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How to Use MBA Teams for Competitive Intelligence Target Studies

College students enrolled in masters of business administration (MBA) degree programs are eager for real-world experience in competitive intelligence and problem solving. You can help provide them with that experience while tapping their collective brainpower — and the brain of their professor. Consider contacting grad school professors at nearby university business schools and asking if they’re willing to conduct some competitive intelligence for your business as a class project.

Many university professors love to assign special projects to their MBA teams. These projects not only help the students but also promote the value of the university to the community.

Intelligence produced by grad students can vary quite a bit in terms of quality, and you probably have little or no time to waste working with students who lack the skills and motivation to produce good intelligence. Make sure that the students you work with are in an MBA class taught by a professor who knows how to guide and encourage the MBA team to deliver value.

Avoid MBA teams that don’t understand rigor and exceptional quality. Too often, MBA teams are not facilitated by a professor who understands how to deliver a professional-level project. The usual strength-weaknesses-opportunities-threats (SWOT) analysis can lack the required rigor of a more comprehensive analysis.

To find an MBA team to work with, look for nearby colleges and universities that offer MBA programs, especially programs that offer courses in competitive intelligence, which is rare. If nothing local fits the bill, expand your range; an MBA team can serve your needs from a remote location. Ask the MBA program director if any professors do CI consulting for outside firms, and then contact any professors who do.

When you’re evaluating your MBA options, get answers to the following questions related to the professor’s qualifications:

  • How experienced is the professor in consulting with organizations outside the university? Ask the professor to provide a list of organizations that he or she has done CI reports for in the past. You want someone with real-world experience, not necessarily in your specific industry. You don’t want a prof whose experience is limited to academia.

    Keep in mind that some professors may produce CI but call it something else, such as industry study, strategic information, or white papers.

  • What’s the professor’s track record in creating actionable intelligence out of business information? Obtain the names of other organizations that the professor has worked for and contact them to determine their satisfaction with the results.

  • Are you convinced that this professor is capable of leading your MBA consulting team to achieve substantive output that can help your company? Speak directly with the professor to develop a sense of how experienced and knowledgeable he or she is and gain insight on the person’s ability to lead a CI team.

  • How closely will the MBA team’s work resemble the work product of a professional consulting firm? If possible, look at samples of work produced under this professor’s tutelage.

When choosing an MBA team to work with, make sure that team members:

  • Understand that your time is valuable and respect that reality.

  • Have a plan that communicates organization, process, and professionalism.

  • Have a mentor/leader who understands real-world consulting and research.

  • Will present a statement of work (a detailed description of the project, including timelines and deliverables) prior to starting the project.

  • Will each individually sign a confidentiality agreement with your company.

    Confidentiality agreements often allow the grad students to mention their contributions to a CI project without actually divulging the project’s content. If the work is very sensitive, the confidentiality agreement may prohibit the students and their professor from disclosing the company or the area of study. Consider asking your CI client or your organization’s legal counsel to approve the wording of the project that students may use on their résumés.

  • Will prepare a professional document that summarizes their work.

  • Will make a 30-minute (maximum) executive-quality presentation of their results.

Don’t waste your time with an MBA team that lacks the professionalism to produce a quality CI presentation.

If you’re not confident in the team, continue your search.

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