The Pyramid Principle Explained

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For Managers

If you’ve been around consulting for any amount of time, you’ve heard of The Pyramid Principle┬«, developed and popularized by Barbara Minto. In fact, we wrote a whole article on it. But, as always, there’s a deeper level to explore when it comes to the Pyramid Principle framework. Follow along as Jenny Rae follows up with the Pyramid Principle Explained. Here, she gives an overview of the Pyramid Principle, the history of the Pyramid Principle, and how to effectively use the Pyramid Principle in presentations. Knowing how to implement this seminal framework will give you a leg up in consulting, management, and team communication.

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The Pyramid Principle Explained

YouTube Transcription

The Pyramid Principle Explained. It’s the most important workflow concept you can apply to be effective as a consultant. Hi, I’m Jenny Rae La Roux, Managing Director of Management Consulted, and corporate trainer for higher ed training on the pyramid principle and other topics.

One of the things that we’ve discovered through our work as MBB consultants at McKinsey, Bain, & BCG. Was the use of the Pyramid Principle and how it created effectiveness in driving into the details of problems. Yet, it does this without losing sight of the deliverable or the big picture. And that’s what Pyramid Principle does and why we’re explaining it to you. I’m gonna walk through a brief history of the Pyramid Principle, and what the Pyramid Principle is in this video, And if you want more information you can always reach out to us because we have a wealth of knowledge, and tools, and tips, and tricks around the Pyramid Principle.

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History Of The Pyramid Principle

Let me explain some history of the Pyramid Principle so you understand where it came from. First of all, it’s not from the Egyptian Pyramids. It’s from about 40 years ago, when Barbara Minto who was an HBS alum, and one of the first female partners at McKinsey, created this as a tool to help people improve their written communication. She found that when she was working with folks that were more junior to her, that they were not effectively creating arguments that were substantiated with the facts. And that they weren’t ordered in a way that put the most important arguments first. So she created this idea of the Pyramid Principle as a way to help people sharpen their arguments and create better effective communication, internally and externally with clients.

What Is The Pyramid Principle

Well, fast forward to now. We’ll explain the Pyramid Principle as one of the most widely taught and implemented tools at consulting firms. It has proven to be an incredibly effective tool. It creates focus for consultants who are looking at rampant and ridiculous amounts of data.

Pyramid Principle Structure

For anyone who studied story structure, if you think about a standard movie, there’s a baseline and an introduction of the characters. Then there’s a problem statement. And then you move up toward the key take away, the message, or the crisis moment. And then there’s a resolution.

Top Of The Pyramid

And the Pyramid Principle explanation actually begins with the crisis, it hits it on the head. And when you think about building a consulting presentation, the way that this plays out, is that you actually lay out your hypothesis, or your assertion, right at the very beginning of the presentation. Rather than creating context and background around it.

What is the importance of that. Well when you’re dealing with executives, who are going to need to be driven to make specific clear decisions, it’s essential that you communicate to them the importance of what you want to communicate. Not the process that you go through, and every little minor detail. You need to drive them to 1-3 total conclusions. And if you wait till halfway or three quarters of the way through your presentation, they might feel baited. They might feel confused, and they might disagree with you, all the way along the way. If you want to have them disagree, have them disagree early, and then see what happens after that.

Pyramid Principle Applied

There are three parts of the Pyramid Principle

  1. The first and the most important part, is the answer.
    • When we’re working with coaching and corporate clients, we encourage them to begin with the answer. The answer they believe will be proven through data analysis later. We encourage them to communicate it, we encourage them to very clearly build their workflow around it. All the while encouraging them to keep an open mind. Sometimes the answer that you begin with on a case in a consulting project, or internally as you manage a team, will be disproven by the work you do afterwards. However, having an answer brings clarity to the work process.
  2. Part 2 of the Pyramid Principle is one layer down, the next middle part of the Pyramid. And these are arguments that support your answer.
    • These arguments are critical, and there should usually be three to five of those arguments. The arguments are the things that you will later go on to prove. And stating them as arguments, as mini assertions, is again, very helpful to clarify the way that you’re going to walk through your structure.
  3. The final part of the Pyramid is the bottom layer. The bottom layer is data.
    • Each part of data inside a presentation or a written communication should support the argument up above it. And each one of those arguments should support the answer. So once you get down to the data layer, that’s where you’re proving out some of the substantiating evidence behind the arguments and the answer. If you think about it like this, the levels of insight for McKinsey. The data doesn’t even include any insight. It’s just information.

Concluding Thoughts

The argument is a level one insight. It says here is what the data says. This is the biggest market. The answer is we should go into the market. So that is a level two insight as far as McKinsey is concerned. Again, the bottom layer, the foundation of everything is the data. That’s the thing that you do last in your workflow. The arguments are the middle layer of the data, or the level one insights. Those you define upfront, and you prove or disprove them with the data when you do the analysis. And the top, the answer. The thing that you start with, both in communication and in your work flow. The recommendation for action that an organization should take.

Contact us, if your team or organization don’t consistently use the Pyramid Principle, but know it would increase effectiveness. We would love to provide you with more tools and training to communicate effectively. Contact us today!

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