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How to Tell a Business Story Using the McKinsey Situation-Complication-Resolution (SCR) Framework

Updated: May 9

The Situation-Complication-Resolution (SCR) Framework is a straightforward and effective reasoning approach. Management consulting firms such as McKinsey & Company often use SCR for consultant training. Reasoning approaches like this have been around for millennia, going back to the ancient Greeks and before. The best part about SCR is that you can start using it quickly and easily by implementing these three problem descriptions:

  • Situation - The framing of the important, recent context the audience already knows and accepts as fact.

  • Complication - The reason the situation requires action.

  • Resolution - The action required to solve a problem (or capture an opportunity).

As you practice the framework, you will naturally find more uses. Early in my career, I had the good fortune to work with a McKinsey alum, Richard Graham. Richard was my boss at First Union. Richard and I worked together to transition a lending business to First Union after they purchased Signet Bank.

At some point, I was struggling with communicating a particularly thorny issue in a way that was both descriptive and led to a high-value outcome. Richard suggested the SCR framework (1). That was about 25 years ago. I’ve been using it ever since!

Think of the SCR framework as a reasoning approach that 1) helps the writer organize their thoughts in a way that 2) efficiently aligns the readers to a high-value resolution recommendation. As modifications to the core framework, SCR may also:

  1. Provide background as a preamble to the situation, or,

  2. Provide multiple resolution scenarios, alternatives, and business case constraints for evaluation.

The SCR framework is a valuable communication and reasoning tool in my business toolbox.


SCR application examples

Here are two SCR examples, which help describe SCR and determine if SCR modifications are needed.

1. Everyday reasoning - In our daily life, we are faced with many situations requiring evaluation and decision. Let's say you have a client struggling with implementing some new Wisbang technology. They already bought the technology and now need to implement it. You may have a good idea of the best integration approach, but need a reasoning narrative that is clear, concise, and persuasive. This is the perfect candidate for SCR!

Situation: The new Wisbang technology needs to be integrated into our current process.

Complication: We have some constraints - like a limited budget, limited resources, limited time, limitations on current process impact, etc.

Resolution - A game plan to resolve complications and successfully implement Wisbang technology.

For another example, please see the following article. We use SCR for disaggregating the need to update smartphone-based driving apps. This reasoning-based app change will provide the driver with more risk and behavioral-based capability to provide a truly optimal driving route. Nudge for making good decisions about driving routes

2. Multi-criteria and multi-alternative reasoning ("multi-reasoning") - sometimes we are faced with more complex decisions. In particular, the resolution may need the evaluation of multiple criteria and multiple alternatives. Let's take the same client, but they have not yet bought the new technology. They would like your help to decide among several alternatives, including Wisbang technology. There may be several stakeholders that need to provide input. As such, the situation and complication are relatively straightforward, but the resolution has added complexity.

Situation: Our client needs a technology solution to solve a business issue.

Complication: We have some constraints - like a limited budget, limited resources, limited time, limitations on current process impact, etc.

Resolution - to determine the best resolution, we need to develop criteria, develop alternatives, create a business case, and assimilate the views of all the stakeholders.

Please check out our SCR VidCast.


A path forward

Generally, everyday reasoning can be handled quickly, with support from team experts or existing documentation. With a little practice, this is an effective business communication skill. One word of caution, people are notoriously poor at weighing preferences. In the earlier "everyday reasoning" example, we offered several complicating factors: limited budget, limited resources, limited time, limitations on current process impact, etc. The question becomes, what is the weighting of these factors? Is a limited budget most important? If so, then by how much? People naturally go to extremes. Either:

  1. it is 100% important or not important at all, or,

  2. it is evenly important, with no difference between preference weights.

The truth is ALWAYS somewhere in the middle. Some preferences are more important than others. Making those preference trade-offs BEFORE evaluating alternatives is essential. I have used the following smartphone app to help with my preference weighting:

Definitive Choice provides scientifically proven smartphone tools that quickly and easily help individuals or small groups come together on their preference weights. This becomes critically important to precisely transition your SCR-based complications into accurate resolution recommendations.

For multi-reasoning, decision support tools are needed to manage the collection of objective business case information and to evaluate the criteria and alternatives. The core reasoning is the same as everyday reasoning, but additional tools are needed to facilitate the more complex resolution decision recommendation.

Definitive Business Solutions, Inc. offers decision-support solutions to help with the more complex multi-reasoning example. They have enterprise-level decision-support solutions to help with larger, more complex organizations and decisions. They also have a smartphone app solution for less complex multi-reasoning decisions.

Individually, we spend far more time handling small decisions than large decisions. Success, in both my personal life and my professional life, is owing to a cumulative series of small, high-quality decisions. Consistently applying reasoning frameworks, like SCR, will reduce noise and increase decision quality. Decision support tools may be very helpful when making more complex decisions.


(1) SpeakingSherpa does a nice job providing more context.

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