April 12, 2015

MBA Field Trip: San Francisco Day Trek

Balaji Vanjinathan is a first-year student in the full-time MBA program at Weatherhead. He shares his experience as a participant in the San Francisco Day Trek, organized by Weatherhead's Career Management Office (CMO) in March. Follow CMO on Twitter: @weatherheadcmo.

Day 1:

Intel Tour - We had the privilege of visiting the Intel Headquarters in Santa Clara. Kamieka Hariston, MBA '07, met us at the reception and gave us a tour of the Intel Museum where we had the opportunity to get an inside view on how Intel manufactures microprocessors. After the tour, we had a one-on-one session with Kamieka. The session helped students to better understand Intel’s competitive advantage and what it is like to work for a company like Intel. Kamieka also shared her career path and personal experience at Intel with us and described it as “challenging yet rewarding.” It was evident form our discussion that Kamieka is a true advocate of Intel and has had a tremendous career at the company.

Informational Interview: There were informational interviews for the students with select Weatherhead alumni. CMO did a really good job of connecting students with alumni who had similar backgrounds or with alumni who were working in industries similar to the students’ interests. Personally, I benefited a lot from this session because the alumni I met with gave me a picture of how to go about a job search or what is the best fit for my work experience and my passion.

Alumni Dinner Reception: This was one of the best alumni reception dinners that I have attended so far. The alumni from SF were really excited to meet the students and were really helpful. The student to alumni ratio was almost 1:3. The students not only met all of the alumni, but we also had the opportunity to spend quality time with each and every one of the alumni. We met some great people at this dinner, some who graduated as recently as 2014 and some as early as 1968. Dean Widing was also a part of the event and he spent time with the all of us sharing his experiences.

Day 2:

Google Office – On the second day of the event, Jeff Rozic, BS '01, and Alicia Sanchez, BS '10, hosted our group at Google’s YouTube office, and we had a very interesting conversation over breakfast. Some of the conversation was around the startup scenario and how it is evolving into something bigger and better day-by-day, how Google helps small companies do business by enabling online sales channels, etc.

BrandLab visit – Google has created a studio where they enable the brands to grow their brand-building capabilities. Google in partnership with the brands and their agencies come up with strategies to understand how to better connect with the consumers across a diverse segment by using Google’s tools and technologies. Jeff Rozic was a great host and he gave us an inside look to the amount of data that is available for brands and how it enables brands to come up with actionable insights. He also helped us understand the pricing mechanism for Youtube advertisements, what are the challenges that Google faces and how Google sells itself as a brand. This visit gave us an idea of how one of the biggest companies in the world does business with all types of brands, be it small businesses or a large conglomerate.

Lyve visit – Lyve is a startup based out of Cupertino. CMO had planned it in such a way that we get to see companies at both ends of the spectrum, organizations with more than thousands of employees and a startup with less than hundreds of employees. At Lyve we had the opportunity to interact with the COO and marketing managers. They gave us an introduction about the product and what it is like to work for a small company. One of the most interesting aspects of the session was when they asked us for ideas to improve the user experience and the awareness among smartphone users about their product. The students were given around ten minutes to work in groups of three to come up with ideas. The employees of Lyve were really impressed by the ideas that we had come up with and said some of the ideas would be incorporated into the product.

Overall, we spent quality time at every office getting to know what it is like to work for a company in the Silicon Valley and a lot of the alumni were very helpful in guiding us and providing us with valuable information that we would need in the internship and job search. It was a very well organized event by CMO staff for the benefit of the students. I would highly recommend that future students attend these events, as they are a good pathway to connect with a lot of the alumni and relevant business people. 

April 8, 2015

On-time projects are everyone's fantasy

George Vairaktarakis
George Vairaktarakis, Ph.D., is the William E. Umstattd Professor of Industrial Economics and Professor of Operations at the Weatherhead School of Management. 

But why so? Doesn't management always emphasize timely delivery and the importance of designing a new product or entering a new market on time? Isn't the workforce conscious of time, especially in light of the consequences of missing important deadlines? Is "experience" the answer? Probably not; in the project world a mere 10% of projects are completed on time. Maybe the reason is that the importance of projects is overrated. But then why is the word "project" in nearly everyone's business title?

Whenever answers are hard to come by, something tells me nothing is as it seems – right out of a spy movie – which prompts examining the virtual reality that has become our second nature in real-world projects.

First up, the D-word: deadlines. When an activity duration is determined – giving new homework to a student, say – the student determines the approximate amount of time it takes to securely finish the activity; however, that estimate is based on the most pessimistic outlook a mind can conjure. What if the lab is closed? What if there is a historic amount of snowfall? What if I get busy with my other courses? As a result, the student fights tooth and nail to negotiate two weeks for the homework, even though it only takes three hours to complete.

Having fought the good fight and having won ample time for an activity in the business world, student syndrome kicks in: an operator takes upfront whatever slack was negotiated for the activity, trusting that Murphy will never strike. How do I know? Because the first queries I ever receive from students are always one day before the deadline they negotiated!

I don't pay monthly salaries to my students. The majority does not have two kids and a mortgage, and most of them are financially supported. In the real world, however, operators are dependent on their monthly salaries from the firm to support their families and meet a host of financial obligations. This contrast highlights how important it is that individuals' deadlines are well-padded in the real world. This is our first lesson:
Setting deadlines is a lost cause for firms - it guarantees longer-than-necessary project durations.
Either management has to discover new negotiation and psychological tools or they should abolish deadlines.

Since every operator is so determined to meet hard-fought deadlines and projects are well padded by design, why are 90% of them late? To answer this question, consider flipping a coin. This is exactly what a student does when he starts homework one day before the due date. The coin will yield heads – the homework is submitted on time – or tails, resulting in a 50% expected on-time completion rate. In the real world, projects include hundreds of activities, some of which are bound to finish late just because some coin flips yield tails.

Those late activities are typically done by operators who became overloaded during the course of an activity, were involved with lots of administrative and little actual work, were traveling too much, or faced an unforeseen issue never encountered before. As it is impossible to prevent coins from turning tails, nothing can be done to ensure that individuals' activities will complete on time, even when student syndrome does not kick in. After all, if you asked a mathematician to estimate with 100% confidence how long it will take to lift a finger, the answer is: eternity. Why? Because 100% confidence must cover the possibility that a passing meteorite hands our project the fate its ancestor handed to the dinosaurs! How long would you say the last dinosaur project is going to take?

However simple an activity or diligent and creative its operator, some activities will always complete late. That's a fact. Suppose, therefore, that my predecessor in the project incurred delays in his activity, and the project is handed to me, say, one week late. Doesn't this mean that my deadline is automatically extended by one week? Of course it does. For if I deliver a week early, the next time I am given a similar activity I will not be able to negotiate a safe duration that I can meet with confidence. As a result, delays accumulate from one activity to the next throughout the project.

Suppose that I defy common logic and I do finish my activity one week sooner than negotiated. Why would I report it? If I do, my project manager will never let me pad my activities again. Instead, I would rather make myself look busy. That, too, has its basis in psychology. It is known as Parkinson's Law: Work is like gas, expanding to cover all available space (or time in our case).

So, if I happen to finish my activity one week early, my shrink can ensure you that I will suffer temporary Parkinson symptoms that will last for precisely one week. In the schizophrenic event that I do report the gain, the person to whom I hand the project next is not ready to start because he didn't expect me to finish early. Therefore, the project will waste my gains waiting on someone else's desk rather than mine. In other words, work gains are never reported. That's our second lesson:
A culture of deadlines causes activity delays to accumulate and gains to be left unreported.
Clearly, even if we decide to abolish deadlines, a new communication protocol is needed to measure project progress and incentivize the right behavior.

Fortunately, during the last 20 years, project management researchers at the Weatherhead School of Management and elsewhere have developed a method known as The Critical Chain Method that provides answers to the aforementioned gloom-and-doom scenarios. Every year, managers from around the country join our open enrollment project management offerings at the Weatherhead School of Management to learn how they can transform their organizations into pleasant, cooperative work environments where on-time project delivery becomes a competitive advantage rather than a chance event.

April 7, 2015

HeadsUp: This Week at Weatherhead

Graduate and Professional Student Appreciation Week Events

Case Western Reserve University's Office of Student Activities & Leadership is coordinating this year's Graduate and Professional Student Appreciation Week, which recognizes graduate and professional students' intellectual, teaching and cultural contributions to the Case Western Reserve community.

The Flight from Conversation: How technology is shaping our relationships

Sherry Turkle, a professor, author and licensed clinical psychologist, has spent the last 30 years researching the psychology of people’s relationships with technology and, in particular, how technology is shaping our modern relationships—with others, with ourselves, with it. She will present her observations in “The Flight From Conversation” as featured speaker for the 2015 F. Joseph Callahan Distinguished Lecture at Case Western Reserve University.

D: Monday, April 13
T: 6 - 7:30 p.m.
L: Tinkham Veale University Center

Networking Happy Hour

Join us for an amazing networking opportunity, as well as dinner and drinks.

D: Thursday, April 16
T: 6 - 9 p.m.
L: Butcher & Brewer, 2043 East 4th Street