MECE is a grouping principle through which you can make lists of items that are Mutually Exclusive and Collectively Exhaustive. The heuristic device is an excellent help in diagnosing any problem at hand.
Communication professional are in need of a firm conceptual grasp of the problems they are facing before they should even think of starting to remedy them. Separating sets of items into subsets in a logical manner that allows for efficient analysis forms an important first part of the assessment of any problem.
Mutually exclusive, collectively exhaustive
MECE (pronounce me-see), is a grouping methodology that has been developed by McKinsey & Company consultant Barbara Minto in the sixties. A MECE framework provides you with a list of items that are Mutually Exclusive and Collectively Exhaustive. In other words: It covers all bases and there is no overlap between the items under consideration.
I will illustrate with an example. Let’s say I wanted to analyze the different reasons people could decide to not read my blog anymore (I know, a scenario that is very unlikely to occur in any circumstance, but please bear with me for a moment).
I will have to list for myself the different reasons people might decide to not check in anymore. However I decide to go about construing my list, I need to make sure to cover every single possible reason – I can’t leave anything out. My first attempt at making this list of what could turn people away might resemble something like this:
- The topics I write about
- The formats I apply
- The style in which I write
- The length of the articles
Let’s agree just for the sake of simplicity that all the possible reasons have been captured by the list I made. This list covers the CE part of MECE. But there is an issue still. Did you notice the overlap between 2 and 4? Every format comes with a certain length. The interviews are, for example, typically 1,500 to 2,500 words long, while articles like this one are about 1,000 words each.
My grouping might have been CE, but it was clearly not MECE. Since length is one of the qualities that make up the format, I decide to delete 4. Deleting 4 and keeping 1, 2 and 3 in place has made my list MECE. I will now no longer duplicate work when I go to examine for every item on the list where disconnects between readers and myself might lie.
MECE can be applied to examining any possible communication challenge. For example, I use MECE every time I have a conversation with a prospect who is looking for advice on how a public relations effort can help boost lead generation. My MECE list covers all channels used throughout the sales funnel, be they owned, earned or paid, to make sure that no stone is left unturned and that the assessment is done in a holistic manner.
Three ways to ideate a MECE framework
MECE sounds like a very intuitive and easy to use methodology, and it can be, as long as a sufficient amount of intellectual rigor is applied to identifying the items that will go in the list. IGotAnOffer mentions in this article three possible ways those items can be found.
One option is to use a mathematical formula. Let’s say you want to analyze what caused the ROI of a PR campaign to go down. The formula for ROI is net profit / total investment * 100. So, in order to examine ROI, you will need to assess both the profit obtained and the investment made. A second option is to discern the process and get to work with all the different steps that make up the process. What caused a team to underperform in delivering a website on time? You can find the answer by taking the project apart in its multifold steps and in examining up close in every single step what went right and what went awry.
Finally, you can use known lists. When I help clients assess their digital marketing mix, I do not ask them questions based on whatever channels pop into mind during the conversation, but have a MECE list of types of digital marketing ready based on inspiration I gained researching recent marketing surveys. (Marketing Charts is a great source to find those).
Did you enjoy this piece on MECE frameworks?
You might also like my piece on benchmarking where I warn against some of the dangers of relying too heavily on this technique.