MBA Case Competition Learnings

One popular event with MBA students are case competitions. It's a great way to practice analytics and presentation skills, which are key for consulting roles. In addition, teams are under tremendous time pressure because of the short time frame of the competitions. It's a great way to practice leadership, teamwork, and communication skills. In March 2014, I formed a team and participated in the Wake Forest Biotech Case Competition.

My Advice to First Year MBAs Series will continue after this post. A reader and classmate had asked about case competitions so thought I'd post this now.

The Wake Forest Biotech Case Competition was a fun but stressful event. 2014's sponsor was Boston Scientific - and we were given a medical device case. Teams were given the case one week in advance, and allowed to start preparing then. On the day before the presentation, teams traveled to Wake Forest University Business School, showcased their team videos (watch Duke's here), and networked with students, professors, and Boston Scientific executives. We were then ushered into our team rooms and had until 8am the next day to finalize our presentations. My team stayed up till 7am (not a good thing, as I mention below).

The beautiful Farrell Hall at Wake Forest University

Here are some lessons learned from my first case competition. They also apply to presenting to senior executives in general.

Business impact up front

When presenting to senior leaders, it is important to emphasize the effect on business a proposal will have. How much will it cost, and what is the ROI? It's important as commercial leaders typically have tight P&Ls to manage. All initiatives cost something, and without clearly articulating the benefits to the business it's very difficult to get buy in. This was one of the biggest lesson I learned about corporate America and it paid dividends in my internship.

Be specific about your recommendation

The more specific or more implementable the recommendation, the more likely senior leaders will buy in to it. So you have a great idea - but how are we going to fund, build, and execute it? A team should propose a well thought out plan that is feasible and most optimal, given the data in the case. Having a well laid out plan will also help convince senior leaders that your plan will actually have a chance of leading to the business impact that I pointed out earlier. It turns out that resources are typically scarce in companies - how can you convince senior leadership to fight for your proposal's budget?

Prepare the case early

While we were supplied a seemingly endless amount of Redbull and chocolate the night before our presentations, in retrospect we should've been prepared much earlier than that. Ideally teams should have their final presentations ready two nights before and only use the last night to practice giving the presentation. In my experience, it's very hard to have a healthy business debate at 5am.

Define roles and expectations

This is key to a successful team dynamic. As a leader, you want to make sure your team has complimentary skill sets and can work well together. After the team is formed, it's always a good idea to define the team culture and delegate different roles. Time is rather limited so being efficient is a must. I won't go into detail on effective team management, as there are already an abundance of articles on this topic in many business resources. My emphasis is to be deliberate and disciplined about this given the time constraints.

Regardless of whether you want to pursue a career in consulting or not, participating in a case competition is a valuable experience to have. It offers a risk-free environment to build your business skills. It allows you to reflect on your mistakes as a student, so you can avoid making the most simple ones when on the job.

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