My MBA journey comes to an end

It has been six months since I wrote my last blog post about the MBA graduation, and for reasons that I will later explain I thought now would be a good time to write a final blog post about my MBA journey. Looking back through my reference files I realised that it is six years since I initially considered undertaking an MBA, when I attended an MBA open event in 2010. In 2011 I spent some time choosing between a number of business schools and applied to two different MBA programmes, accepting a place on the Warwick Business School DLMBA starting in January 2012, just over four years ago.

The three and a half years that followed were some of the busiest of my life (so far anyway) – but full of some wonderful learning experiences, challenging assignments to write, interesting people to meet, and seeing the business world from a whole new perspective. Here’s a quick breakdown of my experience in numbers:

  • 39 x Months
  • 13 x Modules
  • 23 x Textbooks
  • 4 x Trips to Warwick
  • Too many webinars to count
  • Around 20 x Tutor Marked Assessments
  • 10 x 3,000-word Assignments
  • 1 x Group Assignment
  • 3 x Exams
  • 98 x Research Articles
  • 15 x Interviews
  • 111 x Dissertation pages
  • 50 x Blog Posts

So after all that, I’m sure some people are wondering – was it worth it? To answer that question, I probably need to mention my initial motivations for undertaking an MBA:

  1. I had a personal interest in understanding the business world better – for all I appreciated the basics, I was really interested in learning more detail about areas such as strategy, finance, marketing, operations, people and change
  2. Having mainly worked in technical roles since I left University in 2000, I wanted to make the transition to a more business-focussed role where I would be involved in some of the areas above
  3. When I had completed that transition, I wanted to have an educated view of the field I was in, rather than just knowledge based on my exposure to it from previous roles

Personal Interest

Although hard work, I can certainly say that the MBA fulfilled my personal interest in the field of business. I now have a really strong understanding of the many topics covered – and not only have I applied these when working with my customers and employer, but I also have a much better understanding of things happening outside my organisation and industry. I also thoroughly enjoyed studying the various subjects over the 3.5 years.

Transition to a business-focussed role

I actually started this transition at the same time as embarking on the MBA, when I moved into a business development role. However, I admit that when exploring new opportunities after graduating I was somewhat unsure as to whether the MBA would help me complete that transition, as I didn’t feel I was leveraging effectively what I had learned on the MBA in my  job search.

One point I want to mention is that after looking around the WBS alumni website to see if I could get any ideas to help me, I discovered that I was entitled to an initial WBS alumni career consultation free of charge. I would highly recommend this to anyone considering a career transition, as it provided an independent third-party who helped me to understand and appreciate my strengths that would be applicable to a career transition. There are also many other resources available at that website, so it’s definitely worthwhile students taking a look after completing the MBA.

Moving into the application process, what I found is that whilst having the MBA qualification did not appear to be a pre-requisite factor in the selection process (for the industry and roles I was considering), I think it provided a valuable insight for potential employers into me as an individual, and the knowledge and perspectives I built up from the MBA helped me during the interviews themselves. This resulted in me being offered a number of positions, and I accepted a role that I will be starting tomorrow – completing my motivation to make a career transition.

Educated view for a future role

I’m extremely excited to be joining Cisco’s British Innovation Gateway team, where I will be involved in developing and building Cisco UKI’s innovation capability, and working with startups, partners, customers and other third-parties on their innovation programmes such as IDEALondon, the Cisco BIG Awards and the National Virtual Incubator. This role directly aligns with some of my favourite modules from the MBA, including Innovation & Creativity, Strategic Marketing, Management of Change, and Complexity, Management & Network Thinking, as well as linking to my MBA project research, and so I believe it will be a great opportunity for me to put into practice what I have learned – and hopefully I will make a bigger impact in the role because of it.

 

So as my MBA journey is now complete, and I embark on the next phase of my career, this will be my final blog post. Thanks to everyone for reading over the last four years, and to those of you who have contacted me to say you are applying for, starting, or completing your MBA at Warwick Business School – good luck, and I hope it proves as valuable to you as it has to me.

Matt

Graduation Day

It gives me great pleasure to write that last month I graduated at Warwick University and officially received my MBA. The day was a great finish to a long, interesting, challenging and insightful journey, and it was lovely to celebrate with my family, alongside over 300 other students who were also graduating with a Warwick MBA on the same day.

The ceremony itself started with an introduction from the chancellor of Warwick University, Sir Richard Lambert, following which the conferment of degrees began. It was a wonderful experience to go up on stage and receive the certificate that marks the completion of my degree – and I was especially proud knowing that my wife and eldest son were sat in the audience watching me.

Accepting my degree

In addition to the University students, there were also two honorary degrees awarded to Neil Hutchinson, an investor and entrepreneur, and Charlotte Hogg, the Chief Operating Officer at the Bank of England. It was interesting to hear their individual stories outlining very different career paths – and also some concepts that were common to both of them, such as the role of innovation in their success (one of the WBS MBA elective modules I studied), and the importance of philanthropy to them. There was also a speech from a member of the Warwick University Alumni, Lisa Marie Djeng, who talked about her experience since leaving the University, and offered some advice to all us graduates.

Following the graduation ceremony, my family and I had our official photographs taken and then visited the WBS reception event, which was a nice opportunity to have a celebratory toast and see a few other graduates from my course. There were also more photos to be taken, including a WBS Distance Learning “Class of 2015” photo, and the obligatory throwing of the hats:

Throwing the Hats

And that’s it … my time at Warwick is now officially over. It still feels a little strange not immersing myself in textbooks and journals each week, or checking my.wbs for the latest updates (@WBS – the new Intranet looks fantastic, such a shame I never got chance to try it out), but I am definitely enjoying having my evenings and weekends back!

Three and a half years ago I started the MBA at Warwick Business School, and in my first post I shared a picture of me, my wife and our son Joshua. So I thought what better way to mark the end of the journey than with a picture of us now, along with our second son Samson who was born last year. As at least two of the speakers at the graduation ceremony emphasised, I would not have been able to undertake this MBA were it not for the support of my family, friends, and especially my wife Becky – thanks for your support and encouragement all the way!

My family three years on

Data Analysis & Writing the Dissertation

This is the final post in my P&D series, where I will provide an overview of the Research Analysis and Writing the Dissertation stages.

Research Analysis

The approach used for the data analysis differs depending on the research strategy and data collection methods used, so here’s a quick summary of the method I followed for Grounded Theory Research using Interviews.

As I alluded to in my previous post, one of the challenges I encountered was what to do with 15 interview recordings, each of around 30-45 minutes length – transcribing these was likely to take between 4 and 8 working days before I even started the analysis! However, reading the literature about Grounded Theory introduced me to the concept of coding: this involves taking the salient points from the interviews and assigning them to a ‘code’ which represents the essence of the statement. For example, the comment “a strategic alliance is where two organisations combine to produce a new product offering that does not exist today and brings value to both organisations” could be assigned the code “joint value-generating product offering”.

There are many different ways of undertaking qualitative data coding, included dedicated software packages such as NVivo. However, I decided to use Excel given that I didn’t want to spend time learning a new software application, and am very comfortable manipulating data in Excel. I started by listening to the recording of each interview and summarising the key statements made (as opposed to transcribing every word), as well as using a macro to record the timestamp for each comment:

Analysis Step 1

Then I reviewed all the statements across all interviews, assigned each of them to one of my research objectives (eg. long-term strategy, success factors, organisational readiness), and gave them an initial code to represent the statement:

Analysis Step 2

The advantage of this two-pass approach was that the initial recording of comments helped me become familiar with the data, and allowed me to get a view of the trends appearing between interviews, so I could choose codes that were consistent across all the comments.

The final stage of the analysis involved focusing on each of the individual research objectives separately, where I used an Excel PivotTable to summarise the codes assigned to each one. This was generally quite a long list (eg. 30-40 different codes), but reviewing all the codes together helped me to see trends or identify gaps in the level of detail. I was then able to return to the original data and re-code some of the statements (focused codes); this resulted in a more manageable list (eg. 10 different codes), which I could then compare across the different types of individuals interviewed.

An additional benefit to this approach (in addition to consolidating 816 statements down to about 60 codes), was that it provided a quantitive data set to work with alongside the original qualitative comments. Although the sample size was not big enough to draw statistically valid conclusions, I was still able to draw numerical comparisons of the data. More importantly, this exercise took around 27 hours rather than the expected 50-60!

Writing the Dissertation

Undoubtably the most daunting aspect of undertaking the P&D is writing the 15,000 word dissertation (or possibly longer with supervisor approval!). Although there is a typical structure for a dissertation, there is flexibility in how it is written. My advice would be to work closely with your supervisor to ensure it is structured in a way that suits them – not only because they have lots of experience in reviewing them, but also because they will be first marking your work. I had a really helpful supervisor who provided me with a pro-forma beforehand explaining what he typically likes to see in each section – by aligning my dissertation to this meant it would be presented in a way he expected, and ensured I did not miss any fundamental points. I was also in regular contact with him whilst writing my dissertation, not only to gain initial feedback on each chapter, but also to seek advice about topics such as the level of depth required for the literature review, and how to divide content between results, analysis and recommendations.

Here’s a brief summary of how I approached my dissertation

Introduction – I wrote this chapter prior to starting my research, and although I found it necessary to change it over time, I would definitely recommend writing this chapter as you start your P&D; it forces you to think about why your research is important, ensures you capture sufficient background information on the subject of your research, and encourages you to think about how you will go about your research – all of which help bring the P&D to life very quickly.

Literature Review – I’ve discussed the literature review in a previous post, but one of the biggest challenges I faced with this was how to avoid writing too much. Having a specific set of research objectives helped with this, as it provided focus to the review, and avoided me discussing the many interesting (but not relevant) findings on the topic in general.

Research Methodology – This chapter was slightly easier to write than others, and like the introduction I would suggest writing this before undertaking the research, as what you learn whilst writing this section may change how you approach the research itself – as I mentioned previously, I originally planned to pursue a case study approach, but writing this section resulted in me changing to the grounded theory approach, which was far more suitable to my P&D objectives.

Results – I encountered some challenges writing my Results chapter – the initial feedback by my supervisor highlighted that I had used this section to begin my analysis, with the consequence that I did not  display my results effectively. This highlights the importance of getting your initial draft to your supervisor early, as I was able to work closely with him to understand how to split content between the Results and Analysis chapters. Following a number of discussions, I focused on using the Results chapter to compare the various statements and codes identified for each of the two sample groups I interviewed. I used a combination of text, tables and charts to make it easy for the reader to interpret (and also to keep my word count under control!), which also helped highlight trends and patterns for discussion in the analysis chapter. Another minor challenge I encountered when writing the results was how to use references for comments made by interviewees, as all interviews were anonymous. I overcame this by using a code to classify different types of interviewees (eg. DH1..5 were department heads and SH1…5 were individuals working with strategic alliances).

Analysis – The analysis section focused on evaluating the research findings against the literature review. This was a much more descriptive section than the Results chapter, and  the section that required the most thought. It was really interesting to write this section, as bringing the literature review into context both helped explain some of the results I had seen, and also allowed me to identify some new theories: both specifically to the subject of my research, and also more generically to the field of strategic alliances itself.

Recommendations – This section is essentially the outcome from your P&D; ie. after undertaking the research and analysis, this is what my recommendation is moving forward. Having spent four months looking into the subject matter and speaking with many colleagues about the topic, I started writing this section with a view on what my recommendations would be. However, by taking the time to justify these recommendations using my literature review and analysis, I felt that I could really stand by these recommendations as they were proven by my research, as well as identifying some new recommendations that I had not previously considered.

Conclusion – There were three parts to my conclusion; firstly I stated a specific answer to the original research question. Although this may seem obvious, this is something that I didn’t naturally bring out in my first draft, and yet including it provided the dissertation with a strong point of closure. I also used this chapter to highlight some of the limitations of my research, suggest how it could be generalised to other subjects, and also propose potential ways of taking the research further.

Submission

Submission

And that was it … 6 months later, 110 pages (including appendices and references) were submitted to Warwick Business School. Not only did this represent the completion of my P&D, but it also marked the completion of my MBA – pressing the ‘Submit’ button for the final time was a wonderful feeling! Since then I have had my dissertation marked, and my MBA has been officially confirmed by the University. Next step … graduation!

My MBA Dissertation

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