get into the problem solving process. It strikes me again and again that companies or teams still have potential to use structured methods for problem solving. Especially start-ups with very limited resources should spend more time on structured analysis than on actionistic and technology-driven approaches.


The procedure is carried out sequentially in 7 steps. Starting point is the problem described by the client, which is not the same as defining the problem.

  1. Definition of the problem
    Which basic question should be addressed? The first step is to reformulate the problem described by the client into a concrete question with key figures. What should be achieved by when? The more concrete the KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) are, the more concretely the solution can be worked on. Prior to step 2, it is essential to consult with the client to ensure that both have the same understanding of the problem to be solved, including the KPIs. Never start without having reflected them!
  2. Structuring of the problem
    Now the basic question is broken down into its components. This is where following the principle of GOODNESS helps – Same, without overlapping, accurate and exhaustive. You can present the result as a deductive tree – that is, starting from the general (the defined problem) into the individual components. This then looks like a tree with its roots.
  3. Setting priorities
    Clearly, a complex problem raises many aspects. But who is to solve them all at the same time? And as always, resources are limited. Prioritization is therefore beneficial here. Based on the tree developed in step 2, the most important problem components are identified. 80/20 – Focus on the 20% of drivers that cause 80% of the defined main problem.
  4. Problem analysis and work plan
    Which components of the problem require a precise analysis? This is done to understand the underlying problems of each driver as accurately as possible and how to solve them. A work plan with the most important questions to be clarified helps not to lose the overview. Concentrate again on the most important – otherwise: Lost in Analysis…
  5. Perform analyses
    The most important problems are now being dealt with in detail on the basis of the work plan. The analysis can include customer interviews, data analysis, industry trends, etc., in order to answer all questions from the analysis tree. In this case, chapter 7 from Klaus Balzer’s book “The McKinsey Method” is recommended. He stresses the importance of facing the facts, substantiating them with facts and conducting the analysis with an honest discussion. Wishful thinking does not help at all. The facts must be put on the table. Remain consistent in the matter, a glossed over picture does not help anyone. Klaus Balzer: “Only an exact diagnosis can create the conditions for the healing of an illness.
  6. Formulate synthesis
    Almost made it – the penultimate step. The process of analysis ends – hopefully – in the knowledge of the interrelationships and components of the problem. The synthesis consists of putting together a problem solution from the elements found in the analysis. The problem that was previously broken down into its components is now practically reassembled with the solution components. A new overall picture is created, which shows the way to solve the defined problem from step 1.
  7. Recommendation
    The summary of steps 1-6 – from the definition of the problem, through the facts found, to the final synthesis (the new overall picture), that should be summarized in writing. The facts are best backed up – in the main part should only include the most important aspects and of course the explanation of the solution. A good consultant involves the client (and the most important stakeholders) in the steps of problem solving beforehand and considers together with the client how the recommendation can be implemented, otherwise the expensive problem solving concept will disappear too quickly.
Best usage for… Complex problems that cannot be solved in a “Similarity Match”.
Weak result when… Too little time to carry out sufficient analysis and synthesis formation. Truths and facts cannot be brought openly to the table.
Template Introduction and recap of 7 steps (Slide 11)
Needed time span 1-2 days to several weeks, depending on the complexity of the problem (and thus the effort for the analysis)
Type of presentation Slide presentation (deck), argumentation paper
Size of group Ideal for small teams (2-3 persons)

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