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Defending your STRAMA paper


PB_Defending your STRAMA

Source: School Retool

This is a logical part 2 of an article I earlier posted in 2012 titled THE CHALLENGES OF WRITING A STRAMA PAPER, which I wrote during the time I was preparing my own Strategic Management paper. I’ve earned my MBA degree since then, joined a development bank and took on other interests.

But for MBA students who are still at it, after you finish the paper and your adviser gives the thumbs up, the next proverbial question is: HOW DO I DEFEND MY PAPER?

For some who are good presenters (I find marketing and sales people exceptional at this), it’s a piece of cake. Not so for others who are, in fact, aplenty. Preparing for your STRAMA (or thesis) defense is a whole new ball game which requires preparation and dedication. I’ve heard stories of students who completed their papers without any difficulty, only to chicken out at the last minute because they are too nervous to face the panel.

Facing the members of your thesis panel can either be a liberating or daunting experience, depending on your confidence level and mastery of your paper. This is why, early on, your STRAMA professor and/or adviser may have urged you to select a company which you are familiar with and not just any company for the sake of completing the requirements for graduation.

Here are some hacks as you prepare for your defense:

  • Master your paper from cover to cover. There is really no better way. Remember that your thesis panel’s job is to dissect your paper and look for gaps that you might have missed out. It is your job to know your paper very well from start to finish.
  • As much as possible, know the members of your STRAMA panel. This is another important area to keep in mind. It pays to know who the members of your panel are. Are they academicians or practitioners? Do they come from your field of study? Is there a financial guy in the team?

In my personal experience, I found this very helpful. I learned early on that one of the members came from the oil industry (which was the topic of my paper), so I knew I had to firm up on my bullets about it. I knew that any wrong or sweeping statement could lead to so many questions that could derail me from my defense presentation, which is not a good thing. And believe me, practitioners know if you’re just winging it.

I had to give financial guy a different color to highlight this area. If you know that one of the members is a finance person which you’re not (that is to say, that you’re not a finance person), you have to be ready to take some blows on the financial part of your paper. Be ready to explain your projections.

  • Make your presentations concise and short. Remember that you are just one of the many students that they will have to listen to, so focus only on the essentials. Some advisers/schools have a template which will guide you on what topics to put in your paper. Be mindful of that and the time allotted for your presentation. Also, give some time for the panel’s Q&A.
  • Do not make the mistake of saying anything that’s not written in your paper. Like I’ve said, panel members might be able to spot that right away and ask you where they can find that in your paper. That can lead to very serious issues with your panel which your adviser may not be able to help you with.
  • In everything you say or do, your adviser will always be your proponent and guide. Take advantage of your adviser’s free time for consultations. Make each moment count and take everything down. He will always know more than you do.
  • Rehearse your presentation, if possible with somebody for an audience. It is always a boardroom setting during a STRAMA defense. I remember my STRAMA professor Dean Albert Buenviaje explaining this to us in class. Imagine yourself presenting before the Board of Directors. You have to have that air of confidence in presenting your topic defense.
  • Try to anticipate questions and answer them. Again, I found this very helpful. I always made a mental note of possible questions that panel members may ask me and prepared short answers for these. In the 10 questions that I was able to think of, 4 questions came out–which is not bad at all. So it was a good feeling that I was able to answer straight away without stressing myself.
  • Finally, come ahead of time for your defense. You don’t want to be late catching your breath while your panel eagerly waits for you to begin. It will never look good.

 

Understanding How the World Works: A Communicator’s Perspective


systemic

(This paper was my submission in one of the subjects I enrolled in as a Communication student. I’ve edited some portions of the original paper to make it more discursive and reader-friendly.)

In my personal view, the emergence of social media reflects an open and globalized society. It has allowed man to bridge gaps where ordinary communication could not fill. Technology has made things easier, faster and more convenient to everybody.

Because of the accessibility and wealth of information available (as least, in a democratic and/or market-driven society), anybody can become a source and recipient of information. This is what communication is all about: it’s not one way, it’s not two-way but it’s multi-channeled. Thus, it is so easy to get entangled in a sea of information (and misinformation) that it becomes difficult to identify which information is true and which is false.

In Malcom Gladwell’s book “Blink” (I am a great fan of this author, by the way), he asserts that people do not really need to know the whole picture of a company, but only that sufficient information that will enable a person to make an informed decision. There are people who really on gut-feel and win, while there are those who are more cautious but are consistently deficient. The whole premise of the book is this: the best decisions do not necessarily involve having that know-it-all, know-everything attitude, but rather comes from knowing only the pertinent details to make a wise decision (Gladwell, 2011).

Looking at the World Through Blinkers

 

For some time, this has been my personal belief. The only information I need is what I can use for my job responsibilities. Everything else is surplus, and what I don’t know won’t hurt me. Even in the workplace today, most companies expect personnel to act according to their particular tasks. This is why job descriptions are designed by management—it also makes it easier for managers to measure employee performance. Employees simply take their cue from management policy and follow what is designated to them.

Do we really want to see the world the way horses look at race tracks?  Probably not.

After taking on this course for my Doctor of Communications degree however, it changed my view of how I ought to see things.

A Systemic Perspective: A Not-So New Idea

Going through the whole semester of information exchanges and online discussions have taught me the relevance and importance of systemic thinking supported by Bartlett (2000), Forrester (1959) and Richmond (2000). As asserted by Mathews (2007) in her paper, “a systems thinker will look beyond his/her discipline, assumptions, and knowledge and search for a holistic view of whatever is at hand” (Mathews & Jones, 2007). Taking on a systemic approach has forced me to see the big picture—an attitude I had done before but outgrew as I logged in years of experience in the workplace.

On a practical note, it has enabled me to look at situations from all corners before coming up with decisions that will be effective and timely. For instance, on deciding whether or not a proposal is feasible or not, I have to look at its applicability from a financial, operational and legal viewpoint. This has led me to go out of my circle and network with other departments for fish out their views on certain points. The result of the exercise has so far generated positive impact.

As a communicator, using this approach has encouraged me to be more methodical and comprehensive about communicating with others. Communication itself requires great skill, and to deliver it is quite another. It is not as simple as others would think, but as a student of communication it is a challenge that we must come to accept. Organizations exist because of the people behind it, and for organizations to move ahead is to have strong leaders who are able to communicate the group’s mission and vision to the members and implement its programs.

Bibliography

Bartlett, G. (2001). Systemic Thinking: A Simple Thinking Technique for Gaining Systemic (Situation-Wide) Focus. Prodsol International.

Forrester, J. W. (1959). Industrial Dynamics.

Gladwell, M. (2011). Blink: The Art of Thinking Without Thinking. New York: Hachette Book Group.

Mathews, L. G., & Jones, A. (2007). Using Systems Thinking to Improve Interdisciplinary Learning Outcomes: Reflections on a Pilot Study in Land Economics. American Agricultural Economics Association Annual Meeting, (pp. 1-26). Portland.

Richmond, B. (2000). The Thinking in Systems Thinking. In The Systems Thinker.

THE CHALLENGES OF WRITING A STRAMA PAPER


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I have been on leave from work for almost a month now, not to enjoy a much-desired vacation but to complete my Strategic Management paper.  For Ateneo-Regis MBA students, the Strategic Management paper (or STRAMA) is the capstone course requisite for graduation.  It’s the “make it or break it” subject, as I call it.  Everything you have learned in your subjects for the whole course will now be put to test and encapsulized in a company of your choice.

The journey has not been easy, even for a person who loves to write as I do.  During classes, one is required to submit an assignment per topic that is meant to be a preview of the paper one is to make.  To some students who already know what to do and what company to study on, this is a real blessing because it makes the pressure lighter (save for a few revisions recommended by the professor, of course).  For some who have not decided what company to work on, this is a real terror.  But not to fear, because your professor will always be your best ally in any event.

Strategic Management requires a student to look at the company’s industry, it’s strengths and weaknesses.  One constantly has to read, read and read – and finally, write.  You have to choose variables that you think can help build your company strategy.  You weigh in these variables.  SWOT, IFE, EFE, SPACE, QSPM and other useful matrices become your friends.  You do market and company analysis to determine if the company is liquid and if it is earning reasonable profits.

In STRAMA, the objective is to move the company forward, and in the words of my professor, “in leaps and bounds”.  And that should permeate in all of the strategies you should take.  After devising the proposed strategies, you now do the projected financial statements to show how the strategies will redound to the benefit of the company.

In between the processes, you constantly have to read, compute and revise some more.  I have had to revise and refine my paper countless of times, even as I am near to completing it.  It can get anyone panicky.  As any academic paper, it is tough and painstaking.  Definitely not a walk in the park.

Nevertheless, doing the paper is quite a journey and a good challenge.  Hopefully, I will be able to contribute ideas to the company I am working on.  It may grow in leaps and bounds or not; either way, it has been a worthwhile exercise and has enabled me to think creatively and within the parameters of the company’s capability and existing resources.

Vacation will be over for me in a few days.  After gallons of coffee, log-in time at the university library and sleepless nights, I will finally finish my paper.  I am thankful for the professors who have contributed much to my learning during my stay at the Ateneo Graduate School of Business.

Defense will be a new challenge altogether, but that’s another story.

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