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

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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

Planning your P&D Research

Following the literature review which I described in my last blog post, the typical next step on an MBA project is the research stage. This was the stage that I was most looking forward to, as it allowed me to engage in the topic in a real-life environment, and capture new insights above those I had read about in the literature review.

Book - Research Methods for Business StudentsAlthough I already had a view on the approach I intended to take for my research, I reviewed the book Research Methods for Business Students first; this not only shaped my research plan, but also helped me appreciate the reasons why this approach was most suitable, as well as some of the limitations. It quickly became apparent that planning academic research is about much more than just deciding whether you want to undertake interviews, surveys, observation, etc., with many other factors to consider first.

Preparing for your Research

One of the first aspects to consider is the Research Philosophy, which could be one of Positivism, Realism, Interpretivism and Pragmatism. Following a brief review of these, it became clear that I was pursuing an interpretivist philosophy for my research. Although I don’t feel this impacted significantly on how I undertook my research, reading about these philosophies  brought an awareness of the different perspectives that research can take, and helped me appreciate how complex the field of research is.

Following this, I looked into the Research Approach. This appeared to be more  relevant to planning my research, as it describes the overall intent of undertaking the research:

  • Deductive – this type of research involves proving or disproving a specific hypothesis
  • Inductive – this is more of an exploratory approach to research, where the hypothesis is expected to ‘emerge’ from the research findings
  • Abductive – this is a combination of the above two approaches; inductive research is undertaken to identify a hypothesis, and then  deductive research is taken to prove/disprove it

Although I originally wanted to pursue an abductive research approach, following discussions with my supervisor I decided to use an inductive research approach, as I would not have had time to undertake two separate research exercises.

Next I considered the Research Methodology – was I intending to undertake quantitative research based on statistical or mathematical data, or qualitative research based on words, images and other less-structured data (I appreciate this is a somewhat simplified view of the two!). The majority of my research was likely to be qualitative (as I was planning to use interviews to capture participants’  viewpoints) but there was also likely to be a quantitative aspect as I intended to capture some information in specific categories, and then apply a mathematical comparison of the output. My key observation from this, however, was that the choice of qualitative or quantitative does not necessarily need to be made when planning research, and in my case developing my research plan changed the balance slightly.

Finally there is the Research Design:

  • Exploratory research – used to explore a topic and capture new insights
  • Descriptive research – used to understand what happened or is happening
  • Explanatory research – used to explain what happened or is happening

I opted to pursue an exploratory research design, as the objective of my research was to plan for a future scenario, as opposed to evaluating a past situation.

Research Strategy

Many different strategies can be used for undertaking research, including:

  • experiments,
  • surveys,
  • archival research,
  • case studies,
  • ethnography,
  • action research,
  • grounded theory research,
  • narrative inquiry

Initially my intention was to pursue a case study approach; however, after further investigation I realised this involved focused on explaining a past or current event, rather than preparing for a future one (which was the objective of my dissertation). This led me to look into action research, but this relies on the research resulting in changes to the topics being studied, which would not be possible in my “advisory” P&D. I finally decided to use a grounded theory research strategy, which involves developing new theories based on findings from my research.

Although the choice of research strategy may appear academic, I would strongly suggest that anyone undertaking a P&D considers this towards the start of their project – there is a wealth of information on each of these strategies that will not only help design the research appropriately, but also maximise the insights captured from it. I personally found a lot of value in reading about them, especially when I had decided on the strategy I wanted to pursue.

Data Collection Methodology

The final aspect to planning research (although ironically the one that most people think of first) is what method to collect data using. There are three key data collection methods for primary research:

  • Observation
  • Interviews & Focus groups
  • Questionnaires & Surveys

I decided to use semi-structured interviews for my research as they would allow me to explore the topic in-depth with the research participants, and also provide an environment where I could capture new learnings about a topic, rather than limiting the research to my current understanding of the topic. Here are some tips for anyone else considering using interviews for their research:

  • Getting a good sample is critical – I was lucky as I had a very supportive sponsor who helped facilitate access to a large and appropriate range of interviewees, but this is definitely something that should be considered early as gaining access can take some time.
  • Sony DictaphoneUse the right tools – I purchased a Sony Dictaphone just for this research, which was a very worthwhile investment as the interview recordings were extremely clear and easy to review and write-up.
  • Plan your interview, but be flexible – I spent a lot of time preparing interview themes, questions and discussion points, all of which were valuable for less forthcoming interviewees. However, some of the most insightful interviews were those where the interviewees strayed from the initial themes slightly, and exposed thoughts and observations that provided a more rounded view of my research topic.
  • Be conscious of the time to write-up the results – full transcribing of interviews can take 3-6x the length of the interviews (so 15 x 45-minute interviews would require 30-60 hours!). However, depending on the purpose of the research full transcribing may not be necessary; I used a coding approach to reduce this to about 2x the duration (see the textbooks on Grounded Theory for more information on this).

As you can probably tell from the above, planning research is far more involved than just choosing a way to collect data, and I recommend the above points are all given at least some thought prior to starting research (not least because it will help when writing the ‘research methodology’ section of your dissertation). I would also recommend either investing in or loaning two books – the first would be a broad business research book the explains the above in more detail Constructing Grounded Theory(such as the one I mentioned in a previous blog post); the second would be a book specific to your choice of research strategy (eg. grounded theory), as this will help ensure that your approach to data collection will allow you to analyse the results quickly, and in a way that maximises the value you get from your findings.

Overall I found the research stage of my P&D really interesting, and it gave me a fantastic opportunity to engage with some senior individuals at my employer and discuss a very interesting topic (and if there are any reading this – thank you very much for your time, every interview was extremely valuable). The next step of my P&D was to analyse the results and write the dissertation, which will be the subject of my next blog post.

The P&D Literature Review

It is with great pleasure that I can write that earlier this month I submitted the final assignment of my MBA, the dissertation. Pressing the ‘Submit’ button represented not only the completion of my Project & Dissertation, but also the end of my MBA studies – and despite having thoroughly enjoyed the experience, and acquired a wealth of knowledge, it felt wonderful to draw it to a close after 38 months of studying. All that is left now is to wait for my dissertation to be graded, following which I should be able to graduate and formally conclude my MBA in July this year.

Until then, however, I will continue sharing my experience of the P&D; my last post described my plan for the P&D, and I will now explain how I approached the first stage, the literature review.

The Literature Review

I admit that this wasn’t something I was looking forward to – the task of finding and reviewing 50-100 documents seemed quite daunting. However, the book I referred to in my last post provided some useful guidance which made the whole process a lot easier, and resulted in me splitting it into four different stages: Search, Review, Analyse and Write.

1. Search

I started the literature review process by searching for articles using the Warwick University Library website. This contains a full catalogue of books, eBooks, papers, journals, and other documentary sources, which can either be accessed online, or viewed physically from the University Library; despite being a distance-learning student, I was still able to gain access to printed materials using the postal loan service, which proved invaluable on a number of occasions.

One of the initial challenges is figuring out where to start – a search for “strategic alliances” identified 84,683 different articles! However, I quickly found that by bringing together different phrases that were aligned with my research objectives, I was able to view a more focused set of results. I also narrowed down the results using the filters built into the search tool (eg. timeframe = last 10 years, subject area = strategic alliances), and also undertook a manual filtering exercise where I excluded documents that were clearly not relevant based on their title. This didn’t take long – after 6-7 searches I had identified over 70 documents, and found that subsequent searches were increasingly showing the same documents.

Once you have found the various literature sources, it’s important to find a way to store them. There is an ‘add to bag’ option within the library search application, but I didn’t feel this would give me sufficient ability to manage the different sources properly moving forward. As such, I decided to create a spreadsheet, recording the title, year, and any initial thoughts for each source – although this was more time-consuming than just adding to a bag, it was really helpful during the analysis and writing up stages. I also stored copy of each document in Evernote (see here to find out how) – although this was a time-consuming activity, it made writing the dissertation far easier.

Literature Review Table

2. Review

After collating all the documents I reviewed them in varying levels of depth – some I read end-to-end (especially the shorter HBR articles), annotating them using Evernote; others I just skimmed the introduction, conclusion and any sections that appeared particularly relevant. The objective of this stage was to determine the focus of each document, as well as understanding which of them would actually be relevant, useful and applicable to the research. A useful tip that I read was to write one or two sentences for each source that summarises the key message/focus areas; again this was very useful in future stages.

As part of this stage I also recorded which of the research objectives each document was relevant to in my previous spreadsheet, which made writing the literature review much easier as I could just filter the sources by this column.

3. Analyse

The next stage of the literature review was to review the relevant documents identified in the Review stage, capturing specifically relevant comments, conclusions, explanations, theories, models, and other artefacts that can be used to explain, justify, or potentially challenge my research findings. This step became more of an ongoing process that started before I planned my research, and continued right through to writing the literature review; however, this might be a reflection of the methodology that I pursued (Grounded Theory) rather than being appropriate for all dissertations.

Initially I used a table similar to the Review stage where I noted specific comments that I thought might be useful when writing the dissertation. The format I used for this table was:

  • Research Objective – I used a code for each of these as well as for different aspects of the research objective (eg. 1a, 2c, 3d, 3e); this allowed me to filter the results when writing the literature review
  • Source – the name of the original document
  • Insight – what was written about the research objective (could be a quote, the name of a model, or a description of what the author was discussing)
  • Page – where in the source was this written

Annotating in EvernoteAlthough I found this useful, it became very time-consuming, so I decided to use this approach for only the key texts about my research objectives, and then for the rest I reverted to recording annotations and comments on the documents themselves. However, this is not to say that the approach won’t work for others I suspect this depends on personal preferences, time available, and the nature of the research topic being studied.

4. Write

The final stage of the literature review is to actually write it for the dissertation. Given the preparation I had undertaken in previous stages, I found this relatively straightforward to undertake – although that’s not to suggest it was easy. However, there were some key things that helped me whilst writing:

  • I had a number of clearly defined research objectives, and during the previous stages had assigned every source to one or more objectives. When it came to writing a section about that objective, a quick filter on the tables quickly provided a more focused list of content to base my review on.
  • Whilst reviewing the content I highlighted in a specific colour any quotations that I felt were particularly relevant. A quick skim through a source looking for that colour then helped me find quotations that would support the literature review discussion.
  • Separating out the research objectives into categories and subcategories not only helped me to structure the literature review, but also made it much easier to know where to bring in specific sources. For example, three specific papers focussed on knowledge leakage, and so when writing about that topic I could instantly locate previous research and insights.

Although these four stages may appear to be a lot of work, and possibly an arduous approach, I found they allowed me to capture everything in a manner that made writing the literature review relatively straightforward. This approach also helped me become very aware of the different sources and authors, so when I wanted to discuss a point in the literature review, I often knew exactly which document to refer to without needing to review lots of articles.

So that’s the literature review; the next stage of the P&D is typically defining a research methodology and undertaking the research, which I will discuss in my next post.

Getting started with the P&D

It’s been a few months since my last blog post, as I have been busy working on the final stage of my MBA, the Project & Dissertation. In the middle of last year I posted about my decision to defer starting my P&D until after I had completed all 13 modules, so that I could focus 100% on the P&D, and review my project topic given that I had recently moved into a new job. Since then I have chosen a new topic, completed the literature review and undertaken my research; I am now in the process of completing the analysis and writing up my dissertation.

The focus of my project is the topic of Strategic Alliances. The primary reason for choosing this was that it gave me the opportunity to get involved in and contribute to an activity currently underway at work, as opposed to it just being for academic purposes; for some of the other reasons see my previous post on choosing an MBA project.  Although strategic alliances did not receive much attention in the MBA modules I studied, it has been fascinating to learn about a new area of business management – especially one that potentially has such a strategic impact. For anyone who is interested in knowing more, here are a few articles to whet your appetite (and feel free to get in touch if you’d like a more comprehensive list – I have collated plenty of sources!):

Planning the P&D

Book - Research Methods for Business Students

Once I had finalised the subject area for my P&D, I decided to develop a step-by-step plan to get from choosing my research topic to submitting the final dissertation. There are a number of resources on the WBS Intranet that explain how to do this, but after reviewing a former student’s presentation on how they approached their P&D, I made the decision to invest in a book dedicated to the process. There were lots to choose from, including a recommendation from WBS to use Real World Research. However, after reviewing the synopsis of this and many others, I opted to buy Research Methods for Business Students – it also received strong reviews, is slightly more recent, and is focussed specifically on those undertaking a research project in business. For anyone at the start of their P&D, I would strongly recommend buying a book on the topic before going too far – there was lots of advice in the book that has helped guide me on every step of my P&D. Also, the methodology section of the dissertation typically expects you to justify the decisions you make regarding any research, and this book will provide lots of material for this.

The plan I produced involved a number of different stages:

  1. Identify my research objectives
  2. Search for relevant literature that would guide my research
  3. Develop a research methodology based on the project requirements and current literature
  4. Review the literature in more detail, to ensure that the research is consistent with, and builds on this
  5. Undertake the research
  6. Analyse the literature and draw conclusions
  7. Produce the project deliverable (if required)
  8. Write the dissertation
  9. Review the dissertation (based on project supervisor feedback)
  10. Final review and submit the dissertation

However, there are lots of different ways of approaching the P&D, with some of the following changes:

  • It may be more appropriate to undertake the full literature review before even considering the research methodology
  • The requirement for and timing of the project deliverable depends on if the P&D is in place to support a live business requirement, and if so, what the expectations are of the project sponsor
  • Writing the dissertation can be undertaken alongside each of the steps rather than at the end (ie. write the introduction in step 1, methodology in step 3, etc) – this approach is commonly encouraged, but unfortunately I was not able to follow this due to time constraints on when my research had to take place

Another invaluable piece of advice that was given to me is to speak regularly with your project supervisor as you begin to scope out your project idea, develop your research methodology, and plan your dissertation; they may have specific guidance on the best approach to follow. I have found the discussions with my supervisor very beneficial, both because they helped provide clarity around what was expected of me when undertaking the research & analysis, and also ensuring that my dissertation will be consistent with what they expect (after all, they are the ones first-marking it).

That’s just a quick introduction to getting started with the P&D – in future posts I’ll share my thoughts about undertaking the literature review, completing the research and writing the dissertation.

My favourite study applications – MindManager, Feedly, and Pocket

In my last post I wrote about one of my favourite applications that I have used during my MBA, Evernote. However, I also regularly use a number of other applications, including MindManager, Pocket and Feedly.

MindManager

MindManagerI mentioned MindManager in a post early in my MBA studies, where I wrote about the different ways of taking notes. In addition to this, I also use MindManager for preparing for assignments – I find it’s a great way to capture lots of ideas and thoughts, which can then be easily manipulated into a structure that forms the basis for the assignment.

Although there are a number of mind mapping applications to choose from, I selected MindManager a number of years ago for the following reasons – although it’s likely that the competition has since caught up in some areas (and if you find a good alternative, please add to the post in the comments area below).

  • It is very feature rich which allows me to both create mindmaps that capture all the required information, and review them quickly and easily. These include: extensive formatting, different map styles (eg. map, tree, hierarchical), callout topics, notes, links, and icons/flags – a full list can be found here, but a few that I find particularly useful are:
    • Notes – I often included a screen clipping or image from the my.wbs lectures into the mind map
    • Links – I sometimes added a link back to the WBS lecture notes page, providing me with quick access to the content when reviewing the mind map
    • Boundaries – when writing notes these allowed me to include all the module notes on one single map, but then split into key sections that could be easily navigated when preparing for an assignment
  • The application can be downloaded on a PC or Mac; although there are a few web-based alternatives, I found these were not quite as responsive and easy-to-use
  • It has a really usable iPad application, when I often preferred when studying on a train or in a hotel room
  • Warwick University has paid for a student licence, giving all this functionality at no cost (many of the web-based alternatives charge for creating more than a few mind maps)

There are three  ways I have used MindManager over the last few years:

  1. During a module I would use it to take notes from the textbook and online lecture notes.  I originally created one mindmap per lesson, but subsequently moved to creating one mindmap per module, as this allowed me to add links between the various lessons, and made it easier when writing assignments (see below). I also tried capturing varying levels of detail – sometimes I recorded every key point from the lesson in the notes, whereas at other times I tried recorded the headings and subheadings. Eventually what I found worked the best was to include everything but the last level of detail (e.g. all of the headings, and the one comment for each paragraph, instead of all the detail in each paragraph) – this was enough to remind me of the content, but not too much that reviewing it was unwieldily.
  2. I created a template map that had headings such as ‘structure’, ‘relevant articles’, ‘essential facts’, etc.; then for each assignment I would duplicate this to capture all my thoughts both before and during the writing process.
  3. During the last few assignments I found a really helpful way of using the mindmaps of my notes. Firstly, I would duplicate my ‘study notes’ mindmap, and then I would review all the content and quickly delete sections/notes that were not applicable to the final assignment. This helped me in three ways – it highlighted the parts of the module that would be useful to support the assignment, it helped me identify additional areas that were relevant but I had overlooked. and finally it made it easy to quickly locate the information I needed in order to write the assignment.

Feedly

FeedlyIn addition to studying the module content, MBA students are also encouraged to keep up-to-date with current trends and news articles, both to support specific modules, and also to encourage an awareness of general challenges faced in a business environment. However, the wealth of information out there can be very difficult to keep on top of – especially if you want to keep up to date with both general business news and module-specific news.

To make this easier, I use Feedly to collect all these articles together so I can quickly review the day’s key articles and pick out those of interest. Feedly is a web-based application that links to a variety of news sources and journals (eg. FT.com, HBR, Business Insider), and can also aggregate lots of different news sources to find articles that are related to a specific topic (although the latter is a chargeable feature).

My reasons for using Feedly are:

  • The interface design makes it very easy (and quick) to scan a large amount of content and identify articles of interest
  • It is based on RSS, which is a standard way of sharing articles, and means that it can collect news from almost any source
  • Although the recent increase in use of tablets has led to many really good applications for reading the news (Flipboard is one of my favourites), I wanted to be able to review the news articles on my Mac, and Feedly has got a really good web application
  • It integrates very well with Pocket – see below

Pocket

PocketAlthough Feedly has the advantage that it can quickly bring together a huge number of articles, which can then be quickly reviewed to see if they are of interest, actually reading them can take time – which I often didn’t have when I wanted to quickly scan the news. This prompted me to use Pocket.

In its simplest form, Pocket is an application that allows me to store articles that I want to read later. However, as well as storing a link to the articles, Pocket also takes a copy of the article content (without all the menus, adverts, etc), and stores it with the link. These articles are then synchronised to the Pocket application on my Mac, iPhone or iPad, which means I have quick and easy access to all the articles that I want to read, and these are available regardless of whether I am sat at my desk, or travelling without Internet access.

In addition to the basic ‘store for later reading capability, Pocket also allows you to archive, favourite, and tag articles. However, I prefer to use Evernote for storing articles for long-term reference – this integrates directly with Pocket for Mac, so it is really easy to transfer articles between the two applications.

 

Including Evernote, these are the four applications that I use on a regular basis to support my MBA studies. However, I am aware that there are probably many others, so if there are any that you find particularly useful, please feel free to mention them in the comments area below for everyone to have a look at as well. That’s it for this post, but in my next one I’ll be writing about my experience during the final stage of my MBA, the Project & Dissertation.

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