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  • Maria Muir

Situation. Complication. Hypothesis. Experiment.

An iteration to the popular SCQA method: Situation. Complication. Question. Answer.


The importance of message clarity and having an immediate impact through what we say and how we say it has risen. The need to be hypothesis-led to test and learn how we should move forward and determine the right bets to take is our day-to-day reality.


Years ago as a junior consultant at a Big4, I learned a popular method – Situation, Complication, Question, Answer (SCQA) – that has served consultants well in being clear, concise and answer-led. Guided by a series of questions, the SCQA framework is a powerful tool as it structures your thinking and your message in a way that will resonate. Created by Barbara Minto and published in her book The Pyramid Principle by McKinsey & Company, the SCQA tool has enabled consultants to be awesome at framing up a problem and then influencing the client and its stakeholders.


A tried and tested framework: Situation. Complication. Question. Answer.


Situation

  • What is the context?

  • What is the external/internal environment?

  • Who are the players?

Complication

  • What is the problem?

  • What has changed?

  • What is getting in the way?

Question

  • What is the focussing question?

  • What are we trying to solve for?

Answer: This is the magic silver bullet.


The SCQA method was developed back in the 1970s. Back then, the world of work was much different to what it is today. Much of the work that we were doing was repetitive and knowable. This meant that once you understood the situation and complication, narrowed down the area of focus through a question, you would be able to determine the answer. Consultants have benefited handsomely from this approach as often the ‘answer’ is pulled from a deck delivered to a previous client.


Fast forward to today, the work that we are predominantly doing in the Age of Digital is complex. This means that it is unknown, unknown and we don't actually know what the answer is. We need to test and learn. We need to see if the solution and/or approach works in the unique context. This means that we need to have an emergent mindset. We need to experiment.


I'd like to offer up an update to the SCQA framework. The iteration is: Situation, Complication, Hypothesis, Experiment (SCHE).


A framework that encourages you to test and learn: Situation. Complication. Hypothesis. Experiment.


Situation

  • What is the context?

  • What is the external/internal environment?

  • Who are the players?

Complication

  • What is the problem?

  • What has changed?

  • What is getting in the way?

Hypothesis

  • What do we think is the question?

  • What do we need to optimise for?

  • What do we need to explore?

  • What is the riskiest assumption?

Experiment

  • What do we need to test?

  • What do we need to learn?

  • What data do we need to validate our hypothesis?

When the work that you are doing is complex, I’d suggest using this updated method to guide your thinking and to structure your messages.


Learning resources:


If you found this article useful you might be interested in additional Sooner Safer Happier learning resources on this topic




References:

  • The Pyramid Principle: Barbara Minto, author of the original SCQ framework that has provided inspiration to this iteration.

  • Cynefin framework: A helpful reference on the 4 types of work (complex, complicated, simple and chaotic) is the Cynefin framework by Dave Snowden.

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