Saturday, May 16, 2009

Case Competition Lessons

UHV finally released their winners of the Case Competition last night, and my team failed to place. Bit disappointing, that. That led me to some thought and analysis of our performance, and today’s post examines what I considered.

First off, congratulations to the winners. While Dr. Salazar told me that he thought our team had a “very good chance of winning”, that does not mean that we were the only team that worked hard and produced a strong result. Since the case competition counts as the final exam in the capstone course of the Strategic MBA program, it should be obvious that all of the competing teams will do their very best to produce a quality presentation. Those teams which won did do through a lot of work and some solid execution, which is the essence of the course.

Second, I admit to some doubts when I found out my team did not win. Did we make some major blunder that we never caught? Were we blind to some critical flaw? The answer to that comes not only from Dr. Salazar’s pre-conference praise that we were in a good position to win, but also from the 99% grade we received for the project. 99 percent is nearly perfect, and an A in the course (which I received and assumed everyone in my team received) is not handed out to someone who makes big mistakes. We simply were beaten out by better performance, but our own work was very good. I use that phrase, because several of the judges said that, precisely, after we finished our presentation last Saturday. I have to believe the judges meant what they said, so while we did not win I also believe we did well.

So how did we not win? At this point I have to admit I am competitive, and I wanted to believe we would win, as my team needed that confidence in itself. Looking back, that was probably our biggest problem area. We started as a four person team and added a fifth member whose own team fell apart close to the end of the semester. This meant coordinating five people to give the presentation, and trying to get everyone comfortable with speaking before the judges, which was a big issue. Three members of our team were not at all comfortable in public speaking, and that hurt us two ways. The rubric used for grading the presentation had six areas, for which teams could be issued a grade of 1 through 4 from the judges, for a range of 6 to 24 total, and with six panelists that meant a total score ranging from 36 to 144. I hope we will get back the detailed notes from the judges, so I can confirm what I am guessing now, but one of those six sections addressed the comfort level of the presenters, and looking back we certainly lost points there. Another section of the grading addressed the way questions from the judges were answered, and the way that three of our members hung back also had to have cost us.

I also think the room assignment hurt us. Four rooms were used for the competition, with different judges in each room. Two of the three winning teams presented in the same room, and our room produced none of the winning teams. This is important because two of the judges appeared to be far more critical of us than the others were. I could not sit in the room while other teams gave their presentation, but I could look in from the back window and those judges remained stern and hard-nosed for those other groups. At the time I believed this would not hurt us, since the judges were showing the same attitude towards each team, but I did not consider that judges in other rooms might have a different overall tone, and I suspect that was part of the situation. The life lesson there is that you do not always get a level playing field.

Beyond that, I’d have to see the judges’ notes to know what they might have thought beyond their comments, which were positive and complimentary. While the Q&A lasted the full 25 minutes, judges were generally pleased with our responses, nodding their heads and in most cases smiling when we provided answers. We had no ‘deer in the headlights’ moments where we could not answer a question, and I believe we defended our recommendations well. The only certain problem area was that almost all the talking in the Q&A was done by two members from our team, and that surely cost us.

On the whole, the competition was fun and a great experience, although UHV still has a lot of work to do to get it where it needs to be. We were originally told that the results would be announced Wednesday, then Friday, then I only found out through doing an Internet search on the key words; the school gave the winners less press than they did to the Swine Flu update, and that’s wrong. Also, it remains to be seen how the teams will receive feedback; since the course comes right before the graduation of many students, I suspect that many will never read the judges’ notes, and that is a failure of the school in my opinion – this is a tremendous opportunity missed. Also, the school is still a bit disorganized in the competition format. If asked, I could make a number of suggestions on how they could make this a much more successful enterprise, though I would surely have more clout if my team had won the thing.

Oh well.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

We competed and did not win either. We also were told by two of the judges we performed very well. Our team members equally shared in the Q &A which lasted 40 minutes. I agree we could all benefit form seeing how we placed and what are areas for improvement are. Good luck to you in the future