The Integrated Strategy Project: Putting theory into practice
By Full-time MBA student Saskia Thiessen (Image by Urban Ranger Camp Copenhagen)
Unbelievable, it is almost the end of our MBA journey, and the one thing we have been hoping for, dreading, excitedly expecting is here: the ISP; the Integrated Strategy Project, the crown jewel of the Copenhagen MBA - and with it finally a chance to prove what we had been studying for for the first eight months of the programme! Granted, there were plenty of other group projects, presentations, and papers to excel at beforehand, but nothing comes close to a four-month project with a real company, solving a real strategic problem with real, newly acquired MBA skills. Did anyone say real? Indeed, the ISP is not only designed to prove to us that we actually learned something practical in the MBA, but to get us ready for the real job world again – and we could not have wished for a better preparation than by being offered to transfer book knowledge into facts, figures, and analyses.
This final project, accounting for an impressive 20% of our GPA, is basically a training ground for us soon-to-be real managers, and can be pictured like walking a tightrope but with a double safety net below, so to speak. It is high up in the air and risky, and a real balancing act - much like what my friend and teammate Christina did the other day when she went roping at the Urban Ranger Camp in Copenhagen (challenge your fear of heights here). It seems like the whole year can be likened to building a ladder for ourselves, piece by piece, and then climbing it at the end. Balancing on that rope is what we do in the ISP and, if we do this successfully, we reach the other side; the finish line, also known to us MBAs as ISP Presentation and Exam day.
The companies that participate in the ISP are hand-picked. Many are back for the second or third year in a row and have even hired alumni who then head the current projects – proving the hard work and the projects’ results created by the MBA students pay off. Companies range from Danish startups to big multinational giants, and many business sectors are represented, including gourmet confectionery, oil and gas, sustainability, food, transportation, and IT (among others). Expectations are running high and drawing from past years’ experiences, two thirds of the companies actually implement what the MBA students recommend. Imagine the impact we can have! This potential outcome of putting theory into practice acts as a great motivator throughout the whole project.
The mentioned balancing act that we have to perform is unique to the Copenhagen MBA. On the one side, the ISP paper is the master thesis, an academic piece of work that should include and apply many academic models and frameworks that were taught to demonstrate our knowledge and expertise in analysing a current industry and company; on the other side, the participating companies are eager to dive into their perceived issues, strategic problems, and the carefully crafted recommendations that we, the students, come up with. Thankfully, we do not walk the rope alone – guiding us throughout this process are two advisors, one from the academic, the other from the real business world. They are the safety net, so to speak – and will catch us before we hit the ground by providing honest, informed, thoughtful feedback and advising us on the project.
What we really learn during these four months up on that tightrope called the ISP is endurance, patience, resilience - and that working together as a team, supporting each other all the way, is the most important key success factor if we want to make it safely to the other side. Timings are way shorter than one thinks, companies might be less cooperative than expected, responsibilities outside the ISP (courses, job applications, families) could take up more time and energy – and a million other things could make us lose our balance. This is why aligning expectations, continuous communication, and mutual support is vital to our project’s (and our own) well-being. Easier said than done, believe me! Besides the academic work, we are on an incredible personal journey throughout the MBA, and the ISP team constitutes the peak of this ride. It is during those four months that we will really learn how to succeed in a diverse team and how to excel personally and academically – if we are up for stepping on the rope, of course!
Saskia Thiessen graduates from the Full-time MBA Program on August 20, 2016.
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