One of the most frequent questions we receive from Executive MBA (EMBA) prospects has to do with the required capstone project, a five-to-six-month client consulting project that teams complete in the final two semesters of the program. The interest in the capstone lies mostly in its novelty. While most EMBA students have strong functional expertise in one or two areas, few have had the opportunity to own and manage a major and messy project with multiple deliverables.
The Choice: Teams get to choose from among a wide variety of projects, recent examples of which include identifying the three best cities for a company expansion, analyzing the viability of a proposed market diversification initiative, an opportunity assessment for a specific technology, and a market entry recommendation for a foreign firm planning expansion into the U.S.
The Process: After an initial consultation with the client, teams craft the initial Statement of Work identifying the deliverables and scope of the project, and then create a detailed project plan to guide their research, analysis, and the creation of a final report and briefing. A key feature of these projects is that they all include a critical primary market research component. This research mostly takes the form of one or more surveys, along with interviews and the occasional focus group sessions.
The Impact: The findings and analysis from these surveys is what makes these projects so impactful for clients and students alike. Teams have surveyed company employees, competitors, customers, and potential prospects. And regardless of how well a company knows its markets and customers, these projects produce new data and insights that strongly influence company strategies, and future decisions.
It goes without saying that students gain valuable skills, knowledge, and experience during their capstone projects. Perhaps more important than the skills themselves, however, many students report that the capstone project gave them the confidence to take on new and challenging assignments that they would not have considered earlier. Our graduates tend to agree:
For me, one of the most valuable takeaways from the capstone experience is the confidence I gained from having real accountability for delivering valuable solutions for a company that operates in a completely different industry than the one I work in. (Brian)
The unique experience of understanding a company's core competencies and being responsible for establishing a long-term strategic plan paved the way to developing invaluable relationships, gaining confidence and learning how to analyze a business strategically from start to finish. My teammates and I will carry these lessons forward into our own organizations and careers. (Kristin)
This project gave me the real-world leadership and project management experience to allow me to feel confident to advance in my career. (Crystal)
Another benefit cited by students is the opportunity to apply learning in the real world. Again, our students say it best:
The capstone project represents the “grey area” of real problems and will teach you application of course material in a way that you could never learn through analysis of well written business cases. (Brian)
The capstone experience was the opportunity to take the things I had learned throughout the EMBA courses and apply them in practice. It allowed me to explore areas, such as sourcing, accounting, product distribution and many others, where I did not have previous experience. The project was a real need for a real company, so the work incorporated managing a client relationship and balancing multiple opinions to get the work done. (Crystal)
The Challenge: Students often refer to the capstone as one of the most challenging parts of the program… but they also note that it provides huge personal and professional returns, and rate it as one of the highlights of the entire program.
The messages the team has to deliver are not always good news, and that is a difficult part of the relationship between the team and the client. (Brian)
Managing the time required to understand and consult for a new business while maintaining the normal course load and working full-time was a muscle that needed development throughout the entire project. Another challenge was condensing an enormous amount of data to develop a message that the client would find meaningful and value-added. These challenges sometimes felt insurmountable but led to an incredible feeling of accomplishment when the project was completed. (Kristin)
One of our biggest challenges was not letting the client dictate the conclusion we came to, rather letting the data lead us to the answer… In doing this we had to have some difficult conversations and more than once had to quickly pivot in the direction or actions we were taking. These steps helped us to grow as a team and as individuals. (Crystal)
Students are faced with the challenge of navigating an industry in which they may not have familiarity, facing roadblocks in obtaining and analyzing data, and perhaps confronting biases of the sponsoring firm that threaten the success of the initiative. This combination provides an exceptional learning experience. (Mike)
For more information on the capstone project click here