The MECE (pronounced me-see) stands for “mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive.” The MECE principle is a framework that helps to organize and analyze information in a clear and logical manner. This principle can be applied to decision making to help individuals or teams analyze a decision and make the most efficient and effective choices.
Mutually exclusive means that each branch is self contained. Collectively exhaustive means that you have every element that matters somewhere. MECE structuring is used to simplify an otherwise unorganized problem. The assumption is that if a problem is broken down using MECE principles, and the pieces are solved as individual parts, then the solution will work when it’s put back together.
To use the MECE principle in decision making, the first step is to identify the problem or decision that needs to be made. Once the problem or decision is identified, it's important to break it down into its component parts. Each component part should be mutually exclusive, meaning that it should not overlap with any other part, and collectively exhaustive, meaning that all possible options should be considered.
For example, a company might use the MECE principle to analyze a decision about how to improve its sales. The company might break down the decision into three component parts: market research, product development, and marketing strategy. Each component part is mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive, meaning that all possible options for market research, product development, and marketing strategy are considered.
Another way to use the MECE principle in decision making is to use it to identify the key drivers of a problem or decision. This means that it is important to identify the most important factors that are driving the problem or decision, and then focus on them. For example, a company might use the MECE principle to identify the key drivers of a problem and then focus on them.
The classic application of MECE is found in management consulting. A simple example is to take the problem of what you and a group of your friends want to eat for dinner. Do you want Chinese food? Do you want to cook instead? Do you want to order take out? Do you want pasta? Or sushi? Or tacos? You can keep brainstorming and making lists of ideas but all this does is add to the confusion.
MECE breaks this down first into two mutually exclusive branches—eat in or go out. You can’t do both. You can then further break down eat in into cook, takeout, or delivery. Each of these branches has two sub-branches: asian food or non-asian food. On the branch for go out, asian and non-asian food are also sub-branches. You now have all choices captured. None of the different parts overlap and all of the different parts account for the whole.
MECE is a good starting point and can be a powerful tool for structuring analysis.
It's important to note that the MECE principle is not a one-time process and it's important to review and update the components as necessary. Also, the MECE principle is not a decision-making method by itself, it's a framework to organize and analyze information in a clear and logical manner, and then decision-making methods can be applied using the information obtained.