What We Learn & How We Apply

               When asked about what consulting is, many people often don’t have an answer. In contrast to fields in accounting, finance, marketing, and management, there aren’t repetitive tasks that consultants have to complete. Workstreams differ from project to project, as do the applicable skills necessary for the creation and implementation of a successful deliverable. Even the industries that projects are centered in vary widely, ranging across all conceivable arenas, from agriculture to manufacturing to retail to financial services and more. Why, then, do people seek out consultants?

               The reason primarily stems from the transferability of skills that you learn when tasked with a consulting project. Through the information systems and operations management practicum this semester, we are given a choice between a myriad of different projects including data analytics using Excel and Python for consumer marketing and operations improvement, and disruptive technology research and implementation strategies. As I went through the semester, it became clear that a combination of technical and non-technical skills were necessary to communicate data-driven solutions to our clients. This course gives you plenty of opportunities to supplement where you are lacking. With the support of Professor Vishal Sachdev bringing in industry speakers to conduct workshops, like one about the Minto Principle (a framework for formatting and presenting reports), followed by a impromptu presentation competition, and another from the Illinois Leadership Center about leadership to enhance our team’s collaborative atmosphere and highlight our strengths among other sessions, non-technical skills receive developmental support. To increase your technical skills, the course allots for students to take certifications in skills relevant to their project, allowing us to better our approach to projects in consideration of industry standards.

               Next to being equipped with applicable and real-world skills in this course, another highly effective lesson that was learned was the ability to match these skills to the solutions that clients request. Given that many students do not often have proximity to client-facing roles in a professional setting still early on in their careers, the practicum personally allowed me to experience a business process improvement project that was unlike the marketing strategy and product ideation for external clients that other avenues for consulting experience at the college level typically offer. Interacting with our client contact week-on-week allowed us to consistently structure our research and recommendations in order to specifically hone in on and mitigate the main issues that the clients faced.

               While I am personally going into consulting as a full-time career, it goes without mention that the skills taught and experience given in this course are invaluable to anyone embarking into professional roles. In reflection, I have personally gained much, but my final remarks go in large part to my project team. Since this course is a selective practicum and projects selected by interest, each individual is motivated to perform their best. The course was designed by Professor Vishal to be demanding in scope, but it was made much easier to get through by my great team members, who I am confident will remain friends with for a long time to come.

Team Work Makes the Dream Work

This consulting class has been one of the most unique courses I’ve taken during my time at UIUC. The focus on data and real world problems that each group was provided with was completely unrivaled in comparison to any other course. 

Last semester, I chose to apply to BADM 395 because I was considering a career in the consulting field and wanted to experience as much of consulting as possible before making a decision. I will be interning at a consulting firm next summer and I feel significantly more prepared to take on a project, interact with business professionals, and contribute to a company’s needs as a result of this class. 

The largest contributing factor to the semester’s success was my team. Without them, I would have been stuck in so many different ways and the experience would have been nothing more than a frustrating solo project. And, while the project taught me a lot about functional, “hard” skills like data analyzation, modeling, implementation, and presentation design, I learned the most about “soft” skills from my team. 

The question of Leader or Follower comes up a lot in business courses and in life. We all need to take on those roles at different points in our lives and each have their own struggles, and I can admittedly say I frequently take on the role of follower. While this was also the case this semester, it provided me with a lot of insight on how to manage a team, communicate with a client, and both give and receive feedback constructively. 

Our project involved a concept we had only briefly touched upon in a general business class. Receiving our scope at the beginning of the semester, everyone was a little uncertain on how we’d go about calculating the values our client needed, and how to provide value outside of that one task. As we began researching the industry, the different components of what makes up the calculation began to fit together. Out of one simple problem statement, our end semester result included data visualizations, research on industry and trends, and Excel work. Looking back on the development throughout the semester is very satisfying and contributes to the feeling of wonder at what we accomplished. 

As a result of BADM 395, I have a newfound appreciation for group work and consulting. The people are what make the experience worth it — a great group means a great project, which is why consulting can be a rewarding field of work. I also learned a lot about myself and how I work best, and while there are qualities I’m proud of, I’ve also been able to identify what I need to work on to be a better team member. 

I’m excited to see what consulting experiences this summer will bring and if they can top my BADM 395 team and project! Thank you to Professor Vishal, Amogh, Joe, Helen, Ethan, and Raina for a wonderful semester!

BADM 395 Reflection

           At the beginning of this project, I was uncomfortable using python and excel to analyze because it has been quite a while since I took BADM 211. There were obstacles throughout the project. We spent most of our time understanding the data, cleaning it to come to a stage where it is usable. This project allowed me to revisit my skills in BADM 211. Moreover, I was able to go even more in-depth to learn about machine learning. Especially with the help of our mentor, Professor Guggenheim, I learned a new machine learning package called explainable boosting machine. It is a very powerful tool to analyze the data, and I look forward to utilizing that package in my future python projects.

           It is essential to ensure data consistency in cleaning the data and modeling. For example, setting up a standard on how the team will name the data frames and columns is crucial because it would affect everything that comes after it. Without consistent naming, errors can quickly occur throughout the code. In addition, it is also important to assess what is the right way of analyzing the data. For example, a simple manual count may work with ten rows of data. However, we have to consider that a manual count is not practical when the client has 10 million rows in the future. Thus, using python codes is more suitable.

           One thing I learned about team building is that it is crucial to have teammates on the same page. It makes work so much easier when people have the same understanding of the objective and a rough idea of what the project may look like at the end of the semester when we first start the project. Another thing to note is that as we are business students, it may take much time to research codes and customize them to apply to our projects. So, do not underestimate the time required to complete the analysis in python or any other programming language, and overpromise the deliverables at the initial stage.

           Another thing I liked about this project is that we utilized project management tools to ensure that we were staying on track. It is a great way to assign tasks and remind teammates what needs to be accomplished next week and weeks down the road. The weekly meeting with our senior project manager, Amogh, was also beneficial. He often asked questions that led us to reflect on ourselves and ensure we were not missing anything about our project. Ensuring a clear communication channel with the client is also the key to success in this course. I learned that we need to have questions ready before meeting the client to ensure the best use of the client’s time. There may also be times when it is better to email the client shorter questions and smaller deliverables to make the communication more efficient.

           Lastly, I would say it is the small things that made up this big project in the end. The outcome of the project is undoubtedly important. However, the process of team building, overcoming obstacles, and learning together as a team makes this course stand out. I am glad that I was able to take this course before graduating from U of I. This is one of those courses where you will learn practical skills and have many stories during interviews.

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.


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 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.