Sunday, April 6, 2008

Spring in England

Forget everything I said yesterday about the improving weather. Below is a picture of daffodils and a nice spring day that I took yesterday then the next picture is the view from my bedroom window this morning. Its April and we've probably just had the heaviest snow we've had all year.
Ah, spring in England!

Saturday, April 5, 2008

The Half Way Point

It's the beginning of April and Term 2 is over and I've almost run out of holidays before Term 3 starts. The days are finally getting longer and a bit warmer and there are daffodils absolutely everywhere.

There isn't really all that much to write about the last few weeks of term 2. There wasn't much that was new, just more lectures, more learning team and another set of exams. Our orienteers had warned us that for most people term 2 is the low point and I can see why. The novelty has worn off, the work load is about the same as term 1 but you also have to start working on your CV and job applications and the weather is really quite lousy.

The one thing that was a bit different was our project management week. I've done a little bit of project management in the past but it was taught in a really interesting way. One whole day was a simulation to project manage the building of a warehouse and we were judged on how close we came to our original estimate in terms of time and money and how much profit we made. We had to track our actual budget against forecasted, ensure labour and materials were ordered in advance of when needed, assign resources to tasks, etc using action forms that represented a week.

Sounds simple enough but to make it more realistic, the simulation would throw in spanners like delays, slow progress or extra activities that threw out the whole schedule. In about week 7 (of a 20ish week project) the lecturers took 2 people from each team and swapped them into another team and we had to stay there until we were performing integral jobs in our adopted teams. The idea was to test that the systems we were using were robust and we weren't just relying on one or two key people. In the pictures you can see huge wall charts with lots of post its. That's because we weren't allowed to use any PM software like MS project to run our Gantt charts. It all had to be simple and visual to show that we actually understood how the process worked. Our team did well, topping Blue stream and coming 3rd overall.

On the social side, there was the usual Thursday night socials and WAC parties and a few birthday parties to keep us busy. The Picasa album has a few photos from John's 40th which was a very fun night. The best party though was definitely the night of our last exam. I think we were all just so glad to get to the end of term 2 and have some holidays.

On Easter Saturday, about 40 MBAs and partners went on the ski trip to Flaine in France, right next to Mont Blanc. For almost half of us, it was our first time skiing or snowboarding. It was fantastic conditions to learn in - deep snow and constant snowing for the first few days then sunny days and fresh snow at night. On the last afternoon, our instructor took us right to the top of the resort and took us down the network of blue runs back down. Took us about two hours to get down but I've proved that I can now stay standing up on skis going down blue runs. Definitely a highlight of the MBA for me so far.

Term 3 starts on Monday and looking at the timetable I'm not 100% convinced that it will be much lighter than the last two terms although we have been assured that the toughest part of the MBA is now behind us. The majority of our subjects are now electives but we still have two compulsory subjects - OB and business law. Plus, working out what to do after the MBA!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Midway through Term 2

It's now the end of week 6 in Term 2 and it's gone surprisingly fast. We all have new teams this term and it's been interesting to start the team process again, this time with people that you at least sort of know. My team this term is Devan - a Malaysian accountant whose been working in the UK for a few years, Deepti - an Indian program analysts, Jenny - a Taiwanese IT project leader, Philip - an English automotive engineer and Eric - a Taiwanese/American marketing manager.

The group is very different from my last group and it's interesting to realise that you play different roles within different groups and need to use different teamworking skills to get things done. This team is very organised and we're getting through the workload pretty well together. I suspect that the real test will come this week. Our project management subject is all taught in one week - this week coming - and involves a project simulation. The idea is that 15 minutes represents a week in the life of a project and we need to submit action forms to manage resources, labour, procurement etc. According to all reports, it's a very intense week and can get quite stressful so we'll see how it goes.

I was also participating in the L'Oreal business challenge for the last 8 weeks or so. In teams of 3, we had to manage a portfolio of brands in a simulated business world and submit decisions every week which represented 6 months of real time. It was a really interesting learning activity - think I learnt more from that than the whole marketing subject actually. You had to forcast sales volumes, build production capacity, decide on advertising and promotions budget, manage distribution channels and decide which brands to launch, retire or upgrade. My team missed out on a place in the semi-finals by only 2 spots but it was still worth it. One team from Cranfield is through to the next round and is currently developing a business plan as their next submission.

Other things - I've resurrected my German to a sufficient standard to pass my Level 2 requirement. I am going to keep going with it though to try and improve it further (my vocabulary is still quite poor). Cranfield put us all through a professional management level assessment centre which was a very useful experience. I did a couple of assessment centres at the end of my undergrad but they were a long time ago and this was slightly different because it was aimed at management level. We've got a lot of feedback from it (including 360 degree feedback and a couple of other career tests) and I've organised a follow up appointment with careers to talk about the results.

One achievement for me for the term has been organising the launch of the Cranfield chapter of Net Impact. This is a network of students and professionals interested in Corporate Responsibility (CR) which is becoming a bigger and bigger issue for businesses. I organised a debate between our chair of CR and an emeritus accounting professor who is a real synic about these issues. It was a really good evening with about 100 people turning up for it.

The biggest social event this term was Burns night. It started with a day of sports competition with London Business School - rugby, basketball, football and ladies touch rugby. We started playing touch rugby at the end of last term since most people here have never heard of the game, let alone know how to play. We didn't have a huge amount of participation from the MBA girls but quite a lot of the partners got very involved. Our official team is 3 MBA's and 5 partners. For all of us, it's really a Sunday afternoon social activity with anyone who wants to play (guys and girls) coming to play for an hour or two so a fair few of the couples come and play together.

I thought we played really well against LBS. We tied one game and lost the other by one point which is pretty good seeing as there were 8 of us and 23 of them!!! That night, there was then a Burns supper to celebrate the Scottish poet Robert Burns complete with haggis and Scotch whisky. It was quite a strange way to spend Australia Day! We all had a lot of fun being taught Scottish dancing by the band but I think at least a few of us were surprised at the attitude of some of the LBS people. There was definitely a touch of arrogance about some (although not all) of them and I for one am very glad that I didn't go to LBS!

Exams and Holidays

So picking up where I last left off (quite a while ago). I got through the exams okay although I found it really difficult to concentrate on studying for them. I think I was just so tired by the end of term. They all went fine though and then we capped off the term with a fantastic christmas party (see the link at right to the web album). We've got a really good MBA band this year and they had everyone up and dancing for a large part of the evening. The next morning everyone started leaving campus for the two week christmas holiday.

Since both my sister and I are in England, my parents decided to come and visit us over Christmas. We spent Christmas week in a picturesque cottage near Burford in the Cotswalds. It was like something out a Jane Austen novel, especially the carols service in the village hall! My New Zealand friends Adrian and Amanda and their one year old daughter Talia joined us for Christmas and we spent a lovely couple of days eating, chatting and walking around the area.

The rest of the week was pretty lazy. I really needed to just sit still for a few days and take advantage of the nice bath tub! The most taxing thing we did was visit the local pub and take a day trip to Bath. The highlight of the day for me was watching my sister's partner being used as a street performer's sidekick (there are more photos in the Christmas week web album). At the end of the week the rest of my family flew off to Spain and Morocco for 10 days while I headed for a few days at my friend Helen's at Shrewsberry in the mid-west over New years before coming back to Cranfield.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Term 1 - End in Sight

It's been a while since I've written but it has been a busy term. For the first few weeks everyone was looking forward to the weekends to have a sleep in. By about week 4 we worked out we didn't have time to spare on the weekends and every one started dreaming about Christmas holidays. We finished lectures for term 1 on Friday so most of the learning team work and projects are over and we are concentrating on preparing for exams. So I'll try to summarise the last 8 or 9 weeks.

Let's start with the weather. It's now winter which means grey, cold, wet and windy. The odd day when its sunny is really quite pleasant but its usually wet which means you can't stray off the footpath or you'll slip into knee deep mud and if its windy everything is unpleasant and about 10 degrees colder. Really weird to see it get dark at 4pm as well!

My learning team has survived a term together having got everything done well without too many fights and have emerged the other end as a very sociable group. Every second Sunday one of us will cook for the team which has helped us get to know each other better. I'm sure Yogesh will look at his cooking night as one of his MBA achievements seeing as how he had never made so much as a sandwich before and people even went back for seconds. There have also been plenty of jokes. This is Dan who we refer to as the most productive member of the team. Next term everyone gets reshuffled and we get new learning teams so we start all over again.

Work wise it's been an interesting term. We did team projects on Arsenal for Marketing and a company that makes pregnancy tests for Operations Management. We ran a manufacturing production line to put into practice our operations management course. I learnt that I've been doing linear regression the dodgy way for most of my career and now actually understand how to do it. I vaguely understand basic accounting but notyet enough to pass my exam and have started the difficult process of resurecting what was already quite bad German to some sort of acceptable intermediate level. We've also done a lot of careers and organisational behaviour stuff which has been really interesting.

The part of term that I don't think anyone has enjoyed too much has been the WACs. It stands for Weekend Assessment of Case (or something similar). A case study appears in your pigeon hole at 1pm Friday afternoon and you start reading. You then meet your learning team at 3pm for an hour and a half to start analysing/building a solution. There is then a "stream dump" where the 45 people in the class compare thinking followed by pizza. At about 8pm you meet with your learning team again to distill all the information and decide how to share the number crunching or other appendix type things which we are allowed to produce and share as a team. At about 9pm you head home to start writing a 1500 word report that is due at 4pm the next day. This term we had WACs for economics and accounting and there are 2 more next term.

On the social side, themes have ranged from latin night complete with salsa lessons to dressing up in Saris for Diwali night and my favourite so far the "Miss Cranfield" beauty pagent also known as an excuse for the guys to dress up as women. Have a look at some of the photos in the album link on the right.

Christmas holidays start in 2 weeks!

Saturday, October 13, 2007

The 3 Day Learning Cycle

The MBA started for real this week. One week of lessons over and it feels like we've been here for months already. By about Wednesday we were all starting to dream about a sleep in on Saturday morning. I'm still trying to work out the best way to get through the work and how to best use our learning team time.

Each day has a 4 hr block of 3 lectures either in the morning or afternoon and the other part of the day is largely devoted to learning team time. Evenings, you then have to do your own reading/other work. The process here largely revolves around the 3 day learning cycle. Each team is doing it a bit differently and we're all feeling our way through it but this is what our team is doing. We're drawn up a roster with 2 people's names beside each lecture for the term. That means they are responsible for studying for that lecture and coming to team meetings reading to summarise it and help share what they've learnt with the rest of the team. So for Wednesday's 3 lectures, everyone reads one subject on Monday night then we all discuss all 3 subjects during Tuesday's team meetings and should then all be well prepared for Wednesday's lectures. The exception is when we're discussing a case study, in which case everyone needs to have at least had a quick read before coming to the meeting.

So far it's going okay but we haven't really worked out how best to summarise things for a group of people who all learn and study differently and just how much time/detail we go into for each subject. It got pretty hard yesterday (Friday afternoon) when everyone was tired and dreaming of the weekend but we're making an effort in our team to try to stick to a Monday to Friday schedule and keep weekends free - other than individual work. We know there will be times when it isn't possible but it's a good plan for now at least. We're also conscious that the work load is going to get MUCH greater over the next few weeks and the extra curricular commitments haven't really started yet so we're trying to get the learning team working well as early as possible.

It wasn't all hard work this week though. The first of what will be regular Thursday night socials was held this week. Theme - 70s and 80s night. Some pretty scary costumes and really funny dancing. Crawling off to bed at 2am when I had to be in a lecture at 8:45am the next morning looking vaguely intelligent wasn't the best move but at least I wasn't the only one looking a little worse for wear. It was a great excuse to get away from the books for a couple of hours if nothing else.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Orientation Week

We've only just finished our orientation week and everyone's already exhausted. I didn't really believe all the alumni that told me just how big the workload was going to be but I believe them now! A group of last year's MBA students along with some of the faculty passed on how the Cranfield school of management operates and worked on quickly getting us to know the people in the groups we'll be working (VERY closely) with over the next year ie. our streams and learning teams.

There are 138 MBA students here this year and we've been broken up into three streams - red (me), blue and green. The learning team is the group that I'm likely to spend 3-4 hours a day with preparing for lectures, presentations and assignments. My team of 6 covers 5 continents. We've got an accountant from Nigeria, a scientist (biotech) from Ireland, an engineer from India, an engineer from Peru, a supply specialist from India and me. Our first group work assignment went fairly well and we all get alone well so far but the real test is when the pressure starts to mount.

Already we've got a healthy rivalry going between the streams. Red stream won the sports day on Wednesday and each stream put on a 30 minute caberat show on Thursday night. The links on the right will take you to web albums with lots of photos from this week. We've done all the serious necessary things around registration, sorting out computers and being sorted into learning teams. I can now find my way between buildings without getting lost, have tracked down my locker and can find the two pubs on site (yes, small university - two pubs!). We've got to know each other and a bit more about the countries that everyone comes from - Dad, I told your story of hitting a kangaroo in a VW beetle. Got a good laugh. We've also spent a lot of time having a lot of fun. We've done a lot of laughing, clapping, yelling, clapping, drinking and a bit more clapping.

This afternoon was a little less happy. I've spent most of this week telling people how Australia was going to flog the poms in the rugby. Sitting in the pub with only 1 other Aussie and a room full of poms made losing today a little bit more painful.