“For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them,” Aristotle said.
It is in that spirit that the NUS MBA programme launched the Management Practicum, a mandatory module for its MBA students. It is an extensive project that allows students to work with companies on their business challenges. Students get to use their management skills and apply concepts and theories acquired in the NUS MBA programme to real-life business dilemmas. Masana Takahashi, an NUS MBA student from the Class of 2014, advised Integrated International School, for his Management Practicum project. Here, he shares his thoughts on his experience.
Describe your management practicum experience in brief
- Management practicum involves hard work and teamwork, team discussions late into the night, number crunching, and running about for field research. The experience was tough, but there are lessons to be had from it.
- The more you devote your time and energy to the project, the more you will learn from it. The opposite is also true.
- If the client uses your ideas, they become a real strategy. If not, it is a good opportunity to learn about what worked and what didn’t from the project. In both instances, students will gain confidence and pride, as well as valuable lessons.
- Knowledge of yourself and your team members is crucial to the project’s success. A person cannot know everything there is to know, and is unable to do everything alone. All projects need teamwork. Think about how you can contribute.
How did you select your project?
I was interested in early-stage ventures. Fortunately I found my client, whose business was just two years of age and was seeking to expand significantly. We provided a holistic marketing strategy based on research findings and analyses.
Students can select a client from the companies that work with NUS. They are in various industries and range from start-ups to large corporations.
To be sure, potential clients will judge students’ qualifications. Even if students lack experience in high-powered professions such as management consulting or investment banking, their backgrounds offer value in terms of their industry experience, business roles, nationality, language abilities and so on.
What are the “hard” and “soft” skills you have learnt and applied to your project?
There are many lessons from the two surveys we conducted as part of the practicum. In choosing words for use in the questions and the order of the questions, we paid attention to the nuance of individual words and to the question order. Details create value. Even if you have general knowledge about an issue, unsophisticated details can ruin the value of the survey and even the project itself. While we have to follow business theories, we also have to look at the details to deliver advice that is of value to clients.
How does management practicum differ from an internship?
Management practicum is a wide-ranging, hands-on project while an internship is more about getting a job. Practicum differs from lectures in that it allows the real-life use of knowledge. Analysing organisations by using frameworks and theories, and discussing the issues with their management is challenging but one can learn a lot from it.
MBA students are also able to explore their potential more freely since they can be involved in management practicum projects for various industries and business aspects. The projects enable students to take on roles without having had prior experience, as their teammates have diverse backgrounds and the project adviser, a professor, is available to help.
Lastly, students are fully responsible for their team’s project. In practicum, students have to produce analysis and solutions for the project. Team members have to devise the work process and work independently and voluntarily. Members will gain leadership experience as a result.
Is management practicum relevant to a post-MBA career?
Yes, because I will be running my own business. So helping a small company with its marketing is exactly what I will be doing for my company. Although my business will not be in the same industry that the client is in, my experience from the project and the discussions with the client’s management will be of great help in the near future.
What is your advice to students who will be taking up management practicum projects?
When trying to resolve issues a client has, never be arrogant or have the attitude that “this company isn’t doing well because its people aren’t so good”.
The client’s management staff are experts in their field who are experienced and smart. As such, ideas readily found online or from books are invariably worthless, as are most ideas that emerge from short brainstorming sessions. The management has probably encountered such ideas before, so students should think hard to improve the client’s considered ideas.
Create something different by using your knowledge, experience, background and unique facts. Such facts can be found through unique research done by you and your teammates.