Case Interview Frameworks: The Ultimate Guide
Case interview frameworks or consulting frameworks are arguably the most critical component of a case interview. Outstanding case frameworks set you up for success for the case while poor frameworks make the case difficult to solve.
By the end of this article, you will learn four different strategies on how to create unique and tailored frameworks for any case interview.
You will apply these strategies to learn how to create case frameworks for the six most common types of case interviews.
You will also learn six consulting frameworks that nearly every consultant knows.
What is a Case Interview Framework?
A case interview framework is simply a tool that helps you structure and break down complex problems into simpler, smaller components. Think of a framework as brainstorming different ideas and organizing them into different categories.
Let’s look at an example: Coca-Cola is a large manufacturer and retailer of non-alcoholic beverages, such as sodas, juices, sports drinks, and teas. They are looking to grow and are considering entering the beer market in the United States. Should they enter?
In order for you to decide whether Coca-Cola should enter the beer market, you likely have many different questions you’d like to ask:
- Does Coca-Cola know how to produce beer?
- Would people buy beer made by Coca-Cola?
- Where would Coca-Cola sell its beer?
- How much would it cost to enter the beer market?
- Will Coca-Cola be profitable from selling beer?
- How would Coca-Cola outcompete competitors?
- What is the size of the beer market in the United States?
This is not a very structured way of thinking through the case. The questions are listed in no particular order. Additionally, many of the questions are similar to one another and could be grouped together.
A case framework would provide a structure to organize these ideas and questions in a way that is easy to understand.
A framework for this case might look like the following.
Notice that we have simplified the list of questions we had into four main categories. These broad categories are frequently called framework “buckets.” Also notice that we have grouped similar questions together under each framework bucket.
This case framework tells us what areas we need to explore in order to make a recommendation to Coca-Cola. It also clearly shows what questions we need to answer under each area.
This is the power of a case interview framework. It simplifies a complex business problem into smaller and separate components that we can tackle one at a time.
So how do you develop a case framework? The next section will reveal four robust strategies for creating unique and tailored consulting frameworks for any case interview.
Case Interview Framework Strategies
There are four case interview framework strategies you should have in your toolkit:
- Strategy #1: Creating Frameworks from Scratch
- Strategy #2: Memorizing 8 – 10 Broad Business Areas
- Strategy #3: Breaking Down Stakeholders
- Strategy #4: Breaking Down Processes
When given a case interview, you will need to decide which framework strategy you want to use. Some framework strategies will be more effective than others depending on what type of case interview you get.
Therefore, choose the case framework strategy that is easiest for you given the type of case that you get.
Strategy #1: Creating Frameworks from Scratch
This case framework strategy can be used for any type of case. This is the most time-consuming strategy, but yields case frameworks that are the most tailored and unique for the given case interview.
To create a framework from scratch, ask yourself what 3 – 4 statements must be true for you to be 100% confident in your recommendation. These 3 – 4 areas will become the buckets in your framework.
Once you have your framework buckets, brainstorm a few questions for each bucket that you need answers to.
Let’s return to the Coca-Cola case example in which we are asked to determine whether or not they should enter the beer market. What 3 – 4 statements must be true for us to recommend that Coca-Cola should enter the beer market?
The four major statements that must be true are:
- The beer market is an attractive market
- Competitors in the market are weak
- Coca-Cola has the capabilities to produce outstanding beer
- Coca-Cola will be highly profitable from entering the beer market
These will be the major areas or buckets in our framework.
Next, let’s add a few bullet points under each area to add more detail to our case framework.
To determine whether the beer market is attractive, we would need to know the market size, the market growth rate, and the average profit margins in the market.
To assess whether the market is competitive, we would need to know who the competitors are, how much market share they have, and if they have any differentiation or competitive advantages.
To decide whether Coca-Cola has the capabilities to produce beer, we need to know if there are any capability gaps or if there are significant synergies that Coca-Cola can leverage.
Finally, to determine the expected profitability of entering the market, we would need to know what expected revenues are, what expected costs are, and how long it would take Coca-Cola to break even.
This gives us our case framework.
You can repeat this process for any case interview that you get to create an outstanding case framework.
Strategy #2: Memorizing 8 – 10 Broad Business Areas
Creating case frameworks from scratch can be quite time-consuming. Because of this, many interview candidates make the mistake of using memorized frameworks for case interviews.
Candidates will either use a single memorized framework for every case or memorize a different framework for every type of case interview.
The issue with using memorized frameworks is that they aren’t tailored to the specific case you are solving for. When given an atypical business problem, your framework areas or buckets will not be entirely relevant.
A poor framework makes the case interview significantly more difficult to solve.
Additionally, Interviewers can easily tell that you are regurgitating memorized information and not thinking critically.
Instead of creating frameworks from scratch each time, this second case framework strategy provides a method to speed up the process while still creating frameworks that are unique and tailored to the case. Additionally, you won’t need to memorize multiple different frameworks.
First, memorize a list of 8 - 10 broad business areas, such as the following:
When given a case, mentally run through this list and pick the 3 - 5 areas that are most relevant to the case.
This will be your framework.
If the list does not give you enough areas for your framework, brainstorm and add your own ideas as areas to your framework.
Finally, add a few bullet points under each area to add more detail to your case framework.
This strategy guarantees that your framework elements are relevant to the case. It also demonstrates that you can create unique, tailored frameworks for every business problem.
Let’s return to the Coca-Cola case example in which we are asked to determine whether or not they should enter the beer market.
Running through our list of memorized framework areas, the following six areas would be relevant:
- Market attractiveness: Is the beer market attractive?
- Competitive landscape: How tough is competition?
- Company capabilities: Does Coca-Cola have the capabilities to enter the market?
- Profitability: Will Coca-Cola be profitable from entering the market?
- Risks: What are the risks of entering the market?
- Strategic alternatives: Are there other more attractive markets Coca-Cola should enter?
You can pick 3 – 5 of these areas as the basis for your framework.
This strategy is a shortcut for creating unique and tailored frameworks for every business problem. Even if you and a friend used this same strategy, you both may end up with different frameworks.
That is completely fine. As long as the buckets in your framework are major areas and are relevant to the case, your case framework will be significantly better than most candidates’ frameworks.
You do not need to develop a framework entirely from scratch every time to create outstanding case frameworks. This case framework strategy can be applied to over 90% of case interviews.
For the remaining 10% of case interviews, you will need to learn and use the next two case interview framework strategies.
Strategy #3: Breaking Down Stakeholders
The first two case framework strategies can be applied to over 90% of cases. However, some cases may require you to identify and focus on various stakeholders that are involved in running or operating a business.
For these cases, the primary areas of your case framework will be these major stakeholders.
Let’s take a look at an example: Your client is a non-profit blood bank. They have volunteer nurses that go to schools and companies to collect blood from donors. They then sell this blood to hospitals, which use this blood for emergency situations when a blood transfusion is required. Currently, Hearts4Lives is not profitable because they are not able to collect enough blood to sell to their hospital partners. What can they do to fix this?
This case involves many different stakeholders:
- Volunteer nurses
- Blood donors
- Schools and companies
For cases in which many different stakeholders are involved, it will be useful to look at each stakeholder and determine what each could do to address the problem.
One potential framework could look like the following:
Strategy #4: Breaking Down Processes
Similar to the previous case framework strategy, some cases may require you to focus on improving or optimizing a particular process.
For these cases, the primary areas of your case framework will be each major step of the process.
Let’s take a look at an example: Your client is a waste disposal company that manages a fleet of drivers and garbage trucks that go to residential homes, collect garbage, and then dump the garbage in city landfills. They have an obligation to collect each home’s garbage once a week. Recently, they have been failing to meet this requirement and are backed up with garbage disposal requests. What is causing this issue and what should they do to fix it?
For cases involving processes and efficiencies, it can be helpful to look at the different components or steps in the process.
We can think about the process of collecting and disposing of garbage in the following steps:
- Get in a garbage truck
- Drive along a designated route
- Collect garbage at each stop
- Dispose of the garbage in the landfill
Using these steps as the primary areas of our framework, we can create the following case framework:
Once you have systematically listed all of the steps in a process, you can identify the pain points or bottlenecks that are causing the issue and determine ways to improve the process.
Case Frameworks: The 6 Most Common Frameworks
There are six common case frameworks in consulting case interviews.
- Profitability Framework
- Market Entry Framework
- Merger and Acquisition Framework
- Pricing Framework
- New Product Framework
- Market Sizing Framework
Profitability frameworks are the most common types of frameworks you’ll likely use in consulting first round interviews.
A profitability case might look like this: “An electric car manufacturer has recently been experiencing a decline in profits. What should they do?”
There are two steps to solving a profitability case.
First, you need to understand quantitatively, what is the driver causing the decline in profits?
You should know the following basic profit formulas.
Is the decline in profitability due to a decline in revenue, an increase in costs, or both?
On the revenue side, what is causing the decline? Is it from a decrease in quantity of units sold? If so, is the decrease concentrated in a particular product line, geography, or customer segment?
Or is the decline due to a decrease in price? Are we selling products at a lower price? Is there a sales mix change? In other words, are we selling more low-priced products and fewer high-priced products?
On the cost side, what is causing the increase in costs? Is it from an increase in variable costs? If so, which cost elements have gone up?
Or is the increase in costs due to an increase in fixed costs? If so, which fixed costs have gone up?
Next, you need to understand qualitatively, what factors are driving the decline in profitability that you identified in the previous step.
Looking at customers, have customer needs or preferences changed? Have their purchasing habits or behaviors changed? Have their perceptions of the company changed?
Looking at competitors, have new players entered the market? Have existing competitors made any recent strategic moves? Are competitors also experiencing a decline in profitability?
Looking at the market, are there any market trends that we should be aware of? For example, are there new technology or regulatory changes? How do these trends impact profitability?
Putting all of this together, we get the following profitability framework.
Once you have gone through this profitability framework and understand both quantitatively what is causing the decline in profits and qualitatively why this is happening, you can begin brainstorming ideas to address the profitability issue.
Among the ideas that you brainstorm, you can prioritize which recommendations to focus on based on the level of impact and ease of implementation.
See the video below for an example of how to solve a profitability case using this profitability framework.
Market Entry Framework
Market entry frameworks are the second most common types of frameworks you’ll likely use in consulting first round interviews.
A market entry case might look like this: “Coca-Cola is considering entering the beer market in the United States. Should they enter?”
To create a market entry framework, there are typically four statements that need to be true in order for you to recommend entering the market:
- The market is attractive
- Competition is weak
- The company has the capabilities to enter
- The company will be highly profitable from entering the market
These statements form the foundation of our market entry framework.
Note the logical order of the buckets in the framework.
We first want to determine whether the market is attractive. Then, we need to check if competition is weak and if there is an opportunity to capture meaningful market share.
If these two conditions are true, then we need to confirm that the company actually has the capabilities to enter the market.
Finally, even if the company has the capabilities to enter the market, we need to verify that they will be profitable from entering.
This is a logical progression that your market entry framework will take you through to develop a recommendation for market entry cases.
Merger and Acquisition Framework
Merger and acquisition frameworks are also common frameworks you’ll use in consulting interviews.
There are two common business situations.
The first situation is a company looking to acquire another company in order to access a new market, access new customers, or to grow its revenues and profits.
Another situation is a private equity company looking to acquire a company as an investment. Their goal is to then grow the business using their operational expertise and then sell the company years later for a high return on investment.
In either of these situations, mergers and acquisition cases typically involve acquiring an attractive, successful company.
It is rare to get a case in which a company or private equity firm is looking to acquire a poorly performing company to purchase at a discount. Nevertheless, you can always clarify the goal of the merger or acquisition with the interviewer before beginning the case.
In order to recommend making an acquisition, four statements need to be true.
- The market that the acquisition target is in is attractive
- The acquisition target is an attractive company
- The acquisition generates meaningful synergies
- The acquisition target is at a great price and will generate high returns on investment
These statements become the basis of our merger and acquisition framework.
Synergies is an area that should absolutely be included in any merger or acquisition framework. A merger or acquisition can lead to revenue synergies and cost synergies.
Revenue synergies include:
- Having access to new customer segments
- Having access to new markets
- Having access to new distribution channels
- Cross-selling opportunities
- Up-selling opportunities
Cost synergies include:
- Eliminating cost redundancies
- Consolidating functions or groups
- Increasing buying power with suppliers, manufacturers, distributors, or retailers
Pricing frameworks are used in cases involving the pricing of a product or service. To develop a pricing framework, you should be familiar with the three different ways to price a product or service.
- Pricing based on costs: set a price by applying a profit margin on the total costs to produce or deliver the product or service
- Pricing based on competition: set a price based on what competitors are charging for products similar to yours
- Pricing based on value added: set a price by quantifying the benefits that the product provides customers
Your answer to pricing cases will likely involve a mix of all three of these pricing strategies.
Your pricing framework will look something like the following.
Pricing based on costs will determine the minimum price you can realistically set. Pricing based on value added will determine the maximum possible price. Pricing based on competition will determine which price in between these two price points you should set.
In order to get customers to purchase your product, the difference between your price point and the customer’s maximum willingness to pay must be greater than or equal to the difference between your competitor’s price point and the customer’s maximum willingness to pay for their product.
New Product Framework
New product frameworks are used to help a company decide whether or not to launch a product or service.
New product frameworks share many similarities with market entry frameworks. In order to recommend launching a new product, the following statements would need to be true:
- The product targets an attractive market segment
- The product meets customer needs and is superior to competitor products
- The company has the capabilities to successfully launch the product
- Launching the product will be highly profitable
Expanding on these areas, your new product framework could look like the following:
Market Sizing Framework
A comprehensive guide to market sizing questions and market sizing frameworks can be found in this article.
As a summary, market sizing or estimation questions ask you to determine the size of a particular market or to estimate a particular figure.
There are two different market sizing frameworks or approaches:
- Top-down approach: start with a large number and then refine and break down the number until you get your answer
- Bottom-up approach: start with a small number and then build up and increase the number until you get your answer
To create your market sizing framework, simply write out in bullet points, the exact steps you would take to calculate the requested market size or estimation figure.
Consulting Frameworks Every Consultant Knows
There are six consulting frameworks that nearly every consultant knows.
I would not recommend using these exact frameworks during a case interview because the interviewer may think you are just regurgitating memorized information instead of thinking critically about the case.
Instead use the four framework strategies that we covered earlier in this article to create tailored and unique frameworks for each case.
Nevertheless, it is helpful to review these common consulting frameworks in order to understand the fundamental concepts and business principles behind them.
- Porter’s Five Forces Framework
- SWOT Framework
- 4 P’s Framework
- 3 C’s / Business Situation Framework
- BCG 2x2 Matrix Framework
- McKinsey 7S Framework
Porter’s Five Forces Framework
Porter’s Five Forces framework was developed by Harvard Business School professor Michael Porter. This framework is used to analyze the attractiveness of a particular industry.
There are five forces that determine whether an industry is attractive or unattractive.
Competitive rivalry: How competitive is the industry?
The more competitive an industry is in terms of number and strength of competitors, the less attractive the industry is. The less competitive an industry is, the more attractive the industry is.
Supplier power: How much power do suppliers have?
Suppliers are companies that provide the raw materials for your company to produce goods or services. The fewer suppliers there are, the more bargaining power suppliers have in setting prices. The more suppliers there are, the weaker bargaining power suppliers have in setting prices.
Therefore, high supplier power makes the industry less attractive while low supplier power makes the industry more attractive.
Buyer power: How much power do buyers have?
Buyers are customers or companies that purchase your company’s product. The more buyers there are, the weaker bargaining power buyers have in setting prices. The fewer buyers there are, the more bargaining power buyers have in setting prices.
Therefore, high buyer power makes the industry less attractive while low buyer power makes the industry more attractive.
Threat of substitution: How difficult is it for customers to find and use substitutes over your product?
The availability of many substitutes makes the industry less attractive while a lack of substitutes makes the industry more attractive
Threat of new entry: How difficult is it for new players to enter the market?
If barriers to entry are high, then it is difficult for new players to enter the market and it is easier for existing players to maintain their market share.
If barriers to entry are low, then it is easy for new players to enter the market and more difficult for existing players to maintain their market share.
A low threat of new entrants makes the market more attractive while a high threat of new entrants makes the market less attractive.
A SWOT framework is used to assess a company’s strategic position. SWOT stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.
Strengths: What does the company do well? What qualities separate them from competitors?
Weaknesses: What does the company do poorly? What are the things that competitors do better?
Opportunities: Where are the company’s opportunities for growth or improvement?
Threats: Who are the most threatening competitors? What are the major risks to the company’s business?
4 P’s Framework
The 4 P’s framework is used to develop a marketing strategy for a product. The 4 P’s in this framework are: product, place, promotion, and price.
Product: If there are multiple products or different versions of a product, you will need to decide which product to market. To do this, you will need to fully understand the benefits and points of differentiation of each product.
Select the product that best fits customer needs for the customer segment you are focusing on.
Place: You will need to decide where the product will be sold to customers. Different customer segments have different purchasing habits and behaviors. Therefore, some distribution channels will be more effective than others.
Should the product be sold directly to the customer online? Should the product be sold in the company’s stores? Should the product be sold through retail partners instead?
Promotion: You will need to decide how to spread information about the product to customers. Different customer segments have different media consumption habits and preferences. Therefore, some promotional strategies will be more effective than others.
Promotional techniques and strategies include advertising, social media marketing, email marketing, search engine marketing, video marketing, and public relations. Select the strategies and techniques that will be the most effective.
Price: You will need to decide how to price the product. Pricing is important because it determines the profits and the quantity of units sold. Pricing can also communicate information on the quality or value of the product.
If you price the product too high, you may be pricing the product above your customer segment’s willingness to pay. This would lead to lost sales.
If you price the product too low, you may be losing potential profit from customers who were willing to pay a higher price. You may also be losing profits from customers who perceive the product as low-quality due to a low price point.
In deciding on a price, you can consider the costs to produce the product, the prices of other similar products, and the value that you are providing to customers.
3 C’s / Business Situation Framework
The 3 C’s framework is used to develop a business strategy for a company. 3 C’s stands for customers, competition, and company.
The business situation framework was developed by a former McKinsey consultant, Victor Cheng, who added a fourth component to this framework, product.
Both of these frameworks are used to develop a business strategy for a company in a variety of situations, such as market entry, new product launch, and acquisition.
BCG 2x2 Matrix Framework
The BCG 2x2 Matrix Framework was developed by BCG founder Bruce Hendersen. It is used to examine all of the different businesses of a company to determine which businesses the company should invest in and focus on.
The BCG 2x2 Matrix has two different dimensions:
- Market growth: How quickly is the market growing?
- Relative market share: How much market share does the company have compared to competitors?
Each business of the company can be assessed on these two dimensions on a scale of low to high. This is what creates the 2x2 Matrix because it creates four different quadrants.
Each quadrant has a recommended strategy.
- Stars: These are businesses that have high market growth rate and high relative market share. These businesses should be heavily invested in so they can continue to grow.
- Cows: These are businesses that have low market growth rate, but high relative market share. These businesses should be maintained since they are stable, profitable businesses.
- Dogs: These are businesses that have low market growth rate and low relative market share. These businesses should not be invested in and should possibly even be divested to free up cash for other businesses.
- Unknown: These are businesses that have high market growth rate and low relative market share. The strategy for these businesses is not clear. With enough investment, these businesses could become stars. However, these businesses could also become dogs if the market growth slows or declines.
McKinsey 7S Framework
The McKinsey 7S Framework was developed by two former McKinsey consultants, Tom Peters and Robert Waterman. The 7S Framework identifies seven elements that a company needs to align on in order to be successful.
These elements are:
- Strategy: The company’s plan to grow and outcompete competitors
- Structure: The organization of the company
- Systems: The company’s daily activities and processes
- Shared values: The core beliefs, values, or mission of the company
- Style: The style of leadership or management used
- Staff: The employees that are hired
Skills: The capabilities of the company’s employees
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