MBA Homework – An example of the 20 minute paper

Last week it warmed here in Minneapolis and I felt inspired to do some spring (wishful) cleaning in my Google Drive. While doing the file purge/reorg I came across a paper from one of my last MBA classes, Strategic Management. Strategic Management is a classical business course and the intention in my program was for it to act as capstone course where you are able to combine the past few years of business wisdom you gained from course materials, lecture, and your cohort into honest, deep, and frank discussions around business. The open discussion is where the true learning comes from as there is an opportunity to learn how other organizations approach common business and organizational issues and you have the opportunity to debate classmates in a safe environment.

Capstone classes are historically fun and rather light on the typical ‘work’ you’d come to expect from a graduate program although anyone with a STEM or Comp Sci background will never find any MBA course challenging, at least not compared to discrete mathematics or physical chemistry. Still, there are papers and readings, and my capstone class had ‘light’ papers which warrants the student to pull out the quick response aka the 20 minute paper. Below is one such example which included some personal work references to allow for fast typing and then some class discussion/readings mixed in for completeness. Far from works of art or high mindedness!

Last Capstone Paper

I’m coming up on my one year anniversary at <CompanyName> where I lead up product development. When I began with <CompanyName> my expectation was for my focus to be split 75% on strategic / long-term planning and 25% on tactical / short-term needs and that opportunity is what attracted me to the position. Out of the gate I focused on learning the business, its competitors, and understanding the general environment via Porter’s 5 forces and I found it helpful in my ramp up phase. However, after a few months I was seeing a flaw with my focus ratio regarding strategical/tactical concerns; that ratio just wasn’t what the business needed at this point in time and the percentages should have been reversed with 25% looking strategical and 75% focused on the tactical areas.

Flipping the ratio came from a basic “walk before you run” assessment I made about the organization around the first of the year. An analogy would be with remodeling a home by changing it from a rambler to a McMansion and I was the contractor, bringing me on was a key milestone for our corporate growth initiative. When I walked in the door I was focused on planning the new floor levels, setting dates, & coordinating resources. I had assumed the earlier sitework had been done but I was wrong and had to slow down and consider other factors like the foundation, the utilities, and how the occupants utilize the home and how would they want to utilize it in the future. I had to ask questions like “do the occupants know we are remodeling and if so do they know why?”.

Since then I’ve focused much more on our processes, culture, and bring consistency to the company. I’ve always been drawn to the topics of organizational behavior and how a company’s culture affects the road before it and that came up in our first week of class when we discussed the Miami Dolphin’s story and their failure to understand the implications of releasing key individuals from their locker room. Any team is more than the collection of its parts and working with teams to build the norms and culture that mesh its past norms and future strategic focus is where I’ll keep my focus now and into the future. I plan to do this through providing leadership, personal accountability, and trying to empower others while working with team members to reformulate a culture of greater trust, openness that rewards creativity and attracts smart people.

Leadership is an area of great fascination to me and I’m always striving to grow and improve as a leader and know I have a long ways to go on a journey that shouldn’t have a completion marker just milestones. The type of leader I’ve been thus far is one based on trust, accountability, and action and I’d like to evolve to be more inspirational which I expect to come via wisdom and finding an ocean, hopefully a blue one, that calls to me thus helping me show my passion. I’m aware that if I’m not “on” or engaged that I can present some non-verbals that aren’t ideal leader traits. I’ve been a long reader of Daniel Goleman and his “What Makes a Leader” article in HBR regarding emotional intelligence is an area I have and will continue to put effort into focusing on so that I better understand myself and better understand and relate to others.

One leadership focus I will add to my arsenal is holding more postmortems. Postmortems are a norm in classic project management and while I’m typically reflective when things don’t go well I do so in an insular fashion and wouldn’t host a group reflection to do so. Also, my midwesterner nature would have wiggled out of allowing a postmortem on a successful project initiative much like I’d downplay a compliment but I can see that is where great learning resides. There is much opportunity there and “Why Leaders Don’t Learn From Success” was a HBR piece with much sway on me.

As I mentioned earlier, the past 8 months had been focused on process improvement while the strategic had been limited. We’ve implemented agile methodologies in our development teams which was later adopted on the sales and support teams. On the technical side we’ve devised processes for software deployment, quality assurance and testing, new technologies, and security improvements. On the organizational level we’ve set new HR processes with our review and compensation plans, created an onboarding plan, and beefed up the employee handbook. These are not the areas where I expected to be moving dirt when I joined <CompanyName> but now they are all building blocks that form infrastructure that allows for larger initiatives to come and build on top of. For example, now that we are 5 months into our agile methodology we have data on how much work we accomplish in a sprint to a degree of high confidence and may not apply that metric to the product backlog for our new product version and have a swag estimate as to when it will be ready for the market. This leads to conversations on marketing, sales, and support that then grow into those strategic conversations about business level strategy. And these are the other strategic areas I found so enriching from our conversations and materials: red vs blue ocean and competitive advantage with low cost or product differentiation.

There will be no shortage of areas for me to apply the topics we’ve covered in class and I look forward to having them.

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