An alumni's view of MBE
I post this reflection on his time in MBE with permission from the author. If you have any comments or questions that arise after reading this piece, please ask them here and I will respond.
My name is Jan from Germany and I am a former student of the WMG at the University of Warwick in 2010/2011.
I am writing this reflection more than one and a half years after I finished my studies in Management for Business Excellence (MBE). I am still in contact with several people of WMG, especially Paul Roberts (Course Leader) and one of his doctoral students. My reason for keeping the contact is that I am convinced that WMG and especially Paul are doing a great job and staying in contact with academics always gives you new input.
This continuing contact actually gave me the motivation to write this blog. I think, and Paul agrees, that it is important to know what you can do with this degree—what is the benefit of MBE. After my studies I got in contact with some people and they asked what was the biggest benefit, what kind of job did I get afterwards, etc. Indeed these are very important questions and so I decided to write a few lines with the aim to share my experiences and thoughts regarding this topic.
I am aiming to support this course and its underlying philosophy, so that finally people have more motivation to decide on this course and to give them more belief in what they are doing during this one year of studying MBE.
Just to summarize it in advance—it was the most mind-opening year that I’ve ever had and it was worth every minute. In my opinion, every job on this world would benefit from these experiences and the conveyed message. So let's have a look at it in more detail:
First of all I should mention that directly after my studies I got employed by a big German company. For 20 months now, I have been working as a project engineer. Even though it is a technically-oriented job and on the first sight it doesn’t have that much to do with MBE, it is a challenging position and MBE steps in every day.
One thing that should be born in mind is, that most of the times you won’t enter a company and be the boss. There are competencies and experiences that must be gained. It is hard to manage and lead if you have no idea how a company works, how people behave and how the work is carried out. Besides getting the respect you need when you come directly from university, respect is easier to get if people see that you have a clue what you are talking about.
However, let me tell you a bit about my business life: I am responsible for a production site that produces a component for automobile paint. It is a chemical process that I didn't know much about. But actually that was not important for me because I do the engineering for this site, and this goes in the direction of what I knew from my previous studies. But being honest, I must admit that my technical knowledge is very basic and I had no clue about the technical component of my job at the beginning. In addition, and mostly forgotten: you work in a company, there are procedures, rules, responsibilities, actually it is real life and not comparable with the university life, even though university tries quite successfully to come close to it.
So at the beginning I had to deal with two main totally new areas. This is why I was also happy about not getting a management position right from the beginning. Even though I see myself capable of doing such a job (this applies to everyone from MBE), I would have been overloaded. Having responsibility for others right from scratch would have been a third main area, probably too much to make for me to be good at my job from the start. Besides without work experience I think it is hard to get the acceptance of your colleagues. It may work out but it would be tough.
But why is this course so beneficial for professional life afterwards?
On the one hand you have the concept of the course and on the other hand the content of the modules and the masters’ thesis.
With regard to the mentioned two main new knowledge areas I would like to kick off with the first one:
The concept, the idea behind MBE and its organization already forms one major benefit. It is about learning how to learn. And this, as simple as it is, is a great and future-building competence, which will help you in every situation. Previously, I studied in Germany, sitting in a class with hundreds of other students and listening to one professor, making notes and I finally proved in a final test that I am capable of learning something by heart. But the real world is different. You do not sit in an office in the basement; alone, no colleagues around you, no computer and you have to write from memory something on paper that you have learned quite a while ago. You do have experienced colleagues; you do have Internet, books, documentation, etc. Finally, your task is to take this basic knowledge and apply it to a new situation, task, project, whatsoever. Otherwise you would need ages for a little task. And this is what the course work but even more the PMAs are about. Like in real life, identify your aim and solve your task with existing knowledge that is available in various sources, while enriching it with your own thoughts and thus developing the solution. Getting used to this and seeing it as normal way to obtain knowledge, becoming confident to work in unfamiliar areas, is of great benefit.
I am quite certain that during your masters’ you will find yourself concerned about time at some point or even frequently. The pressure is high, you have PMAs, you have the dissertation, modules and the time will come when you want to apply for jobs. So it might seem that there is no time for fun and the workload is not manageable. But it is, thousands of people have proven it and it brings its own benefits. At the end of my year, indeed all concentration was on the thesis and the last PMAs, the weekly and daily workload was massive. To be honest, most of the stress was made by myself: how often did I postpone something or wasn't really working when my timetable actually said: Study. But from time to time you learn to cope with it. And this pays back in professional life. In my job it is normal to have about 15-20 projects at the same time. Some are smaller and actually no big deal, but some are quite comprehensive and you have due dates. So it is about keeping every ball in the air. Actually like during the masters’ and specifically when there are the mini projects, if I got it right in mind it was about 5. Having gone through these lessons the job that I am in now was nothing new. It was different, and it was serious, but I had my patterns from the studies at Warwick that I adapted. Of course a university won't be able to mirror professional life for a 100% but WMG has done a great job. Compared to other colleagues who started working at the same time as me, I saw myself more comfortable with the given new situation and all the side effects. It was just like a new module. Besides, all that I have written in this paragraph is also true for diverse Assessment Centers. I have gone through three and the hardest part was nothing other than course work.
So what about content of these studies? Well it also depends on how you understand them and how you apply them to your professional life. Let's take the Six Sigma modules. I wouldn't expect to go into a company and start implementing Six Sigma and optimize processes and products. Nonetheless, you have the idea of DMAIC in mind and this already is worth a lot. You know something different than others do and thus can push, e.g. a project group in the direction to try it. Thinking this further leads you to other modules like Leadership. How do I lead people towards a new initiative, how can I influence? You might not be the boss but you can lead and show the aim, the vision. Ok, that might happen in a smaller circle of influence than when you have learnt it, but it is a beginning and it is a great opportunity to try out several approaches. And this is what I meant about your own understanding and usage of the content. If you keep it in mind you can work with it and try out what works for you. Apart from leadership, change management is vital to implement something new in a sustainable way. Understand why people do not want to change and indeed cope with it. I don’t know if you are surprised to hear that, but I see that as the biggest challenge in a business and there are only a few people out there that are good at it. I am not saying that you are an expert in each of these fields, modules, and this is not the aim, but you definitely have a basic toolbox you can work with. The rest comes from experience and further education.
Let me give you a real life example: I started together with 6 other people in the same department; it was decided to form a newcomer group that was supposed to work on an undefined project. So it was up to us to define it. With everyone having a different background and position we ended up working on something that was concerned with the entrance of new employees. How do they get known to the company, where can they find answers to explicit questions and how could they gain technical knowledge and expertise? After a while the question came up on how knowledge in general was transferred. Therefore, I suggested calling the project knowledge management. That enabled me to contribute the knowledge I gained during MBE, and finally I ended up as the elected leader for a group of 12 people. Following the basic knowledge about change management proved to be absolutely valuable in order to persuade the older colleagues that our project is a positive thing and everyone could benefit from it. Although my experience was mostly theoretical, the knowledge about leadership allowed me to try out several things and finally find my way to lead the team to a successful project completion. In the end the project benefited from 3 WMG modules and my thesis, which I think is a good result.
The Masters’ thesis is a good opportunity to get deeper into a topic. There you really start becoming an expert in this field of knowledge and this is why you can apply it even better to your future job. So choose it wisely ;)
What more is to say? I know Deming is a big topic in MBE and this is a must. When you start working you quickly see Deming with his deadly diseases and 14 points of management everywhere. It is incredible to see that it looks like nothing has really changed for nearly 30 years now. During the studies I always thought: This is common sense, of course you are not doing it like this, you are doing it the other way; you are a nice guy and act like a human being. Who the hell behaves like that described by the seven deadly diseases? Therefore, I was shocked entering the business world and I can feel that it is of great importance to keep the words of this wise man in mind! It hopefully prevents you becoming and a****. In business it works differently, it is not a safe environment and it is vital to get grounded and remember what you have learnt.
In my eyes business ethics is a vital component of professional life and MBE provides the right direction. Paul once said that for him it was important to have his own values, set up his own mindset and stick to them. Although I am not in a leading position, this proved to be great advice and good support for decision-making. It doesn’t let you doubt. An example: should I go to my boss and tell him what I think? Sure, no excuse! I promised myself to always be open and honest as well as having my say. So I went there and in the end it was the right decision.
I am convinced that I actually could write some more pages, but I think this gives you a first insight on how you can benefit from the MBE course. But again it really depends on how you approach the course and use the given input for your benefit. It is not just about taking; it is also about developing it continuously.
If you have got any questions regarding MBE, etc. just drop me an email:
Finally I want to wish you all good luck with your studies but never forget:
Have fun and enjoy your life.