Use existing frameworks wherever possible

Use existing frameworks wherever possible

Jul 6, 2010

In a complete problem-solving process you’ll have to build two logic trees: one “why” to find the root cause of your problem and one “how” to identify potential solutions. The good news is, you might not have to start them from scratch if an existing framework can be leveraged.

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Good issue trees are built on a structure that must be MECE and insightful. Using an existing framework may provide you with such a structure

Consider using an existing framework to structure your issue tree

Logic trees must be mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive (MECE) and insightful. Building them is hard work (if it isn’t, you’re probably doing it wrong). So consider using existing frameworks wherever possible. Just make sure that the frameworks you are considering are truly MECE (they often aren’t) and useful for your problem.

Existing framework typically won’t provide a complete tree; instead, they may provide the logical structure onto which you can build your own tree.

Here are a few examples.

The profitability framework helps understand how to improve the financial performance of a product or business unit. You can break down profitability into its two components: revenue and cost. Then, revenue is the product of unitary price times the quantity of units, while cost is the sum of fixed and variable costs. This framework may be used for both a diagnostic tree, e.g., "Why isn't our profitability higher?" or a solution tree—"How can we increase our profitability?".

The profitability problem is a recurrent one in management consulting engagements. It's also popular in case interviews. (See a fuller description of a profitability issue tree. It's also isomorphic to a larger class of problems, ones I call capacity problems.)

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A framework for a profitability issue treeThe Marketing 4P's framework—also called marketing mix—summarizes all the attributes of a marketing concept by breaking them down into four dimensions: product, price, place, and promotion. This is an example that, despite being widely-accepted, has known MECE-ness issues (see the paper by van Waterschoot and Van den Bulte referenced below).

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A marketing issue tree can be based on the marketing mix framework.

Ohmae's 3 C's, McKinsey's 7S's and Porter's 5 forces are useful for corporate strategies as they offer an initial organization to look at an organization.

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A corporate strategy logic tree can use Ohmae's 3 C's framework.

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An alternative framework for a corporate strategy issue tree is McKinsey's 7S.

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Porter's 5 forces can be the basis of a industry analysis issue tree.

The SWOT analysis can be used in more than just business situations. It segments the context around an organization, project or person into two dimensions: its impact on the system under consideration (positive or negative) and its location (internal to the system or external).

A SWOT framework can support a wider range of logic trees.Finally, Aristotle's three pillars of persuasion is useful for negotiations (more on Aristotelian persuasion here).

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The three pillars of Aristotelean persuasion can serve as the foundation of an issue tree for argumentation.
References:Van Waterschoot, Walter and Christophe Van den Bulte. "The 4p Classification of the Marketing Mix Revisited." The Journal of Marketing,  (1992): 83-93.