Your 2020 Guide to Case Interview Frameworks

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Case interview frameworks present a method for approaching business problems through a defined and organized structure. It allows breaking down a problem into more manageable chunks to work with separately. They could be categorized into two types: premade frameworks and custom frameworks.

In this article, we’ll cover both types of case interview frameworks and show you the benefits of each type. Although premade frameworks are widespread and something you must learn, often they will not be enough for a case, and sticking blindly to it will likely lead you to wrong solutions. Hence the need for custom frameworks that can be adapted to any specific case you face.

How reliable are they?

That depends really. For smaller, regular cases they might just work, as you will be able to use one of the premade generic case interview frameworks to structure your approach. But if you are ambitiously preparing yourself for a case interview at one of the top firms such as McKinsey, Bain, or BCG, you can forget about it.

Think about it for a moment. You are preparing for probably the biggest professional test in your career so far. At a company whose services are called upon by the industry giants of this world when they can not solve a problem on their own, and they pay a hefty price for that problem to be solved by the consulting company.

If it could be solved by using the publicly available generic frameworks, we’re pretty sure the company would find a way to solve this by themselves. In any serious, top-placed firm, your case interview problem will be beyond any pre-existing framework’s power to solve.

This is why practicing a lot of cases during preparation is important. To learn to structure your own approach and create custom frameworks, without using generic structures which your interviewer will notice as soon as he scans your notes in front of you.

If there is one thing the interviewer will pay the most attention to – it’s your approach to the problem. Even if by some miracle your case could be solved by generic frameworks, this would not impress the panel by any chance. It doesn’t make you stand out at all, nor does it prove that you can structure your own approach to any type of problem. So learn your generic case interview frameworks, but don’t rely on them to solve you a case.

Pre-existing Frameworks

Pre-existing, or premade case interview frameworks, rely on classifying each case into one of the premade structures to help you analyze the problem and reach a solution. In simple examples, this works just fine, and with enough practice, you can analyze the case and just apply one of the generic framework types to start structuring your answer.

This, however, will not do much good in any complex, top-level case. Think of these premade case interview frameworks as the first step to your problem-solving approach. Once you’ve gotten familiar with these, you need to start implementing your own structures and creating custom frameworks. You can find out more details about case interview frameworks on the following page:

Here we will go through 4 of the most common pre-existing case interview frameworks, to give you an idea of how they work:

Profitability Framework

Certainly one of the most common problem types in case interviews, and often the one to start with. It relies on the MECE principle and is used to break down a problem into smaller parts, before switching to a different framework to work out solutions.

Given that it is fundamentally MECE, this framework gives you a good start for setting up a structured issue tree. And as it is grounded on a simple mathematical basis, it is one of the easiest and simplest case interview frameworks that you can find out there.

Porter’s 5 Forces Framework

This model analyzes how a company’s suppliers, customers, and competitors interact with it. It also shows what effect new entrants and substitute products might have on its place in the industry. 

Simply put, Porter’s 5 forces would be: bargaining power of suppliers, bargaining power of customers, competitive rivalry, the threat of new entrants, and the threat of substitutes.

Keep in mind that this model describes the industry that the business is in, not the business itself. It also often doesn’t cover all aspects of a case and will leave some gaps to be filled.

Bargaining power of suppliers – Determines the bargaining power that the supplier has. Affected by the number of suppliers vs the number of customers ratio, but also by factors such as differentiation among suppliers, the difficulty of replacing suppliers, etc.

Bargaining power of customers – Determines the bargaining power that the customer has. Affected by the number of customers vs the number of suppliers ratio, among other factors such as customer price sensitivity, customer concentration, etc.

Competitive rivalry – Determines how competitive other rivals in the industry are. Crucial factors include the number of competitors, the financial status of competitors, similarities in products produced, etc.

The threat of new entrants – Determines how difficult it is for a new business to enter the industry. Key factors to include are starting capital requirements, regulations and legal proceedings, etc.

The threat of substitutes – Determines what the substitutes for a certain product could be, and popular they are among the consumers. Key factors to include are the ease of substitution, potential new substitutions, etc.

The 4Ps Framework

Often referred to as the “Marketing Mix”, this framework has multiple variations and is frequently used by companies when launching a new product or when reviewing the placement of an already existing product. Generally speaking, it is used for designing a marketing strategy.

The 4Ps stands for Product, Price, Promotion, and Place.

Product – Key characteristics of a product that is being sold, e.g. product’s purpose for customers, product usage details, product lifecycle, etc.

Price – Involves a lot of factors including competition prices for similar products, customer perceived value, costs of production, etc.

Promotion – Making decisions about promoting the product, including promotion messages, favorable time for promoting, social media marketing, etc.

Place: Determines the possible channels of sale, e.g. In-store purchases, online ordering, etc.

Business Situation Framework

A very versatile framework model that can often be used in almost any case, so it could also be classified as one of the basics. Elements that this template analyzes are Company, Competitors, Customers, and Product

Just like the profitability framework, this model is good for structuring good issue trees for most types of cases. It also covers all the crucial factors in business strategy, as listed above. 

The setback of this model would be that not in every case all four elements are relevant, and you will often need to adapt or modify it from its generic state to make it useful for your specific case.

Final thoughts

Case interview frameworks are a basic “must-know” for any consultant. Learning the generic premade ones might give you a better understanding of problem structuring, but a step forward in the form of learning to create your own custom frameworks is a necessity. Whether you are adapting an existing one or creating your process from scratch, you must teach yourself to think logically and in a top-down manner while organizing your data.

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