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MBA learning in ‘real time’ – why live team projects make the most impact

What’s it like working in a small team of MBA peers, on a live consulting project, with only four weeks to deliver?

MBA Global Consulting Project team.

From digitising processes at Sydney Opera House to reviewing sustainable packaging for Nestlé – the learning was broad and impactful on this year’s Global Consulting Project (GCP) for Cambridge MBAs.

A four-week consulting project with an international organisation, where the knowledge and skills acquired through the previous six months’ study is applied and put to the test; the GCP is a unique opportunity to work under pressure, with a small team of up to five classmates.

Jiajie Charles Su

“It was essential to distribute work according to each person’s skill set. We applied our different skill sets across the project to achieve a good outcome in a very short amount of time.” explains Jiajie Charles Su about their team hosted at Google in London. Charles and the small team of five were brought in with a very specific brief, to explore ways to visualise the metrics currently gathered and used across this global tech platform.

“I think the most important skill that each of us utilised during the GCP was communication. It started from the beginning of the project where we tried to narrow down the scope of the project, which was actually a very big, and it was quite ambiguous in the beginning. And then we talked to our clients directly, we talked to various stakeholders, we learned about what they care about, what they don’t care about, and then we were able to narrow down the scope bit by bit”, Charles continues.

Natalia Khetagurova

For Natalia Khetagurova the perspectives and experience of the GCP became a catalyst for a change in direction for her career path and goals.

“We were lucky to get our GCP with Bloomberg New Energy Finance, an arm of Bloomberg which focuses on research for long term energy projects.

“Trust your team, the team is your asset and they are really important, but you also have to trust yourself and your own skills. We were very lucky as our client was very involved from day one and on the last day my stand out moment when we were presenting to the CEO and you realise that you are the one being asked the questions and the company is genuinely relying on your opinion and the research and scope that the team has covered to make decisions about the future direction of a specific area of company growth – that was a great moment for me.”

“I will use the experience of the GCP going forward, as my GCP experience provided a pivotal moment for me personally – from being Plan B, consulting has turned clearly into my Plan A.”

Projects are sourced by a CJBS Business Development team, leveraging their close relationships with organisations around the world who want to engage with and recruit MBA students. The projects on offer cover a very wide range of sectors and topics, to respond to the diverse requirements of our class each year. Some students also choose to source and select their own projects and then in turn build a team from among their classmates, all with the support of the Cambridge MBA Project Team.

Tom Wood

British-born Tom Wood has a background as a professional French horn musician and had already performed all across the world with the likes of Sting, as well as part of the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Wanting to move further into business consultancy and develop his MBA skills more, Tom reached out to several performing arts organisations across the globe from outset. “I didn’t have a contact at the Sydney Opera House and had reached out cold to them initially. Then over a period of a couple of months we developed a dialogue about a possible project and its scope, the brief was then finalised, and I then began to recruit a team from the current class to work together in Australia.”

The project was about applying best practice from around the world to the digital processes and systems used within the enormous single-site arts venue.

“The standout moment for me was the backstage tour and seeing the potential impact our project and its recommendations were going to have across the organisation as a whole.”

Thabo Lenneiye

Thabo Lenneiye also sourced her own project, this time in Zimbabwe, at the Masawara & Udugu Institute – a trust that fosters development through interactive and inclusive platforms to showcase local innovations.

“I sourced my own GCP from a contact that I had worked with in Africa previously. Initially it seemed super easy to just get it off the ground, but we ran into a few challenges on the funding side as well as the locations we would visit”.

“What surprised me in a pleasant way, was that my classmates and the client were equally ready to pull their sleeves up and figure out how could we get to a project that was mutually beneficial as a learning experience as well as something that the client could take forward and apply across their business practice”.

Gabriel Ronacher Passos Silva

For Gabriel Ronacher Passos Silva the project at Blue Water Energy was an opportunity to apply his team leading and relationship skills that he had learned on the Management Praxis course earlier in the year.

“We had a very diverse team with people from different countries, and the client also had a very diverse work base there.”

The project was researching the renewable energy landscape with a view to recommendations for private equity capital investments.

“My first lesson was to always put yourself in the place of the client and try to think like them from the outset. We had a team with a very strong engineering bias and in our initial presentation to the client the response was – ‘too technical’, and so we took a step back and viewed it from another perspective.

“There were nearly thirty people at our final presentation meetings, and they were asking a lot of insightful questions, which we had prepared for and were able to answer fully. It was a real problem-solving situation and we made the client very happy.”

Elfa Nugraha

“When the client accepted our approach, which was quite different from what they had envisaged at the start, that was the standout moment for me”, says Elfa Nugraha on the GCP hosted at Nestlé in Switzerland.

Reviewing the sustainable packaging division at a consumer goods company was a small team of five, again from across different backgrounds and sectors in the class.

“Our most important takeaway was the value of open communication throughout, so we established a team charter at the outset to outline what we wished to achieve and how we wished to work together. We reviewed and assessed our methodology as a team at the mid-way point. We kept the group morale at a level that was necessary for us to perform well and deliver to the client. Ultimately we learned the value of hard work and to be able to be flexible when we needed to be flexible.

“I can see that the GCP experience will help me throughout my future career in many ways going forward.”