Thursday, 2 December 2010

Case Study Competition in Seattle

This post is well overdue, and that is surprising because my experience in Seattle this April with Marc, Mili and Richard (three people who have since become good friends) was one of my best experiences while at university.


The story goes back more than a year ago when after an assessment centre selection process, the four of us were fortunate enough to be chosen for the team that would represent the Manchester Business School in Seattle for the Global Business Case Competition.

We endured an entire semester of having our Wednesday afternoons dedicated to training with two of MBS's top lecturers (Paul Cousins and Brian Squire). Training included analysing case studies, watching videos of other competitions, and presenting, presenting, presenting - so much of it that today I can proudly say I actually enjoy it. I still get the adrenalin and the nerves before presenting but I channel them in the same way people do when sitting on a roller coaster or just before a bungee jump - you know it's scary but you love it!


The time-pressure of having to produce a twenty-minute presentation, sometimes in three or four hours, was at first a little too much for us to handle. Working as a team was a nightmare. Marc and I would shout at each other, Mili would question every suggestion we made and poor Richard barely managed to get a word in. Six months later we were still doing all these things, but we had also learnt some valuable lessons about team work, which, had we been a little luckier, could have even won us the trophy. So here goes:

  1. People don't really change or completely overcome their weaknesses - but as humans we are extremely good at adapting to other people's peculiarities and I think that is how we ended up working well together in the end.
  2. First impressions matter but should be readily abandoned as you find out more about the people you work with.
  3. Know your team members' (and your own) strengths and spend 90% of your time utilising those, and only 10% trying to improve their weaknesses.
  4. Always drink with your team - to the point where each of you has an embarrassing story to laugh about the next day. Knowing the social side of your team makes them much easier to work with and even be friends with.

Our training also made us research so many different industries and companies that by now, I think we are all fairly competent at having an opinion or decent conversation about:
  • Bulmers and the cider market
  • Disney and the animated movie industry
  • Tesco and supermarkets in the UK
  • The low cost airline industry - especially in India
  • Los Angeles Times and the struggling press industry
  • Boeing, Airbus and aviation in general - our case in Seattle (slides here, executive summary here)


Then there are the personal lessons, of which there are so many I don't think one blog post will suffice, so I'm going to keep it short and practical, with the hope that future teams may find some useful.

  1. Use Doodle for scheduling team meetings - works like a charm.
  2. Use your slides to support what you are saying - they are an aid. If they have everything on them people will stop listening to you while they read, or give up altogether.
  3. When it comes to presenting, Paul had us repeating the same line a hundred times, presenting another team's slides, he would sometimes clap through our entire presentation to pace us and made us read 'Mary Had a Little Lamb' in an empty lecture theatre to get our emphasis right. But other than that we also learned to:
    1. Speak slowly! I always used to think I was talking slower than I actually was, so its OK to slow down, because trust me, once you see yourself on video, you will realise how nervous talking fast makes you look.
    2. Use pauses to cement a point you have made or to make the audience think about a question you have asked - but it also helps you gather your thoughts.
    3. Watch as many YouTube videos of good presenters as possible and make notes on what they do well - Steve Jobs is a good start.
  4. Use SlideShare to get ideas for slide design - this "you suck at PowerPoint presentation" is a good start.
  5. Make a slide just after your conclusion which has an index of your back-up slides (hyperlinked) so you can easily navigate through them during your Q&A. A logo or symbol on each slide is a good way to link back to the index page as well.
  6. The only part of your presentation worth learning off by heart is the beginning and the end - to make sure you go in and out with a well-prepared BANG... everything else should be rehearsed in such a way that makes you comfortable enough with the content to be able to express it in different ways. This helps if you are under pressure for time or if you forget something, you are flexible to move on without anyone noticing.
Seattle has so many amazing memories. The extra week of "holiday" we got because of the ash cloud was one of the best ever. Another post recalling some of the most legendary moments is going to follow soon...


Additions from the other team members:  

Have someone in your team create (what Marc calls) a sheet of lies. This is a very controversial, dubious and yet very effective Exel file that can somehow produce any profit or NPV you require.

Here's an example to illustrate this: After several hours of hard work, Marc tells me we can achieve a $5 million NPV. Disappointed I say: "Can't we somehow have an NPV of $1 billion?"; to which Marc replies: "Nik, I can make you any number you want!".

The sheet of lies was born. The inventor now works in investment banking and to protect his identity, the alias Marc has been used. :P
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