Let's start with the basics: what are case interview frameworks?
Case interview frameworks are a method for approaching business problems using a defined structure. The structure of a framework allows the user to break down a problem into its fundamental pieces. There are 2 categories of frameworks: pre-existing frameworks, and custom bespoke frameworks.
In this guide, we'll cover both categories. Let's begin with pre-existing frameworks, which are established business frameworks. Some of them are pretty well known, so you may have heard of them before. Here are the top 7 pre-existing case interview frameworks:
- Profitability framework
- 4Ps framework
- Porter's 5 forces
- 3Cs framework
- Market entry framework
- Pricing framework
- Merger and acquisition framework
The number one mistakes candidates make in case interviews is to learn frameworks by heart and to reuse them in interviews. Your interviewer will immediately notice if you do this and penalise you. Instead, you should create custom frameworks for all your cases. Trust us, it's actually not that hard! You can jump to the relevant sections below:
1. Profitability framework ↑
The profitability framework is the most basic framework in business analysis. It simply breaks down profits into its basic revenue and cost components and is commonly used to identify the root cause of profitability issues.
- Revenue can simply be broken down in the Number of units sold by the business times the Price per unit.
- Costs can be broken down in Variable and Fixed costs. And Variable costs can then in turn be broken down in the Number of units produced and the Cost per unit.
2. The 4Ps framework ↑
The 4Ps framework is widely used by company executives to design their marketing strategy. There are different variations of this framework that is also sometimes referred to as the “Marketing mix” framework but the 4Ps is the most common one. This framework is commonly used when launching a new product or when reviewing the positioning of an existing product.
- Product: What are the key characteristics of the product sold? Key elements of the product definition could include: customer need fulfilled by product, product usage (E.g.: who, where, how, etc.), good vs. service, product lifecycle (new vs. established), competing products and substitutes, etc.
- Price: At what price should the product be sold? Different considerations need to be taken into account here: the customer perceived value of the product, the price of competitive products, the customer price sensitivity, the cost of producing the product, etc.
- Promotion: Which promotion strategies should be used to sell the product? Key elements to consider include: promotion messages, media type (E.g.: TV, social media, radio, etc.), best time to promote, competitors’ strategies, etc.
- Place: Through which channels should the product be distributed? Key elements to consider include: possible channels to distribute the product (E.g.: in store, web, mail-to-order, etc.), customer expectations in terms of channel, requirement of a sales team or not, competitors’ strategies, etc.
3. Porter's 5 forces ↑
Porter’s 5 forces is a framework commonly used by CEOs to explore the competitive dynamics of industries. Indeed not all industries are structured the same way. Some industries are really hard to get into (E.g.: banking) while others have got very low barriers to entry (E.g.: newspapers). Suppliers have got strong bargaining power in some industries (E.g.: high-end medical equipment) but little power in others (E.g.: small milk producer), etc. Understanding these dynamics is extremely important when considering to enter a new industry or when assessing the competitive dynamics of the industry a company is already in.
- Customers’ bargaining power: How much bargaining power do customers have? If there is only one buyer but multiple suppliers then that buyer will be at a strong advantage. Key elements to consider here include: customer concentration (percentage of industry revenues from Top 3 buyers), customer price sensitivity, customer information availability, etc.
- Suppliers’ bargaining power: How much bargaining power do suppliers have? Similarly to the previous point, if there is only one supplier but multiple buyers then that supplier will be at a strong advantage. Key elements to consider include: concentration of suppliers (percentage of industry revenues to Top 3 suppliers), difficulty of switching from one supplier to another, differentiation between suppliers, etc.
- Threat of substitutes: What are the substitutes for the product and are they increasingly popular? As a reminder, water is a substitute for Coke while Pepsi is a competitive product for Coke. Key elements to consider here include: potential new substitutes, ease of substitution, evolution of customer propensity to substitute, etc.
- Threat of new entrants: How difficult is it to enter the industry for potential new players? Key elements to consider here include: regulation authorisations, capital requirements, economies of scale, network effects, etc.
- Existing rivals: How competitive are existing rivals in the industry? Key elements to consider include: number of competitors and their market shares, similarity between their products and products of the firm analysed, financial health of competitors, etc.
4. 3Cs framework ↑
The 3Cs framework is also commonly used to put together strategies for companies. As you will notice below, a lot of its components overlap with the Porter’s 5 forces.
- Customers: Who is the customer? Key elements to consider include: customer demographics (E.g.: age, sex, income, etc.), customer needs, customer segments size and growth rates, customer willingness to pay and price sensitivity, etc.
- Competition: What are the competitive dynamics? Key elements to consider include: competitors’ value proposition and brand, competitors’ market share and growth, competitors’ financial health, etc.
- Company: What defines the company? Key elements to consider include: product offering, profitability, core competencies, unique selling point, financial performance and resources, etc.
5. Market entry framework ↑
The market entry framework is commonly used to make decisions on whether a company should enter a new market or not. For instance, you could use it to decide if Startbucks should enter the Chinese market. Or if Nike should enter the sports broadcasting business.
- Market: What are the characteristics of the market we are trying to enter? Key elements to consider include: market size and profitability, products already available in the market, intensity of the competition, heaviness of the regulation etc.
- Client capabilities: Does the client have the right capabilities to enter that new market? Key elements to consider include: differences between the client's current market and the new one they are now targeting, number of times client has entered new markets and success achieved, other companies already in the new market, etc.
- Financials: Does it make financial sense to enter the new market? Key elements to consider include: current financial situation of the client, cost to enter new market, ongoing costs once market entered, expected revenues and return on investment, etc.
- Entry strategy: How should the client go about entering the new market? Key elements to consider include: timing of market entry (now vs. delay), speed of market entry (test region vs. whole country), opportunity to buy competitor or do a JV, management approach (control from HQ vs. decentralise), etc.
6. Pricing case framework ↑
Companies always face a difficult issue when launching a new product or service. What should its price be? The pricing framework is extremely helpful to help answer that question.
- Cost-based: What price do we need to set to cover all our costs? Key elements to consider include: fixed costs and their allocation across products, variable costs and number of units produced / sold, profitability targeted, etc.
- Value-based: How much are customers willing to pay for our product? Key elements to consider include: price of the next best alternative to our product, features that make our product better than the next best alternative, value of these features, etc.
- Competitor-based: What is the competition charging for similar products? Key elements to consider include: available substitute products from the competition, price of these substitute products, value of our product vs. substitutes, etc.
- Overall strategy: Given the elements above, what should our pricing strategy be? Key elements to consider include: objective of the pricing strategy (e.g. high profitability or high market share), opportunities for upsell / cross-sell that should be taken into account (e.g. Kindle and ebooks), possibility to sell different versions of the same product (e.g. iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus) etc.
7. Merger and acquisition framework ↑
Finally, the merger and acquisition framework is used when companies are looking to acquire or merge with competitors. These situations are not very frequent in a CEO's life but highly stressful which helps understand why consultants are often asked to support such initiatives.
- The market: What are the characteristics of the market in which the target evolves? Key elements to consider include: market size and growth, market profitability and intensity of the competition, market regulation, etc.
- The target: How attractive is the target to be acquired? Key elements to consider include: current and future financial position of the target, important assets or capabilities owned by the target, quality of the target's management team, target / buyer culture fit, etc.
- The buyer: What's driving the buyer to make the acquisition? Key elements to consider include: acquisition rationale (e.g. target undervalued, etc.), acquisition financing, buyer's acquisition experience, acquisition timing, etc.
- Synergies and risks: What are the acquisition synergies and risks? Key elements to consider include: value of individual and combined entities, cost synergies, revenue synergies, biggest risks of failure, etc.
Do not reuse pre-existing frameworks for case interviews ↑
Once you are familiar with frameworks, the question then becomes: how do you now use that knowledge in case interviews? There are a lot of opinions about how you should do this on the Internet. But the main two schools of thought seem to be: Marc Cosentino’s Case In Point and Victor Cheng’s LOMS.
In Case In Point, Marc Cosentino attempts to classify case interviews into 10+ categories and then suggests that candidates should learn a specific framework by heart for each of them. This is an interesting exercise as it exposes you to a range of business problems and helps you think about them in different ways. However, in our experience, learning 10+ frameworks is difficult and time consuming.
More importantly, in live case interviews, trying to recognise one of the 10+ case categories and the framework they are associated to is a real nightmare! Instead of focusing on solving the problem at hand, you end up trying to remember a framework that will not even perfectly fit the case you are solving. In our experience, the best candidates avoid this strategy.
In his LOMS programme, Victor Cheng advocates for a much simpler method than Case In Point and suggests you should only learn two frameworks: the profit framework for profitability cases, and a general framework for all other cases (Product, Consumer, Company, Competition). The benefit of this approach is its simplicity. It gives you a starting point that’s easy to remember when you are putting a framework together.
However, in our experience, this approach has got a fatal drawback. In practice, there aren’t that many profitability cases, and as a consequence you always end up using the general framework. Even if you adapt this general framework to the case you are given, it will not be perfectly tailored to the case you are trying to solve. More importantly perhaps, your interviewer will quickly realise that you are using a pre-cooked framework and that will reflect very negatively on you.
Both Case In Point and LOMS share the same flaw: they try to force pre-defined frameworks onto cases. In our experience, this is bound to produce average results because all cases are unique.
So here is the hard truth about case interview frameworks: the best candidates DO NOT learn frameworks by heart, instead they learn a consistent METHOD to craft bespoke frameworks for each case.
Learn to create your own unique frameworks ↑
A good framework is a bit like a tailor made suit: it is adapted to the problem you are trying to solve, the company, the industry and it is also as MECE as possible. If you use pre-defined frameworks, you run the risk of missing important elements of the specific problem you are trying to solve. This will therefore mean you perform less well than you could have if you had created a framework adapted to the specific problem from scratch.
In real life, consultants extremely rarely use pre-defined frameworks. They are familiar with them because they have studied them but they do not directly re-use them as-is on projects. Instead, they create a framework or issue tree specific to the problem they are working on. To do so they rely on conversations with their client as well as past experiences.
This might sound intimidating but the good news is that creating bespoke frameworks is actually much simpler than you think. It requires a few things:
- Changing your approach from adapting frameworks to creating them from scratch
- Learning a step-by-step method to create bespoke frameworks
- Practicing this step-by-step method on multiple examples
In our McKinsey Case Interview Prep Programme and BCG & Bain Case Interview Prep Programme, we teach a simple step-by-step method to create bespoke frameworks for each case. Candidates who have worked with us so far have managed to quickly learn this method and to perform at a high level in their interviews. If you would like to get a taste of this approach, you can watch the video extracts below or download our Free Case Prep materials here.
In summary, we find that learning existing frameworks is useful to discover a range of ways to think about a company. But in our experience, when it comes to consulting case prep, it is best to forget these pre-defined frameworks and focus instead on learning a step-by-step method to craft bespoke frameworks for each case.
If you’ve got any thoughts on frameworks or on this article, leave them in the comment section, we look forward to reading you.
If you would like to fast track your case interview preparation and maximise your chances of getting an offer at McKinsey, BCG or Bain, come and train with us. More than 80% of the candidates training with our programmes end up getting an offer at their target firm. We know this because we give half of their money back to people who don't.
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