Posts Tagged 'tips'

5 MBA Consulting Project Success Tips

Last week, I mentioned my interest in CSUF’s MBA capstone course.  I’ve been looking forward to the course since I attended the MBA information session.  The capstone course (taken in one’s final semester) centers around a student consultant project.  Local Orange County businesses hire students through CSUF as business consultants, who then help tackle problems and develop new strategies for these companies.  Since I work in the public sector, I feel the capstone would provide an excellent opportunity to practice all my newly acquired MBA skills.  Luckily for me, I get to experience the consulting project ahead of schedule; each of my courses this semester requires one.

(Courtesy of Flickr)

I have been assigned to groups in each class and know which clients the groups will be working for.  This past Saturday, my Marketing Management group met with our client and needless to say I thought it was an overwhelming experience.  We met for 3 hours, learning about our client’s challenges.  In particular, the company has numerous marketing channels they use to communicate with their customers.  They want us to determine which of these channels most effectively attract customers, and then develop a marketing plan to entice more customers to their business.

It was particularly overwhelming learning as much information as we could about the client.  We absorbed details about their operations, toured their site, met with staff, and discussed their vision for our project.  After going through that initial meeting, I walked away with 5 tips that will be valuable for future consulting projects.

Get everyone’s phone number.  And email and any additional contact information.  This probably seems obvious, and it should be the first thing a project group leader does after the group is created.  But having everyone’s contact information is immensely helpful for staying in communication with everyone.  As the group leader for this consulting project, I made sure to ask for everyone’s current work situation and their undergraduate and MBA degree specializations.  My hope is those pieces of information will help us down the road when dividing up responsibilities and coordinating meeting times.

Share documents in the cloud.  Immediately after forming our group, I created a group Google account and distributed the log-in information to everyone.  I’ve used Google Drive in the past, and it’s been amazingly helpful for coordinating project edits and sharing documents.  I upload important information there, and it helps us cut down on lengthy email chains that can grow to ridiculous lengths.  Dropbox is another great tool groups can use to help manage their numerous project documents.

Set up meeting schedules.  In my 10-person group, more than half the participants work full-time.  That makes meeting scheduling a challenging task.  Group leaders should find a time soon after forming the group to decide when everyone can meet, and whether it’s easier to meet in-person or online.  Services like Skype make meeting over the internet free and simple.  Our group is planning on meeting for 30-45 minutes before each weekly class session, in order to touch base and find out how each member is doing with their assigned responsibilities.

Remember you ABC’s.  In this case, ABC stands for “Always Be Communicating.”  I made sure to start calling our client immediately after forming the group, and I contacted our assigned coach as well to begin brainstorming with him.  Communicating early and often helps with scheduling that initial meeting, and my talks with our coach help me think through the next steps I need to take as project leader.

Check out other groups’ projects.  Mihaylo’s Center for Entrepreneurship allows consulting students to visit its office and look through previous projects.  I visited the office this past Monday, and was able to get a better feel for exactly what will be expected for our final presentation.  I recommended our group members visit the Center and check out the samples as well.  Hopefully that will help get everyone on the same page when we meet to discuss the project in the future, and each member will better understand what’s expected of him or her for our final product.

I know these tips will be immensely helpful in my other course this semester, and our group has already started implementing these strategies for that project.  I know I will continue to refine these tips as our groups progress with the projects, and I will share additional insights and developments as the semester marches on.

Have you participated in a similar MBA client project?  What tips or strategies did you find most useful when working on your project?  Share your thoughts in the Comments section below or tweet me @orangecountymba.  I look forward to hearing from you!


The CSUF Case Study Method

I can’t pretend to be an expert at MBA case studies.  In fact, my first case study answer two weeks ago was pretty disappointing – I couldn’t even muster up an answer to the professor’s question about  What I found especially frustrating about that first case study was that I thought I was completely prepared for whatever the classroom discussion could go.  That was obviously wrong.

The professor had provided the class with a three step study process to prepare for first case study.  While most of his advice was valuable and I followed it exactly while studying the first case, I wasn’t as prepared as I wanted to be.  I’ve decided to share some of my limited insights (after only two case studies) into a case study method I now utilized based upon my experiences (so far).

Here are the three steps the professor recommended we follow when preparing for a case:

  • Short Cycle Process (15-20 minutes) – Skim the textbook chapter corresponding to the case study.  Read the first and last paragraphs of the case.  Review the case questions provided at the beginning and end of each chapter and those posted online.  Look over the charts, graphs and exhibits the provided in the case.  Take a break from reviewing the material.
  • Long Cycle Process (2-3 hours) – Read the assigned textbook chapter and the case in detail.  While reading the case, take notes in the margins and analyze the case material. While analyzing the case, apply key concepts from the chapter to the situation depicted in the case.  Identify any “noise” (unnecessary information) in the case placed there as a distraction – focus only on the information important to the case.
  • Small Group Discussions (20-30 minutes) – Use the time to bounce ideas off classmates (compare and contrast conclusions drawn about the case material).  Review difficult concepts in order to better understand them.  Discuss possible questions the professor could ask during the class discussion.

Having now worked through two case studies, I found most of the professor’s recommendations to be extremely helpful.  But not all of them adequately prepared me for the first case study, and I made adjustments before the following week’s class.  I was much happier with my participation on the second case, and will apply my additional study tips to future case studies:

  • 2-3 hours is not enough time to complete the Long Cycle Process.  If the chapter and case are long enough, it might potentially take two or more hours just to complete the first read-through.  I made the mistake of only spending the recommended amount of time reviewing the first case, and never felt adequately prepared.  I worked on the second case until I felt much more comfortable with the information and situation (about 4-5 hours), and that made a huge difference during the class discussion.
  • Write down the major concepts from the chapter.  I found that when I wrote down the key terms and major concepts from the textbook chapter corresponding to the case, I had an easier time remembering them during the discussion.  I was able to think a little about how each related to the case as I wrote them down, and apply some of those insights to the classroom debate.
  • Prepare a timeline.  The case studies may not always move in a linear fashion – some of the information presented jumps between different times periods and years.  I found that preparing a timeline helped me easily track major events covered within the case.  The professor often bounced between time periods, asking questions about a company’s strategies in 1972 and then later wanting to know why the firm made a certain acquisition in 1995.  Having a basic timeline of the case cuts down on the time I spend flipping through pages trying to find important information, and helps me quickly focus my mind and answer any questions the professor may ask me.
  • Bounce your ideas off someone outside the classroom.  I came across this gem on accident.  I was studying at my girlfriend’s house, and she was asking me questions about the case.  I found myself having to explain some of the concepts and material from the case to her, and I realized there were certain concepts and ideas from the case I had a hard time putting into words and talking about effectively.  This helped show me areas I needed to focus more of my energy on when preparing for class, and one of the questions my girlfriend asked me was very similar to one the professor asked in class!
  • There is no “right” answer.  Technically, the professor shared this piece of advice before our first case, but it didn’t resonate with me until after the second case study.  He told the class that the cases will not have a right or wrong answer – our role as students is to chose one side or the other of each argument and to demonstrate we can support that perspective with material from the textbook and case.  It seems to me, having now read a couple of these cases, that the information provided is purposefully ambiguous.  And by ambiguous I mean that one could argue for one side or another using the information provided, and probably make a solid case for either argument.  As a result, you cannot feel nervous or anxious about sharing your perspective during the discussion.  Just be confident in your research and supporting information, and share your ideas in the most persuasive way you can.

Now that I have a better understanding of the case studies, I know what preparation strategies were most effective for me.  If you have any insights or strategies you find useful when preparing for case studies, please share them in the comments section below.

Finally, here is an article I read this week that relates to this week blog post:

“What Makes a Master B-School Professor?”  This Fortune article talks about Yiorgos Allayannis, a professor at UVA’s Darden School of Business.  The article is part biography and part demonstration of what case studies are like at Darden.  Professor Allayannis is considered one of the top professors at Darden, and a respected professor throughout MBA programs.