Have you noticed how elaborate a meal is at any conference? The event organizers strive to make sure that every guest’s dietary requirements are taken care of. How do conferences solve for the needs of every attendee so efficiently? What is it that helps them recognize every possibility? Let’s look at this extremely efficient problem structuring tool called MECE.

What Is The MECE Principle?

MECE stands for Mutually Exclusive Collectively Exhaustive. It’s popular as a problem-solving framework in leading management consultancies. In the late 1960s, McKinsey consultant Barbara Minto developed the MECE framework. When she noticed that people struggled to write simply and clearly, she began to think of a framework that would help solve this problem.

The McKinsey MECE principle was developed primarily because McKinsey wanted to optimize their time when solving problems. When you apply the MECE principle, you break the problems into subproblems that don’t overlap (mutually exclusive) and cover all possibilities (collectively exhaustive). In short, MECE is a systematic problem-solving framework that eliminates confusion and focuses on the key points.

Breaking Down The MECE Principle

Let’s understand the MECE Framework in detail by breaking down the MECE McKinsey principle.

1. Mutually Exclusive (ME)

The aim is to reduce complexity by avoiding overlaps. You use this technique to ensure that you don’t consider a possible solution twice. If there are two sets of data, they’ll be treated independently of each other. Think of it as a mutually exclusive Venn diagram, where two circles don’t overlap. When you establish exclusiveness, you’re forced to look carefully at every option. This process leads to a much deeper understanding of the issue.

2. Collectively Exhaustive (CE)

The aim is to ensure a comprehensive list of solutions leaving no alternatives behind. You exhaust all possible options. The trick is to divide a problem into a limited number of general groups. For example, if you need to make a ‘mode of transportation’ MECE, don’t only collect data on ‘by foot, car, bikes and cycles’. Instead, create general categories like ‘land-based, water-based and air-based’. This process will prevent you from leaving out any possibility.

Common MECE Examples

We should practice MECE in our day-to-day lives to see its benefits. Here are some everyday MECE examples:

  • We usually present an outline or summary to divide our PowerPoint presentation into distinct sections

  • We often simplify long-form articles into a smaller number of high-level themes

  • Consultancies create a menu of service offerings for their businesses

Types Of MECE Framework

MECE is used to create mental maps that help break down a problem. There are three ways in which we can create these logical mental maps. 

Let’s see the three most popular MECE frameworks:

1. Issue Tree

An issue tree gets its name from its structure. Also known as logic trees, an issue tree starts with a problem statement and branches out into smaller problems. Some issue trees are created from left to right and others from top to bottom. Logic trees are particularly helpful to break down large and complex problems into smaller, more manageable pieces. 

2. Decision Tree

A decision tree is used to determine a course of action to solve a problem. It’s a tree-shaped graphical representation of decisions. It’ll help you examine your decisions in a methodical way. You can even determine potential outcomes, assess various risks, and predict chances of success. In a decision tree, you have a ‘root node’ that represents the ultimate objective, ‘branches’ that represent the various available options, and ‘leaf nodes’ that represent possible outcomes.

3. Hypothesis Tree

A hypothesis tree is similar to an issue tree but instead of splitting the problem into subproblems, a hypothesis tree organizes the problem around hypotheses (or assumptions). It offers a more direct approach to structuring a problem. When you organize your options around hypotheses, you ask every possible question or explore every possible area that’s focused on uncovering the issue.


The MECE framework is a means to an end, and not an end in itself. It means that people often get caught up in the process of optimizing MECE rather than actually deploying it to work their problem out. You should classify your ideas in the simplest way possible.

Harappa Education’s Structuring Problems course will equip you with the knowledge of certain frameworks to systematically break a problem down into small and manageable parts. This course shines the spotlight on the MECE method in a section titled the ‘The Magic of MECE’. You can learn more about creating mental maps for problems through the Logic Trees framework. Start learning to structure your problems so you can make better decisions!

Explore topics such as Ethical Decision Making, Data Driven Approach & How to draw Actionable Insights from our Harappa Diaries blog section and develop your skills.

Related articles

Discover more from Harappa with a selection of trending blogs on the latest topics in online learning and career transformation