Relearning Confidence and Confidence in Learning

My name is Adrian; I entered this semester as a jaded and frustrated senior who was afraid that I hadn’t gained enough from my four years to justify my full-time offer. Like many of my peers, my academics was significantly affected by COVID. However, I had a unique experience of losing an entire semester due to a cancelled study abroad program. As a result, I became unsure of my teamwork abilities, my existing skill sets, and my ability to grow. However, I reasoned that what I needed was a challenging atmosphere to galvanize my spirit and abilities; I am happy and grateful to say that this was the right choice.

Why then, was BADM 395 IOP the difference maker? I’ve had my fair share of consulting and project experience: from prior internships to other courses to Illinois Business Consulting. All of these were influential and important to me. But what makes BADM 395 IOP so impactful, and what future students and clients can gain, is its vision. This course is dedicated to furthering learning. For example, if asked to characterize Professor Vishal Sachdev, I would say that he promotes growth and learning at every opportunity. For example, when I confided in him my frustration at my own progress at picking up the required technical skills, he not only encouraged me but also put together a learning package covering the fundamentals I needed. This vision for the course runs rampant and trickles into all affected individuals. I am grateful for the first round of scathing criticism levied by our Senior Manager Nicholas Wright. I am thankful for Aalap Kanabar’s patience guiding me through the software and data during the project. If you are looking for a group of people dedicated to learning and applying said lessons, look no further than BADM 395 IOP.

Of course, vision alone is not enough to create impactful change. That’s where the second strength of this course comes in: it’s structure. I was fortunate enough that I came in with an ample amount of consulting experience. But even I admit that there were some fundamental concepts that I forgot about. I was reminded of items such as the Team Charter, scoping document, and slide deck draft. I polished my communication, note taking, and subjecting data collection skills. For students interested in consulting, I can assure you that the challenges you face in this course are as intensive and impactful as those encountered at a consulting internship. Those who are skeptical, I understand where your apprehension might arise from. One might assume that presentation and email skills can be gained from any course in equal capacity. But in BADM 395 IOP you learn how to balance the information projected on the screen alongside the information projected from you.

“Can you be conscious of your verbal delivery? Will you be purposeful in your body language? Are you bouncing off your teammates well? etc.”

BADM 395 IOP allows you to answer these questions with ease. For me, after my semester in the course, I can confidently say ‘YES’ to all three.

Last, for those who want to know what concrete lessons can be gained I will list what I personally experienced. Throughout this course I learned: to communicate with clients efficiently, plan a project using a project management dashboard, create and improve a slide deck, manage conflict with team members, provide thoughtful feedback to teammates, and create effective surveys and interviews for data.

Starting in January 2021, I will enter the final stages of my undergraduate career. While I certainly hold some regrets, BADM 395 IOP will not be one of those. In 16 weeks, I have become more confident in my abilities, but more importantly, in my ability to learn. For those who are at the crossroads, those who burn for challenge, or those who are simply interested in consulting, I implore you to push your understanding of what consulting and team work is by taking this course.

Moving Beyond the Classroom

This was my third semester of immersion in Action Learning. After completing two required projects in my first year of the Gies MBA program, I returned as a senior manager for three teams this fall semester. The role of a senior manager is to act as an experienced advisor to share the knowledge that has been acquired through trial and tribulation with those who are engaging in the process for the first time.

For students, Action Learning is different than any other class. The familiar prod of extrinsic motivation is removed. Grades are involved, but they exist only as a formal proxy for delivered results. Partial credit is no longer an option and cramming for a deliverable at the last moment is not possible. No, the usual techniques learned in college will not work here, because the work involved is on active projects for actual businesses. Real clients are expecting work that adds value to their company, not another exercise in collecting points. No trick other than dedicated time and teamwork will yield results. This can be a difficult transition to make due to the novel incentives involved. To ease the process, there is a suite of deliverables due at the onset with ample feedback to set expectations on quality. From there, the stage has been set to allow full engagement with clients with the goal of building intrinsic motivation through tangible expectations. Only from within will the drive to achieve propel one through the amount of work required to produce a material solution to a problem with no simple answer.

For me, performing as a senior manager has similarly been short of a script to follow. The biggest challenge has been acting as an agent without power in the engagement. I neither dole out final grades, as a professor does, nor do I determine whether the project was a success, as the client evaluates. This requires building trust with my teams from the beginning by proving competency that can add value to their projects. I cannot be a manager without tools for compliance, so I must act as a leader. This means guiding my teams in the right direction and communicating correct and transparent feedback promptly. It means questioning myself when providing advice to find if expectations were even properly set in the first place. The challenges have been formidable but the return in growth and self-awareness is worth the effort.

What is the outcome of Action Learning? Ultimately, Action Learning exists as a means to move beyond the classroom. Students learn to communicate and perform professionally on the timeline expected in business settings. They interact, interview, and network with clients ranging from startups to Fortune 100 companies. The engagements and problems are real and relevant to the industry. With little commitment other than scheduling time to meet, companies can hear an outside perspective, invest in future talent, and market their brand in a way that career fairs cannot. Students can expect references and recommendations for their hard work and even internships or other continued involvement are a possibility after the project closes. The outcome of these projects is a blurring of the edges of academia into education that is substantially distinct from traditional curricula.

This semester has been one for the history books. Still, all involved persevered and completed another set of successful Action Learning projects. These experiential additions to the standard courses continue to create incredible value for all involved and never fail to deliver on stories to share and lessons learned. I have had a fantastic time growing as a leader by advising and providing feedback to students as a senior manager. Teams have proven themselves capable of professional execution and added a substantial addition to their résumés. Clients have benefitted immensely from hundreds of hours of thoughtful labor from intelligent young minds that will be designing the future. Congratulations to all participants and here is a final recommendation for the rest to get involved in Action Learning!

Stepping Out of Comfort Zone

This semester I was very fortunate to have the chance to enroll in this practicum, and I learned lots of meaningful lessons from this unique and valuable experience. I first knew about this practicum was in an email that sent to me at the end of last semester, and I got interested in this course after reading through the email but I had no idea about the details of this course or the project. It turned out that registering for this practicum was the best decision I made in the year. Looking back the whole semester, it is amazing to see how much I had learned and grow in problem solving and teamwork.  

The greatest lesson that this project taught me was working in a team virtually and cooperating with my teammate closely. In all my previous project in classes, teamwork just means to divide up the assignments and work individually. However, this project gave me a different experience in team bonding and developing trust among team members. An effective and supportive team didn’t just pop up from somewhere. It took time and effort for the team members to know each other and create synergy. The key to this was communication and being honest with each other at the beginning of the project. Communication was crucial for team development, and it was more important under the current virtual circumstance. For example, in the past, I often forgot to check emails and messages, but now I learned the importance of timely checking of messages or I would get behind on the updates. Also, being honest with team members could be helpful when dividing the tasks based on the strength and weakness of each member, and this ensured the efficiency in finishing up the tasks.

Also. I became more open-minded and willing to speak up in the discussion. As the project moved on, team members become more familiar with each other, and the team was more connected. We were more freely in sharing our ideas and disagreement during discussion. I learned lots of professional skills from my team members, such as the skills of creating more professional PowerPoint slides and presentation skills. In addition, helping each other out in a team was also a main portion of teamwork. After the midpoint presentation, our team had a reassignment of tasks to have all the team members to help with the technical sides. It was not only to finish the own part of tasks but as a team to work and improve.

The second lesson that I learned was problem solving and self-learning. I was very nervous at the first few weeks since the project involves the use of ERP system that I have very little experience with. I need to be a fast learner to gain some knowledge on this ERP system. I watched the tutorial videos and training lessons in order to know the basic operation and the system’s potential ability. This experience motivated me to self-learn and go beyond the project to improve myself since I realized how limited I was in my ability and skills. There are many things that won’t be taught in the classroom setting, and even though we were using what the lecture taught us, it was still necessary for some adjustment in order successfully apply on the project.

As the project came to an end, I was thankful for my team members and the Professor to provide so much support and encouragement to me. This project required me to step out of my comfort zone to not just focus on the lecture in classes but to have a hand-on experience on applying what I learn to offer a real-world solution to the client. I believe the lessons that I learned from this project would still be useful in my future career and continue to benefit me. In the future, I will know how to work in a team to better promote the team efficiency, and I will also continue self-improving to learn new skills.

Change

To me, this course is a surprising treasure because it leads me to forward the first step into the business society. I was a brand-new starter with pure textbook pieces of knowledge in mind, and now I have become asking for myself to reach a professional standard instead of a homework standard. I was able to change my way of thinking and my way of working with a team, and to no small extent, change my attitudes towards life.

Concepts learned in this course changed my way of thinking about solutions. In the past, I always believe that it should be challenging to think of solving a problem, but instead, it is relatively easy to think about the solutions. The most challenging part occurs in identifying the problem. When we tried to think of a project plan for our intended clients, we found everything obscure and unclear. Although we know our goal, we take nearly half of the time identifying the direction. Throughout this process, we received numerous assistance from Professor Vishal and Nicole. Along with continuous communications with our clients, we finally set up a clear path to reach our destination. With enhanced insights, our efficiency of teamwork got improved accordingly.

Another change comes from the way of working with a team. As I had experienced from freshman year to junior year, most teamwork is achieved by putting up work together. Most course assignments have detailed descriptions and outlines, along with the instructor’s clear expectations, so the difficulty of reaching the benchmark is relatively low. However, when facing up with clients, they might not have a clear standard of what we have to achieve since they wish to solve it as soon as possible. Guidelines and project plans have to be stipulated by ourselves, and different from a course assignment, they should be above the professional business benchmark. Therefore, communications within the team are crucial throughout the project. Initially, we assigned different roles to each team member, while as our progress proceeds, the team role is changing. With continuous communications, we better understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses, so we allocate team assignments accordingly. Our team leader also assigns time for entertainment after each milestone has been reached, and our distance among each other got shortened, which makes us more comfortable when completing projects.

This project experience enables me to accumulate more skills and understandings towards my thinking and ways of teamwork and leads to my positive attitudes towards my own life. I was always diffident about myself because I do not regard myself as a competitive student who can step out confidently towards society. After working with clients and teams, I have gained many useful tips when establishing business networks. My career goal got shaped well when I was listening to different speakers sharing their experiences, and with that in mind, I believe I can successfully walk towards my future career goal.

I thoroughly appreciated all the assistance that I received when I tried to accomplish the goal with my team, and I am also grateful for the course itself. This comprehensive practicum helps me better understand the business world and establish my confidence in my personal life. The change is enormous, and also in the right direction, reaching my dream.

An Improving Learning Curve

The IS/OS Practicum Course has been a huge learning opportunity for me, especially since I was not very confident in my IS skills. I have always focused on improving and polishing my skills in the field of Finance, since it has always been primary interest, that I wasn’t confident I could keep up with my teammates for a non-finance related project. When I joined the IS/OS Practicum Course, I was still a bit jittery about my skills in the field and wasn’t sure if I would be able to contribute enough to help the team progress.

The first few weeks of the class were dedicated to team building and for the team members to know about each other, like the strengths of the team members, and how the roles could be divided in a way that the members are happy with their roles and at the same time ensuring everyone was contributing to the project. During our first team meeting when we were deciding on the roles each of us would get for the project, I was given the role of handling the Migration process with Mengqing. I was a bit nervous since not only was this my first IS project, but it was also a project where I was gonna work with a real life client as well. Since all this was also happening during the pandemic, I wanted to make sure I can make the most out of this opportunity I was given. During the initial few weeks of the project, we were focusing on understanding more about the problem and only started the Migration process after the Midpoint was completed. Those weeks provided a huge opportunity for me to not only learn and understand what was expected from me, but also opened doors to new learning opportunities that I had not thought I would come across when I registered for the course. The project helped me in improving my communication, since communication was the basis of the project due to the Pandemic and since not everyone from the team was on campus. An example of this was during the trouble we faced during our midpoint presentation. While we had worked on it together, we had to make changes to the presentation at the last moment in order to make it presentable to the client the very next day. Together as a team we helped each other out and were able to tackle the problem. This process, not only improved my communication skills, but also helped me improve my presentation skills. I was able to contribute and make better slides for our final presentation and I was also able to implement it in few of my other courses that I had taken this semester, where I had to present with a team at the end of the course. After the midpoint presentation was over, we moved on to the Migration stage of the project. During the start of the project we were told that we had till the end of the course to do all the migration in the testing environment, however, after the Midpoint we were updated that since the client was growing a rapid rate, they were able get the testing environment to end quicker than expected. This meant that if we could get the Migration process done quicker, we could also get the opportunity to run the Migration in the finalized environment. This would mean that we would be able to get a feel of whether what we did during the migration process was done correctly or did the data show errors when run in the main environment. This was a huge chance for me as well as others in the team to get hands-on experience in Migration.

Now, when we are at the end of the project, I feel as though my learning curve increase by a greater amount each week because of this course. It is not only because the project required us to learn more and improve, but also because we would have guest speakers who would tell us more about their experience in different aspects of their job and what the course can help us learn and how we can implement what we learnt in this course when we get jobs in the future. I also felt as though the learning curve was also affected more because I was also able to use what I was learning in this course to other courses that I was taking this semester at the same time. Since all the learnings were fresh in my mind and I was getting the opportunity to implement it more and more, I was able to get the learnings stuck in my head. I am grateful to all the mentors who helped us during the period of this course and am also grateful to my teammates, since I was also able to learn a lot from them. I hope that the I can meet with them in person before my graduation to celebrate with them, since we have met just over video-calls during the entire semester due to the Pandemic.

Developing New Skills

This course has provided me with one of the most valuable learning experiences I have had during college. The class is unlike any other because you are able to participate in solving problems for real businesses. One central takeaway I had was developing a new skillset. It was very interesting to hear about the operations of a business and learn about how to improve workflow processes. Our client wanted to implement an automated system to boost efficiency and speed up internal and external communications.

At first, my team and I had no idea where to start like many others. However, after spending quite some time trying to understand the problem, we were able to create an action plan. It began with learning new Microsoft Software products. Initially, I thought that it would be highly unlikely that my team and I could advance our technical capabilities past what we already know. However, as we became more passionate about solving the problem we were able to learn the necessary software and take initiative to come up with new solutions. Now not only am I able to use these skills in the class, but I am also able to apply them to other opportunities in the future.

I was pleased to share the new software skills I had developed with recruiters during interviews, however, I realized not only did I learn hard skills but I learned soft skills too. This course taught me how to work with a team on a personal and professional basis. I was able to overcome challenges with my team and build a relationship with them even outside of class. Although the entire semester was online, we were able to achieve all the goals we had set and come up with multiple solutions to our client’s problem.

Near the end of the semester when we were presenting our final deliverable, I felt a sense of achievement as our client stated how they were impressed with the work we had done and looked forward to implementing the solution. Our success was only possible due to the guidance and feedback we received from our mentors. One of my favorite quotes I have learned from this course when it comes to working with a client is “Always underpromise and overdeliver.” Overall, I recommend this course to any student who wants to gain the opportunity to make an impact on a real business.

Growth

Growth is not static; it is an ever-changing dynamic in which one must sacrifice their ego in favor of beneficial criticism. Throughout the duration of this semester, I realized that although I understood the conceptual components of interacting with clients, I failed to understand the difference between theory and reality. As a planner, I assumed that the timeline we had originally set at the start was reasonable and would allow us to achieve each of our expectations. Yet, as the project progressed, I noticed that adjustments were necessary, and that the process of reorganizing one’s expectations is normal and should be expected in the field of consulting. As a result of this class and project, I gained a greater sense of the realities consultants face in their daily lives that allowed me to develop both academically and professionally; the lessons I have undergone as a result of this project have not only provided me short-term satisfaction but will also be utilized throughout the duration of my career.  

Consulting often results in confusion, or so one would think given that clients are often unsure what they may want. But, this is to be anticipated and is a significant element of one’s role as a consultant: to identify what exactly the client needs in order to fulfill their request. Clients may ask for several different requests to be fulfilled whether it be operations, marketing, and so forth. And as consultants, our instinctive desire is to grant our clients wishes and reassure them that their problems will be resolved. However, the biggest lesson is understanding that one should communicate with the client and let them know what is and or is not reasonable given the timeframe. Being honest about which final deliverables will be accomplished is vital in establishing trust. As the project progressed, my team and I realized that defining the scope of our project and being transparent with what we can achieve displays maturity and a proper understanding of how to conduct business with a client. Expectations can be adjusted but failed promises will smite the reputation of one’s work.    

But my experiences are not limited to only the professional realm; interpersonal connections are also just as crucial. Leadership does not equate to commanding. Rather, leadership equates to understanding. Often times leadership is portrayed as one person dictating roles and assignments as a way of establishing order. While this does provide some structure, it fails to create a sense of connection between the team which ultimately results in a lack of intrinsic motivation and is instead based upon an extrinsic fear. Thankfully, our team had no issues with such manners, but through this consulting experience, I realized the importance of commitment and quality. Our team communicated with each other the strengths and weaknesses we had. Not only was each person assigned sections where they felt knowledgable, we also taught each other in areas where one of us was lacking the skill. We developed our weaknesses to turn them into strengths, allowing us to not only grow professionally but also develop a greater respect for the ideas we shared.    

As the project concluded, I realized that I was no longer the person at the beginning of the semester. I was more confident in myself and my ability to problem solve. Change itself is inevitable whether it be consulting or life in general; the sooner one learns how to adapt, the easier they will be at resolving the issues that arise. My growth occurred by being able to set proper expectations for the client but also through being able to create a positive dynamic with my team. I strongly hope and encourage that those who choose to take advantage of this class truly make the most of this wonderful opportunity. I certainly have and am incredibly grateful for the kindness from my peers and mentors, the wisdom that I have gained, and the experience that I will continue to treasure. 

Leadership and Teams

I have learned so much about being a leader and taking social initiative. I used to be purely and independent worker who would just do their part on the team and be done. I mostly worked on solo projects, so this allowed me to coast for a while. This was until I become the team leader for a major project for a real client. I had interned with the client over the Summer and was offered a full-time position. After hearing about the practicum program, my boss become interested and submitted a project proposal.

I will be honest; I went in thinking as project leader we would just create a linear process, and everyone just does their parts, and we are done. This was far from the truth and I had to develop real team skills, the team members included. This was a project that required a lot of problem solving and getting to the end result. Everyone contributed to the success of the project and that certainly would not have been the case if I kept a closed mind. Problems kept building, roles shifted, and keeping on schedule became difficult. This was a real project that caught me off guard and I needed to encourage a team culture of commitment and going above and beyond to be successful. This was unlike every other school project I had been a part of. I had to step up. Fortunately, we created a team charter that required us to stay committed and my team was fantastic, so I just needed to keep morale up and be a good communicator, something I have always struggled with. I learned that a project can be chaotic, and it is okay if it does. There is a reason agile project methodology is big these days. As an example (without getting too specific), we were originally going to throw in 2 extra major steps into the whole process when it should have only been 3 rather than 5. Our professor suggested doing it differently and our team agreed to change.

Working in teams can be tough, but when it works synergistically, it can be fantastic. For another example, we assigned roles at the beginning of the project and figured that they would likely stay the same for the rest of the semester and maybe we would make minor changes. Half-way through the semester 2 of our team members were done with their work while the technical side was struggling with new problems. Everyone agreed to help on the technical side, and we managed to get it done. As I have talked about before, I would never facilitate anyone else doing another’s work before, but we had a deadline, and we had a committed team. This removed any bottlenecks that tend to occur and kept the whole process agile.

I would attribute my success as a leader in beginning the project by establishing a team culture of commitment and ambition. A team with uncommitted team members who do not care whether the project will succeed or not will certainly fail. Real projects and in real scenarios, do not have straight forward responses. They require team members who feel like they have a stake in it and want to see it succeed, not for grades, but intrinsically motivated reasons. This course taught me how to think like a leader and how to make a team function at the highest efficiency. I have not felt as good about turning in a school project until finishing this one. If I were not already working for this company, I would check-in in the future to see how the project has affected them. Overall, I have developed as a leader, and I am proud to be a lone wolf no longer and see the impact a motivated and high-functioning team can bring.

Underpromise and Overdeliver

The IS/OM Practicum Course allowed me to learn a number of things through real experience. I wasn’t taught these things by being told it in lecture, I had to learn these things on my own and with my team which made the experience and lessons more memorable and meaningful. 

By having real and high stakes, me and my team had to put a lot more time and effort into this course than we would into a regular course. But that time and effort definitely paid off because I was able to learn these five main lessons:

  1.  In a consulting-like career (and some other roles too), you have to constantly learn to adapt to new challenges that arise and be able to switch the route you are going in. 
  2. It’s alright to not know something and make that known to the client so that they can give you the correct information that will allow you to succeed. While it feels embarrassing to admit you don’t know something to the client, it allows you to open up to your client and get constructive help that will lead you to your solution faster and be more suited for the client. 
  3. I learned how to work with a new group of people while building personal and professional relationships at the same time. It also allowed us to be more open and speak up when we disagree with each other so that we can find the best solution for the client as well as hear everyone’s thoughts and ideas. Moreover, it allowed me to find a new group of lifelong friends.
  4. Being open and honest with yourself, the team, and the client allows you to be more productive and get work done instead of beating around the bush and wasting time. 
  5. Lastly, a phrase that was emphasized to us a lot that my team was able to see in action: underpromise and overdeliver. While it didn’t make much sense to us in the beginning, we saw the impact of that statement in our last client meeting. We never made it obvious how far we were going to get, only how much we got done to that point. During the final weeks, we were able to use all the information we had and tie up ALL the ends and provide extra research, advice, and solutions (which the client didn’t expect us to do because they thought they knew everything we have for them) and presented that at the final client meeting where the client was very impressed because we gave them more than they expected. 

These five lessons are crucial to my growth from this course and will allow me to be more prepared for the start of my career soon. While we were completely virtual throughout this entire project, it taught me how to function as a fully virtual team with a client and that is a useful skill for the coming years. This course has also allowed me to connect with a lot of new people and build my network, which is a very important aspect during this time. 

If I am to go into a consulting position in the future, I will know how to interact and build a relationship with the client as well as my team even for a short-term project. Not only has this course taught me valuable lessons and skills, it has taught me what a consulting career entails in the real world before I have even graduated from the university. 

The friendships, connections, memories, and lessons this course gave me are truly valuable and this was definitely a huge growth experience for me.

Building Our Own Map to Our Destination

Starting off a semester fully online was out of the ordinary. It is not easy anymore to make connections with your classmates on Zoom, however, this practicum was different. Being placed in a team from the very beginning made it easy to have classmates who you can reach out to for anything. Something my team and I had in common was that we had no idea how to begin our project. To give a little bit of a background, none of us had direct experience with consulting or experience with working towards an end goal that you were not given a roadmap for. This allowed us to trust one another from the start enabling us to form strong communication regarding the project and deliverables but also checking in with one another to see how we are doing. Later we learned that this is what consulting is about, you are given a problem and must gather the understandings that will direct you to deliver the best recommendation or solution to the client.

When we began our project plan, I was overwhelmed and afraid. As I have mentioned, I have never done such a thing before and did not have the necessary technical skills to build a proper and efficient solution for our client. Nonetheless, I did not allow the self-doubt to get to me and began learning right away. I took initiative in my team and volunteered to take on the majority of the technical aspect of the project. After countless hours of watching and reading tutorials, and testing out what I learned, I began to gain confidence. I found myself being able to explain programs being used, such as Microsoft Power Automate and Microsoft Power Apps, and introduced useful functionalities that could improve the client’s workflow. Gaining this knowledge and teaching others was quite astonishing because a couple of months ago I had no idea such amazing Microsoft platforms existed.

 Throughout the semester, my team and I agreed that we did not want to overcommit to certain deliverables that we thought would be out of our reach and ultimately did not want to overpromise the client. Looking at it now, I am glad we kept it that way as we gained confidence and, in the end, we over-delivered. I was able to assist the team by building an application through Microsoft Power Apps that had a better user interface compared to the client’s previous system. Despite my previous experience of building an app before, I learned so much more and was able to reminisce on the computer science introductory course I took freshman year. It reminded me how enjoyable it is to build something, being able to test it and see it work. We were very proud to present it and recommend how they can expand it within their current operations but possibly launching it elsewhere. We know that our recommendations and work does not end here, that we hope our team will be trusted to advise our client’s team in the coming months.

Overall, I am very grateful that such a class is offered to students and wish more would take advantage of it since you will walk away with a great experience and more knowledge. This was a great way to be introduced to a consulting project, especially with the support of the faculty that guided us and made us grow confident in what we were taking on. I hope that my peers gained a better understanding of what they can be capable of and that they have a stronger idea of their career goals because I certainly did. Moving forward, I am more motivated now to pursue teaching myself concepts or tools that can prepare me for my career or do any fun side project.