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.

The Best Time To Take Actions

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”

Although half of the semester was taken online, and so did our practicum course, I felt our team was even more united during this special time and we successfully managed to communicate within the team and deliver our ideas with our clients via Zoom. Our clients’ challenge was to improve the incident ticket filling process within its non-production environment.

The first lesson I learned from this practicum is that there are wide gaps between the general concepts and the real-life situation. Before we actually met with our clients, we did our preliminary research on the company and topics related to the non-production environment and ticket filing. We once thought we got the idea of the clients’ challenges and be ready to have some in-depth conversations with our clients. We came up with several possible assumptions based on our best knowledge.

But when we got started on this project, we were kind of lost since we were not 100% understand how the whole internal system functions as our clients did. There were also jargons that we never heard of. I am glad that our clients are supportive and responsive. As we communicate with the clients more, we got to gain more knowledge of the big picture. The two clients that directly in touch with our team are more like mentors to us because they were always patient and provide lots of suggestions along the way. They were straight forward and they would immediately bring up their questions and concerns on our ideas. They would explain things with extra details to ensure we get the idea. This saved us from wasting time on drifted directions.

The second lesson I learned is about making decisions as a team. At the beginning stage of our project, as we gained more knowledge of the content, each of us developed our own perspective on how we would approach the challenge. I think we should focus on the human side, how to improve the process by controlling the input part. While others believe that we should be more focused on neural networks and other algorithms since our clients seem interested in it. I understand that because nowadays, companies are seeking for technology innovation and lead the industry. Although I think my idea would be brilliant, I am not confident enough to convince my teammates and present it to the clients. Luckily, my teammates are open-minded and supportive. While they were more into the machine learning part, I was responsible for getting the supportive evidence for human perspective enhancement and try my best to explain my idea from the abstract concept to an example that can be applied by the clients. At the end of the semester, we got to present our outcome to the clients, and each of us had strong faith that our work was excellent.

Last but not least, the most important thing is about timing. The best time to take any action would be now. Our team indeed spent a lot of time on secondary research on the related issue in the beginning. We got fascinated by the new subject, machine learning, and we received positive feedback on it from our clients. Four of us thought it would a good idea to gather more research. So instead of stick with the plan we originally have, we spent more time on the secondary research. We did not realize the importance of taking other methodologies into the projects. The tasks we planned did not require any order sequence, and actually, they should be carried out at the same time so that we can combine them to gain collective insights. Later on, we got stuck on the research stage and the progress of our group is also a little bit behind other groups. We felt overwhelmed at that time. But we knew that it would be late to take another approach. But, the best time to take any action is now, and there is no time crying over the split milk. We then decided to spread out and diverge from just one direction. We conducted several interviews with the internal stakeholders while we keep getting in touch with our mentor. The interviews turned out to be really helpful because our final solution was taking all the stakeholders into consideration. We would update our insights on the challenge and seek suggestions on the technology side.

In conclusion, this practicum was definitely one of the most amazing experiences I had at Gies College of Business. Besides gaining experience and skills on consulting projects, I got to practice to work on subjects that require new knowledge, I learned how to communicate with clients and teammates, how to express myself while listeningå to others, I learned how to manage the timing issue and work collaboratively with teammates remotely. This project made me get to explore the possibilities to become a consultant in the future. Also, I met some really good friends in this class and be able to work with them for this semester,

Learning to Not Be Afraid

From this course, I gained so many valuable skills I can take away for future jobs. I was lucky enough to work with a Fortune 100 Company helping them with creating a framework for their IT team to decide what robotic automation bots to automate. Ultimately, I learned how to be a better problem solver, utilize my resources to find answers, and to think outside the box. 

The previous semester, I saw this practice being offered and I applied for this course right away because I wanted to have some real-world knowledge during my time in college. During the first day of the course we were told the expectations for us and many students dropped the course. I was scared of the workload that was demanded of us but I knew that was too good of an opportunity to pass up because I knew this course would allow me to learn. Even though I had some doubts, I stuck with it. 

The day we first got the prompt, I had no idea what the client the proposed for us question even meant. I really wondered if a college junior could do this project with limited knowledge from my previous IS/IT courses. However, deep down I wanted to learn, and even though it might be a rougher semester; I was willing to put in the work. 

I had to self learn a lot of things required for this semester. There was a lot of research and digging around involved to find some solutions to the problem. There were also a lot of failures and iterations as well. The framework that we presented to our client during our midpoint deliverables turned out to be completely different from our deliverables. That time from our midpoint presentation to our final presentation we finally understood what was needed out of us. We researched a lot more to find out industry best practices and collaborated to formulate our final presentation and I ended up creating a second deliverable to go above what our clients expected out of us. Looking back on the semester, I’m really proud of what my team and I accomplished. 

Over the semester, thanks to my group members and our weekly contact, they really help me with this project. Since this class is purely project-based, you have to spend a lot of time with your group every week. Over the course of the semester I think that our teamwork has gotten a lot stronger because we transitioned from strangers to become friends. COVID-19 has made it harder for everyone and we too had to adjust to Microsoft Team and Zoom for our weekly meetings and client meetings.

As someone who has a lot of self-doubt, I think this project made me realize what I could do. In the beginning and starting out the course, I really wanted to do this project but wasn’t sure if I had the capacity to do it. Through this course I realized that if I trust in myself I will be able to deliver high quality and valuable work.

Pushing Myself to Learn More

Looking back at the past semester, it’s amazing to see how much I’ve learned and grown as a person. I had such a great opportunity to be a part of this practicum course and to work with a communicative and supportive team. My team and I were able to work with a client that gave us a real-life situation that was very ambiguous about automated models and natural language processing. I learned a lot about solving this situation with my teammates, and it definitely challenged me to step out of my comfort zone. There were times where we did not feel as confident about our abilities, and we were not sure if we would come up with a solution that would please the client. However, as we researched more about the client’s situation, we dived deeper into the challenge, changed the scope of our project a few times, and delivered a meaningful solution.

In the business world, I am aware that there will always be ambiguous challenges where I will be unsure where to exactly start. I learned that asking questions is a very important step to understanding and gaining more knowledge about what I am trying to solve. The client appreciated us asking more questions about the data, and they also ensured to not be afraid to ask. However, we noticed over time that we spent a lot of time trying to understand the data rather than solving the issue. It took a few weeks for us to research information and begin going into the right direction. Eventually, we took the next step to research automation models, natural language processing, and learn coding ourselves.

Throughout this challenge, I had to be a fast learner and I noticed how little time that we had with this project in reality. In a future job, I can expect this same sort of fast-paced environment since it has also helped me learn about time management. I also learned that it’s important to prioritize certain tasks over others. For example, my team and I should have done primary research earlier than secondary research. We realized this too late and ended up having to do this part during spring break. In the future, I hope to be able to take the situation into my own hands earlier and prioritize more important solving methods in order to narrow down to the best solution.

Since I did not have as many technical skills and have never had experience with automation or natural language processing, it was also definitely a challenge teaching these concepts to myself. I used DataCamp to learn how to code, and I eventually had to use Python and a natural language processing tool with the client’s data. I will definitely expect to use more technical skills in the future since I will have to learn many new things in the work world. I hope to continue learning about emerging technologies, artificial intelligence, and more coding.

Apart from improving in time management, learning more technical skills, and communicating consistently with the team and client, I believe the most important lesson from this experience was that there will always be fast changes and that it’s okay to change the scope of the project as everyone is in a learning process. I had to learn to adapt to these fast-paced changes and any technical difficulties that occurred. I am always learning and will continue to push myself to learn more. I have become more confident in my abilities since I had the opportunity to solve this real-life situation, and I know that I will be able to use these skills in the future.

Out of the world experience

When I first heard about this course, I was initially reluctant as it sounded more challenging yet also vague than most other courses in Information Systems or Operations Management. However, I had Professor Sachdev for another course, so I felt it was worth a try. I always over register for courses so that I can evaluate the syllabus to see if it will be a course that I will get a lot of value from. Although the first day of class instantly scared some students away, I was intrigued by the real-world experience. It ended up being a great choice!

Throughout the course, I learned a great deal about managing a team. I volunteered to be the team leader as I wanted some real-world experience working with a company on a real business problem. We had the opportunity to work with a wholesale distribution center company. Although the problem sounded easy at first, we quickly learned the struggle ahead for us. We started the process by building our team, including norms, which would help us work better together throughout the semester. As the team leader, I would need to be committed to my team by pushing each one of us towards success. I learned how to challenge my team and use their skills to help solve this problem. I held one team meeting at a restaurant and brought in pizza another day to help bring my team closer together. I ultimately found it very easy to get challenges solved by simply asking someone to do it. I would frequently check-in on our project plan to see how our work was coming together. Given the nature of our data, I would deploy validation checks and deeper robust analysis to make sure we were understanding our numbers correctly. This would ultimately be a harder course as there were no multiple-choice options. We had mentorship to help check our data, but I ended up having to pushback when I realized my team did not have a complete understanding of our conclusion. Thankfully, all these checks and balances helped prevent serious errors in our analysis.

Delivering our final project to our company was nerve-racking, but ultimately so rewarding. We got amazing feedback on how meaningful our analysis would be for the company. We loved seeing the discussion employees had with each other, as they thought deeper how this could become a real working solution to save them millions of dollars. The sense of accomplishment for a project like this is out of this world, something I have not yet experienced until this practicum course. I am glad to be part of the first-ever IS/OM practicum and hope future students get to experience all the growth I have achieved.

Brand New Outlook on Life

When I first decided to take this course, I could not have envisioned the changes that it would have on my outlook towards team projects and teamwork in general. Unlike most individuals within the course, I had prior experience with the system that my group would be using, automation anywhere. However, applying my knowledge in a way that would benefit the team and our final deliverable in general was unknown to me. In the past, I had used the system individually to work on a purely financial role. However, I now needed to work with a team and had to apply the software to something a lot more technical and something out of my comfort zone. Because of this, it took a lot of teamwork and relying on my teammates to create a meaningful project for the client. As a result of this necessity for teamwork, my team actually was able to build a strong bond with each other very quickly. We were able to openly be critical with each other and could rely on each other to be responsible to meet deadlines. In past group projects, you never knew if everyone would hold up their end of the deal, but with this project there was no doubt we were gonna get it done. Along with that, we were always looking for ways to motivate each other. When someone would become complacent or content with their work, we would always push each other to find something to improve upon. If someone felt like they weren’t giving their fair share, we put in the work to make it up to each other. I will admit there was a good week that I had felt that I let the team down. However, you just have to put your head down and make it up to them by putting in the work next week. For us, it was a week by week basis, and I am proud about what we had accomplished. I don’t think you could have a closer and better team than what we had.

Along with the teamwork aspect, I got good experience dealing with clients in a professional manner. As someone who has had multiple internships all in finance and all at the same company. It was nice being provided an experience to work within my major and with another company. There are not many times that someone can say that they had an internship with a large corporation within a school year, but I can. I also feel more comfortable working with individuals who are more experienced and are older than me. At times it can be daunting when you feel like “the new guy”, but they were welcoming and I will take how I approached working with them when I start my full time position this summer. I will also hope to be just as accommodating when I one day need to work with that new person who doesn’t know as much as me.

I will 100% take what I experienced with this team and contribute it to future teams I have in my career starting this summer. I have greatly enjoyed my time taking this course, while sometimes I may have felt overwhelmed, the work was well worth it.

Into the Unknown

This semester I had the opportunity of enrolling into the IS/OM selective BADM395. The course allowed me to work with a leading insurance and financial service company on their current IT process improvement. I have learned a lot of soft skills as well as many recordable accomplishments. Looking at the beginning of the semester from now, I entered the course knowing only one thing: this experience will add a lot of value to me. I did not know about what type of class it is; who are running it; how are we getting graded; none of that. It is amazing to see how much this class, my teammates, client and mentor taught me.

I knew the project was not going to be easy from the very beginning, even the prompt is hard to understand. Fortunately, our client representative was very engaging and provided all the information we needed. It was important for us to figure out what pieces of information we need. By splitting the work into subcategories: process improvement, automation research and interviews, my team and I were able to split the problem into more manageable parts. Since each member was working on different things, communication was vital to make sure we could put different pieces of puzzle together at the end. Thankfully, my teammates were always up to speed in delivering the components. It is only in a long-term project like this I understand the importance of seamless teamwork in tackling a mission that no one know anything about in the beginning.

As the semester went on, not all things were going smoothly. For example, we were suggested to look into Nature Language Processing to handle the project. However, further research on the subject and interviews with client’s employees revealed that Nature Language Processing is not a suitable solution. This realization came after half of the semester is spent. It was very discouraging as we were almost struck back to ground zero. On the bright side, stepping back from the focus on Nature Language Processing, a topic that no team member knew anything back, we had the opportunities to re-choose the ways we wanted to approach the problem statement. After careful consultation with our assigned mentor, we decided to tackle the automation with decision tree, and I felt much more confident after stepping onto the alternative track.

I always believed if we did not dive right into Nature Language Processing but take a step back, put ourselves in the uncomfortable situation of not knowing anything, we would not have the time issue we had toward the end of the project. Nonetheless, at the time Nature Language Processing seemed to be the only solution. Thus, another takeaway I have from this experience is too never be afraid of relying on other people. Our mentor was able to help the team start rolling again by pointing out several directions that the team did not know about. Through trials and error, we finally arrived at the right direction.

Looking back at the journey, it not only added a highlighted line in the resume and allowed me to meeting wonderful peers, instructors and clients, but it also gave me confidence into working in a real world case as now I have many tools in tackling a problem that I know nothing about.

An Experience that Helped My Career Path

This special course has not only provided me with a unique and unforgettable experience, but also enhanced my skills dealing with clients and solving problems. The most important thing I learned from the course is scoping. Scoping is a huge part, especially when doing consulting work. During our first client meeting we had an overall glance at what problem we need to solve, and decided to narrow it down by completing an issue tree since we have limited capacity. After meeting with our mentors, we had a better view of the industry standards and optimization criteria, which facilitates our analysis later. Our mentor also suggested finding out the limitation before we jumping right into solution. This is a valuable tip as we were interviewing with different stakeholders, we found out that they have different expectations and perspectives in terms of the problem we tend to solve. Under such condition, we need to re-scope our project focus. This experience taught how crucial scoping is when doing a project, because it is the first step that leads to the final destination. Scoping can not only help you find the right direction, but also point out some areas you may not notice. This skill can be applied in every project I will have in my career, and I also have a better interest in optimization, which may change my career path after I finish my master degree.

Another important lesson I learned from this experience is the soft skills. When working in a team, I realized the effectiveness and efficiency of communicating and face-to-face meetings. I used to talk with my group members more on GroupMe and assign work based on different parts of the project. This time, however, our team worked closer and had a regular meeting ever week to share updates and thoughts. We also had several social events to know each other better. This is different from what I used to for team projects, and we did not assign work verbally, but discussed the deliverables during our meeting and integrated all the ideas to come up with the best deliverable. Each team member got the part he or she is good at, as I was responsible for editing the slides and researching about the new system our client is interested in. This experience enhanced my skills when working with others in a team and managing a client. Throughout the semester I feel that my communication and networking skills were improved, which are helpful when dealing with clients and recruiters later after my graduation.

In addition to the skills I gained from the project that I can apply during my career path, I also got to know many nice people during the course, which may help my future career as I will be learning Operations Research as my master degree. It was my first time dealing with a real client, and our client is the nicest and best as I look forward to working with them again if I have the chance.