My second year of the Warwick distance learning MBA is now finished! My last blog post was written when I was right in the middle of writing three 3,000 word assignments – this was the first time I had needed to write three concurrently (previous semesters included exams or had them staggered), so hitting the submit button for the third time was one very happy moment.
Following on from lesson three, this module looked at strategy from a different perspective – instead of focussing on the market (ie. competing based on what customers want), the resource-based view looks at how organisations compete based on their core competences and assets; it was interesting to look at some organisations I know and see how they combine the two strategies. We then looked at some practical strategy concepts – hyper-competition and blue ocean thinking (the latter was also covered in Innovation & Creativity).
The second half of the module focused on some specific strategy-related issues: expanding internationally, diversifying to a multi-business organisation, mergers and acquisitons, and strategic alliances. These were all very interesting topics, and although we had a full lesson on each, a number of them also have a dedicated elective that goes into a lot more detail.
The final assignment for Strategic Advantage was based upon a case study of the BP Macondo incident (more commonly known as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill). I’ve had limited involvement in the oil and gas industry during my career, but watched the fallout from the incident on the news. The case itself was very insightful, including lots of depth around what happened and why (there’s a good overview from Forbes for anyone who’s interested). The basis of the assignment was to look at this incident from a number of perspectives – firstly, to assess whether it was BP’s fault or an ‘industry accident’, then consider how BP’s history, culture, politics and regulations affected the decisions leading up to the incident, and finally thinking about the long-term strategy for BP. Overall it was a really interesting assignment, allowing us to explore how issues of risk and uncertainty can affect an organisation, and how strategy can play a key role when dealing with them.
The first half of this module introduced Strategic Marketing as a longer-term perspective to Marketing, with an understanding of the marketing environment, the various strategic positions that an organisation can take, and growth strategies. The second half of the module then looked in detail at functional strategies, based around the 4 P’s:
- Product – in the long-term this focuses more on concepts such as branding, innovation and product development life-cycles
- Price – in addition to the various approaches to pricing, this lesson also looked at how to respond to competitor price cuts, and deal with customer price sensitivity
- Promotion – this was very similar to the Marketing module, but extended it to understand the longer-term impact of different strategies
- Place (ie. distribution channels) – this included an interesting discussion around the marketing strategy impact of physical distribution decisions
There was also a specific lesson on market-entry timing – an area of particular interest to the module leader, Scott Dacko – which looked at the benefits and disadvantages of being a market leader, early follower, and late follower.
This module followed a different approach to others for the TMAs: instead of using them primarily to reinforce the content from previous lessons, the Strategic Marketing TMAs were assessed preparation exercises for our final assignment (although they didn’t contribute to the grade). This approach worked really well, as it not only helped me review the lesson content, but also provided some insight into the environment for the final assignment, and meant that I already had lots of material ready for the ‘research’ phase.
The final assignment itself required us to select a product that had been newly introduced to the market within the last two years, describe & critique the marketing strategy used, provide an opinion on whether we think it will be successful, and suggest improvements moving forward. I can’t share the product I used given that the assignments have not yet been marked, but it was very interesting to go beyond the visible marketing efforts and look in detail at how the product was positioned, how it fits into the company brand, and how it has been received by the market so far.
Innovation & Creativity
I was 70% through this module when I last wrote about it; the next few lessons explored some specific concepts such as Open Innovation, which is the concept of working with other organisations on innovation rather than keeping everything ‘in-house’, and Design Thinking, which reflects on how the innovation process can be designed and embedded in an organisation, and how this can impact the output of the design process. The module ended by looking at how to effectively lead creative teams, and realise business value from innovation.
We had previously completed a group assignment for this module worth 30% of the grade; the remainder was assessed through an individual assignment, the focus of which was to develop a strategy to promote innovation and creativity within my organisation. This was another very interesting assignment, especially as I was able to undertake some primary research to assess my organisation’s state of innovation. This was based on the Innovation Value Chain concept, which includes a questionnaire designed specifically for this purpose. One of the nice side benefits from this assignment was that it generated lots of discussion with my colleagues who had completed the questionnaire, about how innovative my organisation was.
That’s it for this semester – I have now completed twelve out of the thirteen modules, leaving just one module (Corporate Finance) and a project to complete next year. However, before I start those I’m looking forward to enjoying a few weeks off over the Christmas break – I wish you all an enjoyable festive season, and will be back again in 2014.