Want to improve the way you tackle strategic problems with effective results and make decisions in a logical, well-structured way? Alumnus Ed Vernon (MSc Innovation Entrepreneurship & Management 2019) Strategy Consultant at PA Consulting and author of ‘Components & Conditions: The Pocket Guide to Strategy Consulting Case Interviews and Estimation Questions, has the answers. In this interview Ed discusses how to apply hypothesis-based problem-solving techniques to corporate strategy decision making and other advice from his book.
Components and Conditions
What is the key lesson we can learn from your book?
The key is in the title – ‘Components and Conditions’. The overall principle is that whenever thinking through a strategic problem, you must be very clear about what type of question is being asked. On one hand, the question can ask ‘why something is the case’ or ‘how the client can achieve something’. In this case, the question could have several different answers and therefore the phenomena being examined should be broken down into its various components. On the other hand, if the question asks, ‘should we do xyz?’ the question should be broken down into all the various conditions which must be true in order to answer ‘yes’ to the question. This is a very subtle difference but has a dramatic effect when structuring a problem.
This book isn’t just for consultants. Everyone can take something from it and from the methodologies applied by strategy consultants to problem solving. It’s really just a way to make decisions in a logical, well-structured way. Many of the frameworks are tailored towards corporate strategy decisions, but you could very easily apply the components and conditions method to deciding where to go on holiday, which university to go to or whether to invest in a new laptop.
What did you learn during your research and in process of writing this book?
I really enjoyed interviewing some senior strategy consultants at a range of firms who all gave me great advice. Probably one of the key things that came out of my interviews is that the case interview is designed to replicate a client engagement and is assessed as such, not just in the question you are asked to solve, but also in other less obvious areas such as how you draw out information from you interviewer and communicate your thoughts. The more you can think about your interviewer as your client, the better.
The overall principle is that whenever thinking through a strategic problem, you must be very clear about what type of question is being asked.
How did the idea for your book come about?
When I started my course at Imperial I was already set on a career in strategy consulting. I had decided over a year before, having been recommended researching the profession by a mentor during an engineering work placement. This led me to do a lot of reading around the ‘case interview’, typical of the strategy consulting application process.
Once at Imperial, I was determined to practice as many cases as I could in order to prepare for the interviews. However, once I started practicing case interviews I found the problem solving techniques I had learnt from the books, although providing a fantastic foundation, often could not be applied to certain case questions or had logical flaws that myself and my case partners found very confusing.
This frustration led me to start sketching out my own methodologies and frameworks for tackling strategic case questions. Every time I practiced a new case and got stuck, I would modify my approach and create a new and improved method or framework. This iterative approach gradually led me to a set of principles that seemed to work for any case I was given. These principles formed the basis of my book which I wrote before starting my consulting job. I felt that it would be a shame not to share these ideas which could hopefully help future students and form a best practise methodology for thinking about strategic decisions.
About your time at Imperial
Why did the MSc Innovation Entrepreneurship & Management (IEM) programme appeal to you?
I chose to study at Imperial primarily due to the content of the course. I have a creative, technology-focused background, having studied Product Design at undergraduate level, and was looking for a course that would allow me to leverage my creativity and technical skills whilst also providing me with the core management knowledge I was seeking. I looked at many different universities as far as Singapore and the US but when I found the IEM course, I felt it fulfilled this balance perfectly.
What was the most important learning point you took from your time at Imperial?
It’s very hard to pick one thing in particular however, coming from a non-business background, the knowledge I gained in economics, accounting and strategic management has been immensely valuable in developing my general business acumen. Other major takeaways from my time at Imperial would be; all things startup investing (my VC module was phenomenal), how to structure business problems logically and an appreciation of the breadth of careers my classmates are pursuing.
Why is Imperial and your alumni community important to you?
I get a lot of satisfaction from mentoring current students and giving back to the Imperial community in general. It’s always really cool to see advice you give being put into action and having a great result. For example, I recently introduced one of this year’s Management students to a VC fund I interviewed with last year so I’m very keen to see how that plays out. I’ve also made some of my best friends from my time at Imperial and see many of them regularly.