UK business school takes a fresh approach to project management for its MBA students
Instead of a typical MBA dissertation, students at Bath School of Management explore five different projects over the course of the year.
£37 million, and not a single brick laid—the calamitous fallout from the failed Thames Garden Bridge Project in London earlier this year.
Most projects wish to fail surreptitiously, but when they are cast into the limelight the true damage of poor project management is laid bare for all to see.
“Look around,” says Alistair Brandon-Jones, full chaired professor in operations and supply management at Bath School of Management, “it’s not very hard to find any number of projects failing catastrophically.”
The problem spans across the public sector, the private sector, through small companies all the way to the upper echelons of major corporations.
Due to present an interactive MBA Masterclass on the importance of good project management on November 27, Alistair says rectifying the issues will take more than just sitting MBA students down and propelling academic research at them.
That’s why instead of the usual dissertation stage of the MBA, students at the Bath School of Management engage with the school’s multi-project suite—an initiative that engages the students with five different projects throughout the program.
“Rather than force them to apply all their knowledge to one single project, they get multiple chances to see how these skills work more broadly,” he explains.
“It allows MBA students to put into practice their knowledge with real companies that work across many different industries.”
Elements include a two-week live consulting project with a local business, a group project for a single client, and a wider project working with larger, international corporate clients over 10 weeks.
The students are left to their own devices to build a repertoire of project management experience, being guided between projects to better apply their knowledge. And in Alistair’s eyes, it means they end the program as well-rounded managers.
“It challenges them to think,” he says. “After the first attempt, you say to them ‘now, if you were to do that again for a client who is paying you how would you pitch the project, how would you manage it, how would you talk to the stakeholders who might not want the client to succeed?’
“A lot of traditional MBAs are ideas ideas ideas apply, which gives a limited learning experience,” explains Alistair, “but our students are constantly applying their knowledge throughout the program.”
Nowadays, typical senior managers spend huge amounts of time on a revolving set of projects. Whether they are to do with research and development, organizational change, commercial, or technological implementations, by bouncing between projects they need to be able to approach each in an efficient, constructive manner.
“It’s worrying to see so many projects that are late, over budget, or don’t deliver the key metrics they envisaged,” continues Alistair.
That’s why the Bath School of Management is running the MBA Masterclass, to condense the key thinking behind project management, and highlight the importance of ensuring projects run better.
But you can’t lecture people in a classroom how to develop soft skills—Bath’s wealth of experience has been built up by real-client engagement.
The Hinckley Point C Innovation Lab is a collaboration between the nuclear power project and the Bath School of Management—it aims to propel international thought leadership into the hands of business leaders, policymakers, and academics developing supply chain management, innovation, and major international projects.
“Really good ideas from a research perspective can help explain why things happen a lot better,” says Alistair. “It keeps us honest as a group of academics if our research is useful and relevant.
“So many projects at Bath don’t involve sitting in an office surrounded by books—we are being funded and driven by real, international clients.”
The Bath MBA itself is driven by international students—there were 25 nationalities in among the 58 members of 2015’s cohort.
And Alistair says this diversity brings a new dimension of creative learning—students often conduct evening seminars such as ‘an idiot’s guide to getting by in Japan’ where they will school their peers on business etiquette, client meeting codes of conduct, and dress code in their home countries.
“If you can put that diversity in front of MBA students they will develop a great sense of what is happening in the world economy,” he says. “The MBA cohort are experts in their own right.”
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