Wednesday, June 06, 2007

This Summers

I was alive and kicking for the past 2 months. Summer Internship time. It was great to be back in actual work atmosphere, to tackle the ambiguities and organization hierarchies, to hear middle management tell "this is how business is done", to know that its a bad world out there and there are no pretenses to portray the contrary.

My project was making a business case for a project to be taken up by my organization. It involved aspects right from demand estimation to evaluating business models to making breakeven analysis to chalk-out implementation details. Here are some of my personal learnings from the Summer Internship. They may be particular to the nature of project and may not be relevant in entirety for all MBA Summer Internships.

  1. Identify the organization hierarchy
  2. Know the operational touch point in each deptt.
  3. Understand the business
  • Nature of business
  • Market
    • Competitors
    • Pricing - Landed cost at each point in supply chain, nature and reasons for margins in each case
    • Customer segments
    • Customer expectations
    • Ground situation where the product is used (perceived quality and utility)
    • Recent changes in the market - arrival of new competitors, changes in market of primary product if the product under study is a derived product
    • Expected trends in near future and in long term
    • Macroeconomic, social and political factors which have implications on business regulations, consumer behavior, supply chain relationships and logistics.

  1. Company's history - past lows, success/failures of high risk projects/ turnarounds
  2. Changes in organization structure, new management changes in recent past, effects of this on policies and business
  3. Stakeholders in the project
  • Whom is the report intended for?
  • Is it a "recommendation" or a "validation"? A "recommendation" is used by middle management to get buy-in from senior management. A "validation" is commissioned by senior management to make middle management work and prove that the senior's vision or gut feeling is quantitatively correct
  • Are there opposing views in the organization on the final decision? If yes, why? Which side are you on? How do you defend your recommendation in weak/grey areas of analysis.
  • Which party is stronger? You are working under which party?

  1. Gathering information
  • Generate contacts - they will lead to top or middle management of other organizations (logistics provider, distributors, marketing agency etc.)
  • Get the details of field and/or operational person - the most important source of info which will shape the analysis
  • Open both the formal and informal channels of communication. Informal info comes only from people in field, who are closer to the customer than to the power dynamics in management
  • Keep making sense of the info and how it is helping in the final evaluation of the business idea. Don't pursue a line of thought if it seems academically sound but doesn't have data available or does not make business sense.
  • Data may not be readily available. Try to find secondary data if primary data is not available. Assume percentages where there is no data and ask the relevant people in field or middle management to approve the assumptions or correct it

  1. Analysis
  • Make a tree structure of different decision paths
  • Make a 2-3 level analysis by generating options, evaluating and recommending for the various implementation details of the business
  • Make a PPT which can navigate through these different paths - use hyperlinks, which can easily take one back at the parent node at any point
  • Use sensitivity analysis where assuming some numbers as input data to show that if the actual is off by 5% or 10% either ways, how much will it affect the final result
  • Use graphs judiciously so that the visual representation of data directly makes that impact ("moment of enlightenment") which you felt when the data started making sense to you. Each chart-style has its own nature of impact. Pie chart - best represents share/contribution. Scatter plot - best represents trade-off analysis
  • Put charts on PPT and use hyperlinks to invoke the Excel files which have calculation. People assume that the numbers have been worked and don’t want to see Excel sheets. They want to see them only when the final result or trend reported by you does not fit the perception they had been carrying about that matter. Then you will need to convince them with the data and calculations
  • Insert extra worksheet in each Excel file which contains data sources - Name of the person, Actual data file. This gives credibility to input data
  • Show incremental recommendations after analyzing each sub-area of decision to show that you are slowly building up the solution to the bigger problem

  1. Validation
  • Try to validate and "stress-test" your recommendation
  • If possible, try to run some simulation by inputting live/actual data to show what will be the performance of your proposed solution. This analysis may throw surprises and suggest area which need to be explored apart from the problem in question. Maybe the root-cause may come out to be somewhere else.

  1. Winding up
  • Even after the appraisal, get a feel of what is the opinion of various stakeholders on the both the analysis and results. People will open up earlier withheld information and/or personal opinions in order to either support or invalidate your recommendation. This will let you know what to watch out for when doing a similar analysis.
  • Write thank-you mails to all who have helped with their insights and data collection. Don't divulge actual recommendations to parties outside the organization.

  1. Organization skills
  • Understand your official level in the organization
  • Try to maintain the hierarchy structure if its strictly followed in the organization
  • Socialize with the peer or immediate junior level employees of the organization. The informal info on both the boss as well as the project is much helpful
  • Get to know the HR systems, various job profiles, satisfaction levels, possible career growth etc. so that it helps to make a decision in case you are offered a PPO.


Radhika said...

Post the same on the Summers Feedback NB :P

Radhika said...
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