This summer, I received one question over-and-over when prospective students called me:
“What does action-based learning mean?”
The University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business is famous for its action-based curriculum, especially for the Multidisciplinary Action Projects (MAP). In MAP, five MBA students team up in a high-impact business challenge with a company and present their recommended solutions to their leadership team at the end of eight weeks. Although MAP is the highlight of the MBA program at Ross, I’ve discovered that the entire curriculum is packed with real business experiences!
KICKING-OFF THE MBA: BUSINESS + IMPACT CHALLENGE
You’ve probably heard this a million times: “The MBA is a fast-paced journey!” In July 2019, I left my five-year career at GlaxoSmithKline, with dreams about working in the technology industry. The school warmly welcomed me and my husband, Ozan Erdem, who is also an MBA student at Ross; we felt at home from the first minute we stepped in the Ross building. While MBA Orientation began slowly, I felt like the roller coaster starting to take off with the Business + Impact Challenge during the first week.
The Business + Impact (B+I) Challenge was organized by Sanger Leadership Center at Ross. During the challenge, students were broken in 20 groups, each with 21 members, to tackle a business problem of a partner company for three days and before presenting solutions to company leaders.
Around a dozen Amazonians traveled to Ann Arbor to lead the B+I Challenge in collaboration with Ross. Our team’s challenge was this: “How might Amazon serve the Base of the Pyramid in India, achieving both ethical impact and profitability?”. The problem was too broad to solve in three days, but we were given resources to help develop potential solutions. Ross organized multiple parallel sessions, taught by professors and subject matter experts, to allow us to develop an understanding about the market.
During the first day, we also generated insights from different perspectives, such as through economic and social lenses. For example, the local retailers play an important role in enabling bottom of the pyramid segment access to goods online via their ability to engage in e-commerce. Another trend was that the younger population was growing and alternative payment methods were emerging in India. Thanks to the resources made available to us, I was able to realize the challenges and develop solutions – even though I had never visited India in my life (I hope I will one day),
Another challenge we faced was the size of our 21-person team, which was larger than optimal to tackle a problem all at once. While there were many unknowns and many MBA1s ready to share ideas, some tools made it easier to operate. The first one was the team charter. It was an internal contract that walked us through some questions and aligned us on who we were as a team. We identified what our strengths were through each team member’s past experience and what team norms and goals would be. We were able to see the future much better after answering all these questions and also got to know each other before diving into the challenge.
At the same time, we were able to learn about Amazon’s culture. Each team had a mentor from Amazon, who answered our questions and provided guidance. From our interactions, I realized that Amazonians like data-driven actions and challenging decision. There were also open to answering thoughtful questions. Besides the culture, we learned about the writing culture of Amazon, which means they write documents to present a new project idea instead of creating a PowerPoint presentation. Using their approach, we wrote a type of document to introduce a new solution. This pushed us to be customer-obsessed like Amazonians by looking at the solution from customers’ perspective and explaining it in a lean language. This was a unique opportunity for the students who will be recruiting in the Tech industry (like myself) to taste how it feels to work at Amazon.
The B+I Challenge helped me in my first month as an MBA1 in three ways:
1) I got to know my section-mates much deeper: what they were doing before business school and what their preferred working style was. We also socially bonded in time. These were important to me because we were going to be working in teams throughout the whole program. Besides, it created a section and class spirit as we were competing and supporting each other.
2) As soon as I started my MBA, I met the employees of one of the most prominent players in the industry where I want to work, which was much earlier than I was expecting. This helped me understand the culture of Amazon. Thanks to that, throughout the recruitment process, I was sure of my interest in Amazon as I experienced the working style from the beginning.
3) I loved finding myself in the middle of a “real” business challenge that encouraged me to find a solution which could be potentially implemented. This also helped me learn about teamwork and leadership under pressure. For example, I saw how we can show leadership by taking the lead at specific sections or by disagreeing the solution under discussion even though it is generally accepted.
MULTIDISCIPLINARY ACTION PROJECT (MAP)
Many current MBAs will tell you that they choose Ross because of MAP. Since the day I got accepted to the program, I too wondered what my MAP experience would be like.
MAP is a course all first-year MBA students need to take in Winter B, which is the fourth quarter of the academic year. However, it is not a normal course. Through MAP, students work on strategy projects for eight weeks full-time as MBA consultants with companies in various industries and geographies. All of the projects are a priority for the company and student teams present their recommendations to the project sponsor executives.
In January 2020, we received a list of hundreds of companies with an in-depth explanation of projects in different industries, including real estate, manufacturing, hospitality, and technology. There were two ways to think while choosing my MAP project. First, I could pick a company which is operating in the industry where I wanted to work. This option would give me the opportunity to network with the employees and gain valuable work experience to boost my employment prospects. Another approach was to choose a MAP project in an industry or location where I might never work but still made me deeply curious.
I picked the first option: I filtered the technology and innovative healthcare projects out of 125 projects all around the world. Then, I narrowed it down by checking the details of the projects and geographies. In the MAP reveal event in February 2020, I found out that I would be working on a project with Microsoft with four classmates on innovation in the manufacturing industry, which was my number one choice out of ten.