Monday, January 12, 2009

Group Decision Making - The Case Method

We hear the saying all the time, "It's a jungle out there." The pace of change in today's business world is constantly getting faster, and companies are forever looking for that innovative advantage to stay alive. At the intersection of Marketing, Technology and Operations Efficiency is a decision that many companies have to make.... should they eat their young? (Or more accurately, their first born).

For years, Product Managers has struggled with this decision. But with the new rules that will emerge from the crisis of 2007-20xx, I believe that we'll begin to see a change in the way they make their decisions. I don't believe they will be able to build products, develop markets, establish profit levels and then stretch the transition to the next-generation products. I believe the new rules will require Product Managers to begin thinking about living with the economics of the next-generation product as soon as the previous product ships. This means greater margin pressure from competition; greater swings of market requirements; and more niche competitors willing to sub-segmentize your markets.

So what does all of this have to do with an MBA program? The case method of learning. I've talked about it before, and I'm starting to believe it is even more critical as we move into the next phase of the 21st century.

At my previous company, our CEO began implementing a structure which combined a centralized and decentralized model, which he called councils and boards. For a while, I was somewhat skeptical that this was the only way to manage what had become a huge company. But the more I think about it, it's the case method on a huge scale! By bringing all the right minds together, looking at a problem from different angles, and under a short time window, you encourage rapid generation of ideas and you eliminate much of the politics that can happen within silos.

At WFU, some of the classes use the case method of teaching, but it doesn't seem to be universally accepted. I wish it was. I believe that more than ever, the next phase of the 21st century is going to call for cross-functional groups to look at challenges with open minds, difficult cross-examination, and very tight schedules. Our schedule this semester has a nice blend of Accounting, Technology, Operations and Marketing. A perfect fit for looking at all angles with the case method. I'm hoping my classmates take the opportunities to look our challenges from all the angles. It's a skill that we'll need to survive in a world where eating your young will happen faster and faster.