A key part of the Manchester MBA’s first term is the not-for-profit project. At its core it basically involves five strangers bonding together in record time in order to complete a fully fledged consultancy project for a charity.
At least that’s the theory.
As ever in real life, pesky things like cultural differences, MBA classes and plain old-fashioned inexperience get in the way of optimum performance. But that’s really the point. If we were given two months free time in which to carefully sculpt the brief before going out into the world to conduct in-depth research to solve the problem I’m sure we would do a much more comprehensive job but it wouldn’t be an accurate reflection of life as a consultant. Being a perfectionist I do find it frustrating that the job might not be completed to as high a standard as we’d like but I guess that’s just part of the game.
We’re well into our project now so I’m in a good position to give you a full insight into the process.
The first, and probably most crucial, task is to get the scope of the project right. This may be the client’s first experience of outside consultants and, as they are getting the service for free, they can potentially run around like a kid in a sweet shop demanding a handful from every jar. They want you to supply answers to all of their problems. You have to be wary of this and corral them into a brief which is manageable and achievable. Our particular client is Victim Support and we’ve agreed a scope investigating the potential for various new revenue streams (NB: if the MBS secret police are reading – the client has approved us to divulge this information so you an stand down).
Second up, after pulling together a plan to achieve the project, you’ve got to get out there and do your investigations. As well as all the usual desk research (thank you Mr. Google) you have to actually speak to people in the real word. This is where one of the major difficulties comes in. It’s hard enough to persuade people to give up their valuable time to speak to a bunch of students. It’s doubly hard when you have to squeeze this into both their timetable and all your other commitments. Luckily we’ve managed to get into see a few external companies and we’ve backed this up with an online survey sent out to over 500 other target organisations. All we need now is for the responses to roll in (fingers crossed) in order for us to do the heavy analysis and present back to the client.
One amusing part of the process is that the interim presentation stage (presenting back to supervisors to show we are on track) is the first chance for foreign students to experience the vagaries of the UK university grading system. Us Brits are long used to the fact that a score in the 60’s is really a decent mark (a merit in Manchester MBA speak, a 2:1 in old money) but when my colleagues from around the world looked at their scores their faces dropped. They thought they were about to be kicked off the course in shame for only getting 72. Oh for the simplicity of a good old A, B or C.
The key issue with the NFP project (and, I suspect, for the rest of the MBA) is getting the teamwork right. Your groups have no hierarchy and thus you can’t rely on pulling rank and kicking rears to get things done as you might do in a work situation. You need to use all the tools at your disposal – gentle cajoling, unyielding reason and, if all else fails, rank stubbornness – to ensure that you deliver the report on time and to the requisite standard. The teams that fall down in this process seem to have one thing in common. They spend far too much time cogitating and discussing and not enough time doing. They are so concerned with rolling the potential scenarios round and round, by the time they decide on a course of action there is not enough time to gather the necessary evidence to support it.
Sometimes, even in an egalitarian community such as the MBA you’ve got to stick your neck out in order to kick things forward.