Using Frameworks for Planning: MECE as a Starting Point

Photo of Patrick Sims Patrick Sims · February 23, 2021

What do you do when you don’t know what to do?

Management consultants have a lot of frameworks for thinking, but one that’s really helpful in situations where the choices are confusing is to use a system called MECE, which stands for Mutually Exclusive Collecting Exhaustive.

This is jargon for “look at the big picture,” which is an exercise to truly see all the choices in a given situation (no choice is similar). Rather than viewing choices as a gut instinct reaction, MECE seeks to break down choices into a pyramid structure.

For example, a basic MECE explainer question is “How do you get from DC to NYC?”

Most people would say, “I usually drive, or take the Acela, and sometimes I hop on the bus to Chinatown because it’s cheaper.” One may think this is the full range of options, but it is based on familiarity and gut instinct.

The problem with using this initial gut instinct thinking is that we don’t see the full set of choices. This limits our options.

A MECE response would be “You can get there via land, sea, or air,” and they build on that answer with non-overlapping categories. By building this pyramid structure, one can outline all of the options within each of the categories and develop their approach within each category.

This expands our options and allows for a granular and structured view of all the options available.

So what do I do when I don’t know what to do?

I think about what I can do. Usually, to my surprise, I see that I can do a lot, and that’s empowering.


Read more about MECE here: