Rotterdam School of Management MBA ’19 Review: 2nd Half (Part 2 of 3)
Living Management Project (2/5)
Throughout the year, the Living Management Project (or “LMP”) had been billed as a “pressure cooker”, “the real test of the MBA”, “stressful”, and many other descriptions that surely created anxiety amongst a fair number of my classmates before it ever began. The Living Management Program is one of the landmark periods of the RSM MBA experience. It puts pre-selected teams of five to seven students in a situation where they are acting as 3-week consultants for participating companies. The turnaround times are tight, the problems to be solved are complex, and the directions toward an answer are ambiguous at best. The thought process behind all of this is that the student-led teams will utilize all of their acquired knowledge, both from the MBA and from their previous experiences, to solve a typically convoluted problem that is presented to them by their assigned company. At the conclusion of the 3-week project, a thorough presentation from each team is expected and a grade is assessed based on a combination of the delivery of the presentation, the hard copy and support to the presentation, and daily reflection journals that are meant to detail the teamwork aspect from each team member’s perspective. Due to the combination of grading criteria, there’s an incentive to not only deliver a solid product to the client, but also to work well within the team while doing it.
While this project should create an enriching experience in theory, I found it to be very flawed from the start. The process of matching teams with companies was very underwhelming, as it simply leveraged off of the Term 2 teams and paired them with companies based on a random selection process. It’s the only time during the year that teams from prior terms are repeated, so if the team was bad in Term 2 there’s a good chance that it will get downright ugly during LMP. Aside from that, the main reason why this process wasn’t desirable to me is because LMP comes right after our Advanced Course, which is clearly a choice selected by the students based on their preferred career paths (as mentioned in one of my previous posts). The natural order of things would assume that once students have made a choice regarding the direction they most likely want to embark on within their respective careers, their subsequent classes would be chosen to support that direction. However, LMP causes some students to take a step backwards due to the project’s inability to allow a student to continue along their previously chosen path.
What are the odds that someone who chooses “Advanced Sustainability” as their advanced course selection prior to LMP would then want to turn around and spend 3 weeks consulting a drone company on how to enter the oil and gas industry’s inspection market? Based on my experience, I can say that there’s a 0% chance that any interest would come from someone in that situation. In fact, aiding the oil and gas industry in any way is the furthest thing from my mind. Not surprisingly, it made for a poor pairing from the start. I had a very hard time initially getting motivated to even participate, regardless of the fact that I had a grade riding on it. Additionally, I’ve never felt comfortable doing free labor, especially when I know that the labor warrants a substantive billing rate. LMP will have students outright doing work that should be paid for handsomely but is instead replaced with the prospect of a grade in the name of “experience”. I’ve never done any intensive work for someone else that wasn’t in exchange for money or some type of goods exchange, so I failed to see the justification in doing so in this situation. I understood the narrative, but just refused to see it as anything more than student exploitation.
While there was no formal consulting training that took place prior to LMP’s start, there was a primer given to all students over some problem-solving techniques that are said to be commonly used across industries within the consulting world. Beyond that, we were expected to primarily leverage off of the professional experience of our group members. Secondary aid came in the form of a handful of hour-long help sessions that were provided by our designated consulting expert, a designated faculty member, the client themselves, and of course whatever could be found over the internet. Outside of any appointments that are made with the secondary help, each team is free to schedule their days whichever way they deem to be fit throughout the 3-week period. With that being said, it’s not unrealistic to still spend multiple 6-hour days with the Term 2 team during the week in an effort to get to the bottom of what the client wants. Those days don’t even include the work that will still need to be done individually after the team has split for the day. From a time-consumption standpoint, the project can easily be viewed as grueling.
From the beginning, our designated consulting expert encouraged us to focus less on the grades and more on skill-building. I feel that this wasn’t said to dissuade people from working hard, but for people to feel comfortable stepping outside of their comfort zones and using the project as an opportunity to test out newly acquired or seldom-used skills. While I couldn’t have cared less about the project itself, I did find a small bit of solace through a litany of situations that presented themselves and allowed me to work on important managerial skills that I never had the prior opportunity to develop. Beyond that, I found very little use for the project due to my lack of interest in the oil and gas industry and in consulting as a whole. I barely knew what consulting entailed prior to my arrival to RSM, and upon learning about it I didn’t feel compelled by it. We were advised to work in a very structured and predetermined problem-solving manner that’s common in consulting, which we did. I understood its importance and agreed that it aided in organizing our thoughts in an efficient manner, and the fact that it’s the complete opposite of how I usually operate made for an enriching learning experience.
Even though the day-to-day experiences may differ within each group depending on the group dynamics, I feel that the 3-week project’s overarching issues remain omnipresent regardless of the team. While the decision to pursue an MBA centered around my desire to learn about various aspects of business, it was never with the intention of doing a deep dive into an undesirable industry such as oil and gas. I feel as if the selection process needs a complete overhaul that’s more tailored towards the career concentration choices selected by the students at the beginning of Term 3. I’m not sure how that looks in practice, but I do know that placing students to work with companies that are more in line with the students’ career concentrations have much greater potential for a high-quality end-product. The students benefit because they are put in the best positions to display their talents. The clients benefit because they, in effect, receive a higher-quality product from a group of individuals who are equally engaged and determined to turn every stone in the name of solving the assigned problem. Naturally, the RSM brand benefits as a result of the reputation boost that comes from the heightened level of quality delivered by the students. Even though I still don’t like the idea of working for free in the name of “grades” or “experience”, I can guarantee that I would’ve been infinitely more engaged and liable to look for more hard-to-find answers had the company placement been closer in line with my career concentration selection. The fact that it wasn’t closer, especially since LMP directly follows the advanced courses, soured the entire experience.
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