My favourite study applications – Evernote

Over the course of the MBA I have used a number of different software applications to support my studies, for writing study notes, collecting and reviewing useful articles, and keeping up with business, management and leadership news. I was originally intending to write about a number of them in one blog post, but found that I’ve already filled it writing about Evernote, so will write about the others in a later post.

EvernoteEvernote is categorised a note-taking application, although the functionality added to the application over the last few years has led to it being far more useful than just for taking notes. Here’s a summary of how I have used, and continue to use Evernote to support my MBA studies:

Writing notes with EvernoteWriting notes

Initially I started using Evernote just for writing notes whilst studying, alongside MindManager (I’ve written previously here and here about where I used traditional notes vs. mind-maps). I created a different notebook for each module of the MBA, within which I would create the following notes:

  • 10 lesson notes, one for each of the module lessons
  • A note for each of the wbsLive webinars (see below)
  • Notes with reminders and ideas for the TMAs and final assignments
  • Other notes for ad-hoc purposes such as end of lesson tasks and Warwick Week activities

Each note can contain a combination of freeform text, tables, lists and images, and although the level of control over formatting is not as comprehensive as a traditional word processor such as Microsoft Word, it is usually sufficient for general note-taking. To make it easier to structure the notes, I created a template note with some pre-set headings, and then used this as the starting point for each of my new notes.

Evernote Quick NoteNote-taking during webinars

My next use of Evernote was to take notes during the wbsLive online webinars. I used the Quick Note feature for this purpose: this is invoked by clicking an icon in the toolbar on a Mac (and presumably something similar on a PC),  and creates a note without having to open the Evernote application. Within this was an option to take a screenshot of a portion of the screen, so I could take a copy of slides or whiteboard content that were being shared in the webinar, and embed it in the note alongside my comments. Although most of the slides were shared at the end of the presentation, they didn’t include annotations and whiteboards which were often used by some of the MBA lecturers. By embedding the slides directly, I retained the annotations and could also write my notes next to the slides themselves, and all of this was fully searchable thanks to Evernote’s image search function (see below).

Storing articles

One of the capabilities of Evernote that I have started using recently to support my P&D research is the Evernote Web Clipper. This is a browser plug-in that allows you to copy webpages into Evernote. Each webpage is stored as a note, along with any comments and tags (eg. strategy, innovation, leadership) that are entered when you ‘clip’ the web page.

Storing articles in Evernote

One of the great features of the Web Clipper is the ability to store the article in different formats:

  • Full article – stores the article without menus, headers, advertisements and other distracting content on the page;  if it is a multi-page article, Evernote will also attempt to capture all the pages in one note automatically, which I have found to be a real time saver for longer articles
  • Simplified article – based on the above, this copies just the text & images, and removes all formatting specific to that website
  • Full page – stores the entire web page
  • Screenshot – although the above methods allow highlighting of the text, taking a screenshot also allows full annotation of the webpage before it is sent to Evernote, with arrows, text, markers, etc. (see below)
  • Bookmark – this just stores a link to the webpage with a comment, which I have found really useful for keeping a reference to videos (although if you can find a transcript of the video, its better to use one of the top three options because the transcript can be searched whilst retaining a link to the video)

In addition to using the Web Clipper, Evernote also allows PDF documents to be stored as notes, by dragging the PDFs onto the Evernote icon in the Mac dock. This has been really useful as I undertake my P&D research, as I now have every document I have read or found interesting stored in Evernote for searching and easy reference.

Annotating research content

Annotating documents in EvernoteEvernote also produces Skitch, a complementary application that allows images and PDFs to be annotated, and whose functionality is now built directly into Evernote. When reviewing articles for my P&D research I can highlight text, write notes, leave markers, and make other annotations directly onto the PDFs themselves. These annotations can be made and viewed not only on the Mac application, but also within Evernote for iPad – great for when I’m reading articles on the train or away from my laptop.

Another really nice feature that they created is an annotation summary – at the top of the PDF is a section that shows all annotations made throughout the document, so rather than having to review a 30-page article, I can quickly see the 5-10 points that I commented on or highlighted.

Searching for content

Evernote’s search facility includes all the capabilities you would expect, including searching by notebook, tag, keyword, creation date, etc., and also searches the content in attached PDF documents as well. As I am uploading all my research documents into Evernote, this means I can now instantaneously search all of them for a keyword or phrase, which I am sure will be extremely valuable when writing my dissertation, and wouldn’t be easy if they were just stored as files on my laptop .

In addition, Evernote can also search images as well – this means it searches all the screenshots I captured from the various webinars, including handwritten annotations, plus any images that I have uploaded from the notes.  This is really helpful for PDFs that are just a scanned copy of an older article or book, and do not contain the text in a format that is searchable using normal PDF readers.

Tip for those using Evernote during the modules: Creating notes with just one image of a model/framework, along with the title of that model, is a really good way of keeping all the models in one place – I did this for one of my later modules and it was really valuable, I just wish I had done it from the start!

Studying on the go

Evernote is completely cloud-based, so my notes are always available from any device & platform (Mac, PC, iPhone, iPad, Android, web and others). Although this is expected given the increase in tablet and smartphone use over the last few years, Evernote have done a fantastic job with implementing these applications, and preventing the mobile/tablet versions from being a cut-down version of the desktop ones. This means they are very usable for reviewing, searching, and adding content – for a number of modules most of my notes were written on the iPad using a bluetooth keyboard, as was most of my revision for the exams.

Evernote on the iPad

Another benefit of the cloud-based approach is that search results from Evernote can be shown alongside my web results if I search for something in Google – this has been very useful in reminding me about content I had written in my notes when I started the MBA over two years ago.

And more…

That’s a quick overview of how I use Evernote, but there are lots of other features that I haven’t mentioned but use regularly, including:

  • checkbox lists
  • reminders
  • shortcuts
  • presentation mode
  • notebook sharing
  • emailing notes

As you can probably tell, I am very impressed with Evernote, particularly as I have recently started using some of the functions that are well suited to studying, such as article clipping and annotations.  Best of all, you can download it for free, although there is an affordable Premium version if you want to use some of the more advanced functionality.

Hopefully this post has given you a useful overview of how Evernote can be used to support your studies, and if any current students also use Evernote (or other note-taking applications), it would be great to hear how you use them – just post in the comments area below.

Advertisements

Looking back over the 13 modules

13 modules, 17 textbooks, 130 lessons, 4 visits to Warwick, 15 TMAs, 11 assignments, and 3 exams. Two and a half years after I started my MBA, I’m very pleased to say that on Wednesday I received confirmation that I had passed my final module’s assignment, meaning I have now completed all the modules and just have the project & dissertation to complete. It feels great to know that I have finished the taught learning of the MBA, and although it has been challenging and exhausting at times, it has been an extremely valuable experience. The textbooks, lessons, live webinars, and online discussions  have been interesting, insightful and valuable, and the assignments have complemented the learning by demonstrating how to apply many of the theories and concepts in real life. I’m really pleased with the breadth of subject matter that has been covered on the Warwick MBA, and feel that there was a good balance of modules across the broad spectrum of business topics. As a reminder, the modules I studied are:

Corporate Strategy 

Functional Areas

Culture & People

Financial

Other

In general I enjoyed all the modules, but looking back my top three would be:

Innovation & Creativity – I’m personally very interested in how innovation can help organisations be successful, and so was really looking forward to this module which I chose as one of my electives. The various innovation frameworks and perspectives on innovation were fascinating, particularly when I used these to assess the innovativeness of organisations I was familiar with. It was also useful to appreciate the role of creativity, particular in terms of managing creativity both at an individual and group level. The final assignment was very interesting, as it required me to undertake an assessment of the innovation capability of the company I worked for, and was a great opportunity to understand how the concepts applied to the reality of an organisation’s processes, structure and culture.

Management of Change – This was another of my electives, and I expected to find a number of different methodologies and frameworks that could be used to implement change within an organisation. Initially I was slightly disheartened when I realised that only one of the ten lessons focused on these methodologies; however, as I progressed through the module I came to appreciate the various complexities of change, the importance of considering an organisation’s readiness for change, the different approaches that can be used to ‘frame’ changes, and how resistance to change can be dealt with. Overall, the module provided some really valuable insights, which I am confident I will be able to draw on in the future when involved in change programmes. Like Innovation & Creativity, the assignment was also based on the company I worked for, which again brought the module’s concepts to life, and helped me appreciate the challenges involved in implementing change in a large,  global organisation.

Strategic Advantage – this was a core module that considered the business strategy of an organisation. It started by looking at ways of evaluating the competitive landscape for an organisation, and then explored the different approaches to developing a competitive strategy, such as market and resource-based strategies, blue-ocean strategy, and hyper-competition. There were also some interesting lessons on mergers, alliances, and global strategies, all of which were fascinating. Although the module covered a broad range of concepts, I would have liked it to have gone into more depth in some areas; however, I guess this just means I should have taken the Strategy & Practice elective module.  The final assignment was another really interesting one, focussing on the strategic impact of the Deepwater Horizon disaster on BP.

Although these were my top three modules, all the others were still both interesting and valuable:

The Financial modules provided insight into financial statements, product costs & pricing, budgeting, performance control, financing decisions and the mechanics of publicly-owned companies;

The Functional modules explained in detail the challenges and opportunities in two key business functions, Marketing and Operations, and demonstrated these from both a day-to-day and strategic perspective;

Organisational Behaviour provided a look at the human and cultural side of an organisation, from the perspective of individuals, groups, the whole firm, and its interaction with society;

Economics of the Business Environment demonstrated the impact of the wider economy of a business strategy, both in terms of the macro-economy and micro-economy;

Modelling and Analysis taught a number of tools that can be used in many different business activities, such as regression, simulation, and modelling;

Complexity, Management and Network Thinking looked at how businesses can take advantage of the increasingly complex environments in which they operate, including the networks that develop between people, organisations, processes, and systems.

 

All that remains now to complete my MBA is the Project & Dissertation. This is a significant piece of work (about 25% of the MBA), which I’m really pleased to be starting as this will give me the opportunity to study in detail some of the concepts learned during the course, and apply them to a real-life environment. I made the decision to put my P&D on hold for a few months whilst I completed my last module, so although I’m starting a bit later than originally planned, this means I can now focus 100% of my time on the P&D, which I expect to take me until the start of next year. Although I have not finalised the exact research question for my P&D, it will almost definitely be related to the fields of Strategy, Business Models, or Innovation – but more about that in a future post.

Corporate Finance Part 2

This blog post is a continuation from my last post, which provided an overview of the first four lessons for Corporate Finance; I will now summarise the second half of the module. As a reminder, the first half provided a refresher of some of the important concepts taught previously in the Accounting and Financial Management module, as well as introducing some new topics such as short- and long-term sources of debt, IPOs, and valuation of equity.

Lesson 5 introduced a topic that is central to many of the key corporate finance concepts,  Risk and Return. The textbook reading explored the volatility and returns of various markets/investments over the last century, and then highlighted two types of risk that a stock is subject to: firm-specific risk (which affects only an individual stock), and systematic risk (which affects all firms in a market or economy). This led to an in-depth discussion around diversification,  and highlighted the very interesting point that stock prices do not need to reflect or take into account risks that are specific only to that firm, as investors can effectively eliminate that risk through diversification.

The chapter then introduced the concept of Beta – this is a term I had heard of in the past without knowing the context, so it was  interesting to understand what it represents and how it can be used. Finally, this lesson talked about the Capital Asset Pricing Model (CAPM), which is one of the key concepts in corporate finance that links the expected returns from a firm with its risk (using the Beta). Although this was quite a complex topic (three chapters in the textbook!), the online lesson notes provided a very succinct summary that simplified the topic considerably.

Lessons 6-9 formed the core of the Corporate Finance module, and investigated the three key questions of the module:

  • Capital Budgeting decision
  • Financing decision
  • Payout Policy decision

Two lessons focussed on Capital Budgeting; the first was relatively straightforward, explaining how to compare different investment opportunities based on NPV and IRR. However, lesson 7 was much more in-depth, looking at the impact of leverage (ie. how increasing debt can reduce your tax bill) and how different project risks can affect the decision on where to invest. There was also a discussion around options: the textbook went into lots of detail to explain financial options on the stock market (referred to as calls and puts), and then this was extended to investment decisions; real options allow decision makers to consider the implication of having an ‘option’ to expand or abandon a project in the future, which is particularly important when evaluating  projects that can be deployed in phases.

Lesson 8 looked at the second decision, relating to Financing Policy. Although at a high-level this is separate to that of Capital Budgeting, the two decisions are very closely interlinked. The lesson focussed on Modigliani and Miller and other theories, which conclude that:

  • The leverage ratio (ie. ratio of debt to equity) does not affect returns in a simplified world with no taxes or bankruptcy risk
  • Taxation of interest means that there is a ‘tax shield’ associated with debt, which would suggest that all firms should be fully financed by debt
  • The potential for bankruptcy (financial distress) means that the tax shield benefit needs to be offset against the increased risk of bankruptcy that debt introduces
  • The existence of asymmetric information (ie. managers knowing more than shareholders) causes something known as the  ‘lemons problem’, resulting in a generic ‘pecking order’ for investment which starts by using retained earnings, followed by debt, and finally equity

Lesson 9 considered the the final decision, relating to Payout Policy. I found this topic interesting as it explained the reasons behind companies splitting stocks and buying their own shares (repurchasing), and the benefits this can bring to shareholders. It also discussed the reasons why some companies issue dividends and others do not, despite having large unused cash reserves.

The final lesson of this module provided an overview of the topic of Mergers and Acquisitions, explaining both the actual benefits of undertaking an acquisition, as well as the more questionable benefits. It provided an overview of the process involved in an acquisition, explained the differences between friendly and hostile takeovers, and introduced some of the defence mechanisms companies can employ to protect against hostile takeovers. Finally, the lesson closed with a quantitive look at M&A by assessing the resulting value created (or not) by an acquisition. Overall, this was another interesting lesson, and particular relevant given that as I was reading it, most news outlets were discussing the proposed takeover of AstraZeneca by Pfizer.

In addition to the lessons, this module also included a case study that looked at the decision by Diageo to sell off Pillsbury and Burger King. What was particularly interesting with this case was it showed how a change in corporate strategy not only impacted, but was also steered and influenced by the corporate finance strategy.

That’s all the lessons completed for Corporate Finance – I’m now putting this into practice to write the final assignment. Overall this has been an interesting module, and although it has been very heavy with some of the mathematical equations, it has in general been balanced by a good discussion around the practical insights that can be observed from the results. Another notable aspect I found interesting was in the textbook, where there were a number of interviews with senior financial executives who talked about their real-life roles and decisions; these were fascinating to read, and helped bring many of the concepts to life.

Corporate Finance Part 1

Regular blog readers may have noticed the two-month gap since my last blog post; I have recently returned from a self-imposed moratorium on MBA studies, to spend some time with my second newborn son. This is one of the advantages of the distance-learning MBA, as you can adjust your schedule within each six-month semester to suit personal circumstances. However, it was only feasible for me this semester as I’m studying a single module and starting my project; I wouldn’t recommend taking two months off with the usual three modules to complete! Anyway, I’ve recently picked up the textbook again, and am swiftly working through my final MBA module, Corporate Finance.

This module fits in the same discipline as one of my previous electives, Management Accounting. However, whereas the latter mainly focussed on operational financial topics such as costing, budgeting and performance measurement, Corporate Finance instead looks at the financial decisions taken prior to this, with a focus on three specific questions:

Corporate Finance textbook
The Corporate Finance textbook
  1. Capital budgeting decisions – How should different investment opportunities be analysed, evaluated and compared?
  2. Financing decisions – Should investment be financed through equity in the corporation, or through the sale of debt?
  3. Payout policy decisions – How should the corporation balance shareholder returns with investing for future growth?

Another difference between the two modules is that Corporate Finance only looks at corporations, which is an organisation where ownership is separate from control (ie. owned by shareholders, controlled by management). However, I think some of the concepts that are discussed will also be valuable to privately-owned organisations.

The module is split into three different sections, the first being a ‘Foundations’ section, which includes two lessons to provide an introduction to the overall subject. These were mainly refresher lessons, reminding us of the time value of money, the different types of companies, and potential areas of conflict between shareholders, managers and creditors of a corporation. There was also a review of the financial statements and financial ratios – although these were covered in depth in Accounting and Financial Management, it was helpful to review these given the latter module was studied two years ago. In addition, the concept of financial planning was introduced in the second lesson, which in the context of this module means looking at a stated corporate strategy (eg. grow revenues by 20%), and then building future financial statements based on a set of rules for the future (eg. Percentage-of-sales model).

The second section of the module is called ‘The firm and the financial markets’, and although still providing background and context to the above three questions, this is where we are introduced to some new concepts. It starts with a lesson that explores the different sources of capital, including short-term sources of debt such as bills and commercial paper, along with long-term sources such as bonds. This was followed by an explanation of raising capital through equity in the form of an IPO and SEO; I found this discussion really interesting, as I have read about a number of IPOs in the news during the course of my MBA, but never properly appreciated the processes involved in the initial pricing of shares.

Lesson four, which I am currently studying now, is a natural progression from the IPO discussion, as it looks at how equity is valued when being traded on the secondary markets after an IPO. The Dividend-Discount and Discounted Cash Flow models are explained, following which the lesson looks at whether it is better to retain earnings instead of paying dividends, and the role of the P/E ratio. The section then closes with lesson five, which looks at risk, return, and the capital asset pricing model (CAPM).

The final section of this module is ‘Corporate financial management‘, and has one lesson for each of the three questions above, plus a second lesson on Advanced Capital Budgeting and a final lesson on Mergers and Acquisitions. In addition to looking forward to exploring the core questions for this module, I’m also really keen to study the final lesson, as Mergers and Acquisitions was on my shortlist of elective modules, and hence it will be good to spend some time looking at this from a financial perspective.

So that’s a quick summary of the first half of Corporate Finance. Although it has been reasonably interesting, most of the topics in lessons 1-4 have been contextual to the main issues; I expect the second half of the module will be much more in-depth and start to provide some real insight into how and why different financial decisions are made. I’ll post a further update when I’m finished, to give an overview of what was covered.

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.

Ten Tips for Warwick DLMBA starters (Updated)

Are you starting  the Warwick Distance Learning MBA this month? If so – congratulations on being accepted, and here are some tips for making the most of the course  (in no particular order).

This is an updated version of my previous post,
Ten tips for the Warwick DL MBA 

1. Participate in the live sessions

The wbsLive sessions (WBS’s live web conferencing platform) provide a great opportunity to interact directly with  tutors. Although some of the sessions focus on reviewing previously studied content, others make use of the technology with polls, whiteboard sessions, and lots of Q&A, providing more depth to the topics. In particular, I’ve  found most presenters to be very helpful when answering questions in these sessions, providing answers that are more detailed than those that can be written  online.

2. Choose a suitable way of taking notes

I have written previously about different ways of taking notes (see here and here), and would recommend that you think about what works best for you before progressing too far through the course, to avoid having to retrospectively write notes. Also, be willing to use different note-taking techniques for different modules – for example, a module like marketing may require a different approach to organisational behaviour, and modules assessed by exam are likely to need to a different approach to those being assessed by assignment.

3. Get involved with your study group

When you start the distance learning MBA you are allocated to a study group. I recommend that you take the time to meet the others in your group (virtually of course), especially in the first semester; even if you don’t want any support with the academic elements of the MBA, it is very helpful to have some people to speak with – otherwise just focussing on the textbooks and lesson notes can be quite isolating. Plus, it’s a requirement to work in your study groups at Warwick Week 1, so it helps if you already know each other.

4. Get involved with the discussion forums

Another component of the WBS MBA programme is the online discussion boards. For anyone not familiar with the concept, this allows you to pose a question or make a comment, then others (students and tutors) can post an answer or make their own comment, in their own time. Like the study groups and live sessions, these are another good way to have a more interactive experience than just textbooks and lesson notes, and when lots of people contribute it brings out a wealth of insights from different perspectives, significantly adding to the taught learning on the module.

5. Read around the topics

During my first year I concentrated on reading the textbooks and lecture notes, then completing the assignments and TMAs. However, during the second year I made a conscious effort to extend my learning experience outside the provided resources. This was typically using news and blog sites such as Ft.com and Harvard Business Review, although for some  modules I also loaned recommended reading texts from the library or bought additional books. As well as providing a different perspective on the content, this also allowed me to collect additional references in advance of the final assignments, which is encouraged rather than just relying on the textbook.

6. Plan your time and track your progress

I’m sure many other existing students would agree – the workload for the DLMBA is high, even though it is nicely segmented into ten lessons per module. WBS provide a suggested schedule on my.wbs, and I would recommend that you try to stick to this (or even get in front of it) – if you get more than a week or two behind it can be very difficult to catch up, putting a lot of pressure on you to complete the lessons at the end of the semester, and reducing the time available for writing the assignments or revising. I’ve written a blog post about this previously which has some suggestions, so I won’t repeat them here, but I’ll add that I found my study plan was a great motivational tool towards the end of each semester – it was very satisfying to see the end of the modules getting closer, and this encouraged me to keep going.

7. Complete the TMAs

I found the TMAs a really valuable part of most modules. The fact that they are optional makes it very tempting to skip over these time-consuming pieces of work; however, I can honestly say that they not only helped with learning the content, but also made a huge difference to how I approached the final assessments. This is especially important for modules that you find difficult – it is far better to realise you have the wrong approach with a TMA, than with a final assignment. They also provided a good indicator of how long needs to be allocated to complete the final assignment, which helped at the end of the module. I’ve written about some of the TMAs here and here.

The TMAs are also useful preparation for those modules that are assessed by an examination, as they provide practice for completing a written exam, which many of us had not done for over a decade. I’ve written more about this here.

8. Become familiar with the library databases

There were a few comments about the resources available in the library at the start of the course, but as this is a distance learning MBA I assumed these was designed more for on-campus students. However, I was wrong – the library has access to many online resources that are particularly useful during the course, such as company accounts’ analysis, industry overviews, online versions of textbooks, and published papers. These are invaluable when writing the final assignments, so it helps if you are used to navigating the library search tools beforehand.

Another offering from Warwick Library, which I was not aware of until my second year, is the ability for them to post books out to students in the UK or ROI. This was really helpful when writing the final assignments, particularly if you want to discuss an alternative perspective to that in the provided textbooks. Alternatively, Warwick Library is part of a scheme that allows students to use other libraries.

9. Make the most of Warwick Week

Warwick Week is a twice-yearly event where you have the opportunity to meet and interact with your study group, other peers, and lecturers. I personally found this week really useful, both for networking, and for the debates & discussions that took place during and after the workshops/exercises. To find out more about Warwick Week, see my blog posts about  WW1, WW2 and WW3.

10. Take time out from study

The DLMBA is a major undertaking, with lots of work as I mentioned previously, so as well as scheduling time to study its important to schedule time away from study. I usually tried to have one non-study day every week, but obviously this depends on your work and personal circumstances. However, remember that this is a three-year course, and although intense periods of study may be required (especially in the last month of each semester), balancing work, study and personal time will be essential to getting through the next three years.

 

Hopefully these tips have been useful, and if you want to know what’s coming up then have a look back over some of my previous blog posts. You can also subscribe to my blog, either using the ‘subscribe’ button on the left of the home page, or by following  me on Twitter.

Good luck – there’s a wealth of knowledge waiting for you – and make sure you enjoy the experience as well!

MBA Semester 4 Completed

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.

Strategic Advantage

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.

Deepwater Horizon rigThe 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.

Strategic Marketing

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.

Innovation Value Chain questionnaire

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.

%d bloggers like this: