Choosing an MBA project

In addition to studying 13 modules, the Warwick MBA also requires students to undertake a Project and Dissertation. This is a major piece of work that usually lasts the final year of the MBA (for distance learning students), although it can also be completed in 6-9 months depending on other workload commitments. There are two different parts to the P&D:

  • The Project typically involves investigating a company or industry issue, and includes elements of research and analysis. However, there is also the option to undertake a “desk-based” project which, which can be either research-based or literature-based.
  • The Dissertation is an assessed 15,000 word assignment, where the project is critically analysed, and includes a literature review, an explanation of the methodology used, and significant discussion of the findings and analysis.

Choosing a Project

Although the P&D is typically not started until the end of the second year, the general consensus is that students should start thinking about the project as soon as possible.  I would strongly agree with this, with my recommendation being to start thinking about the project choice after the first semester, for the following reasons:

  • The P&D explores in-depth one or more concepts from modules undertaken during the course, so it is helpful to look out for relevant concepts as you are studying the modules; it may be difficult to remember which aspects of modules were interesting if they were studied over a year ago.
  • The topic on which you want to undertake your project may be studied in one or more electives, which are chosen in the second semester. Although it is possible to change electives as the course progresses, if you do not identify your project idea until late in the second year, there may be limited opportunity to change to the elective(s) you require.
  • Finding a project topic can be easy for some, but may also be quite difficult – in which case taking a year to explore various ideas will avoid needing to find an idea quickly midway through the fourth semester.
  • If you want to undertake a company-based project, it can take time to find the right sponsors and get approval for the project, especially if you want to use a company other than your current employer.

Before choosing the project, it’s important to think about what you want to get from it; although it is required in order to complete the MBA, given the amount of work involved it would be a missed opportunity if this was the only objective. For example, the P&D could present an opportunity to immerse yourself in an area and become a specialist in a concept, it could be used to position yourself for a future career move (both for internal promotion or to be attractive to future employers), or it could be an opportunity to help a local business or charity that you have a particular interest in.

When choosing a project, it’s important to consider the following factors:

  • Academic suitability – is the idea aligned sufficiently to academic theory, and will it provide opportunities for further research and investigation?
  • Interest – as you will be working on the project for 6-12 months, it ideally needs to be based on a topic you find interesting, in order for you to stay motivated to the end.
  • Existing knowledge and experience – although not essential, if you have existing knowledge relating to the topic, it will reduce the time needed for background reading and learning, allowing  more time to be spent on the analysis and literature review.
  • Access to businesses and people – many projects involve primary research, so having access to people or companies from which to collect this research will improve the likelihood of obtaining sufficient, relevant data from which to draw conclusions.

Writing the Project Proposal

WBS Project Proposal FormOnce you’ve decided the focus area for your P&D, the next step is to submit a project proposal. This is an unassessed document that is used by the P&D team to review the idea, ensure it is appropriate for the MBA programme, and allocate a suitable academic supervisor.

The information required for this document means that you need to consider the methodology and relevant literature before you undertake the P&D. If you have a specific, defined project idea then this should be relatively straightforward to put together. However, if there is still some ambiguity to the project focus, I believe it is also acceptable to document some initial thoughts in the proposal, then explore these further with your allocated supervisor. What is important is that the proposal accurately reflects the appropriate discipline (e.g. Strategy, Marketing, Finance, Entrepreneurship), to ensure that a supervisor is allocated who where possible has a level of experience and/or interest in the field.

A recent change to the P&D submission process is the timing schedule; there are now four specific proposal submission dates throughout the year. This not only provides a level of flexibility to accommodate how students schedule their electives, but also means that if a proposal has to be withdrawn because it is not suitable or no longer feasible, it is not necessary to wait until the next cohort’s submission date in order to submit a new proposal.

 

Hopefully this post has given new and existing students an idea of what to expect when choosing a project; as my P&D progresses I will post about my experience undertaking the Project and writing the Dissertation. Right now though, it’s back to my final MBA module, Corporate Finance.

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