(originally posted here on 4th May 2011)
We full-timers now find ourselves mostly finished with classes, but still very busy. The company project is what we do in lieu of a thesis and is a lot more practical. Instead of simply researching a theory we get to go out into the real world (scary after six months of school!) and solve a real company problem. We are, essentially, cheap consultants.
The company project is a great opportunity to push ones boundaries and try something new. Coming from an electronic engineering background, I wanted to challenge myself in an area with which I was unfamiliar, and signed up for a project involving strategy for Ogilvy Ireland. My partner on this project, Gemma Ginty, found it through the CEO of the Ogilvy Group, JP Donnelly. JP is also a Smurfit MBA alumnus and a board member of the Smurfit School.
The first and most important thing that needs to be done when helping a customer to solve a problem is understanding that problem. In order to really understand a business problem, one first has to understand the business itself. To that end, we spent the first week of this project reading a lot of background material on the advertising business and the challenges it now faces due to social and technological changes. This immersion in the business not only gave us a deeper understanding of the industry, but also added to our credibility when speaking to people involved with that industry.
We then interviewed key players from different parts of Ogilvy Ireland to get their views on what was required. This is also a very important part of any potential change, from the “people problems” side of things (props to Ian, John and Pat for pushing the human element during our classes). A basic tenet is to include as many stakeholders as possible during the planning phase and listen to their feedback, so that as many parties as possible feel ownership for any change. As a consultant, one doesn’t want to crash into a company and step on toes, because it’s a sure-fire way to create resistance to any ideas that one might have.
Both Gemma and I found getting under the skin of the industry to be extremely rewarding. This basic understanding allowed us to engage in some creativity with respect to our aims and proposal, and we engaged in some divergent and convergent thinking, advice from our Entrepreneurship lecturer, John Cashell. To this end, we found ourselves covering syndicate rooms with post-it notes, trying (and succeeding!) to come up with ways to tackle the core problem.
As of the time of writing, we are still slap in the middle of the company project, so there is not yet any conclusion to this tale. What I can say for sure, however, is that an MBA gives one a different view of the world and a deeper understanding of business as a whole. This understanding can be used to really get to the core of problems that one is trying to solve, and develop an innovative solution. In this day and age, innovation is the key to success in any business.