A Method from the IT Industry Helps MBA Students Build Business Agility

Successful team leader managing configuring workflow on kanban board

Over just four days during summer term, 30 LeBow MBA students in Business Agility and IT (MIS 652) were fully immersed in Agile project management, a framework commonly used in software development. Samir Shah, DPS, clinical professor of Management Information Systems, first taught this residency-style course last year and worked to ensure it would be equally successful in a remote-learning environment, lining up guest speakers and an international client — Lokaly, an India-based e-commerce site — early in the spring.

“I wanted students to have a global experience within the residency format,” he said.

Students in the course used Agile methodology, a practice that relies on constant client feedback at regular intervals. Projects are broken into sprints, or short collaborative sessions, and led by teams called scrums. While the standard sprint length is two weeks, the sprints in this class lasted just two hours due to the condensed schedule.

“With each sprint, they make adjustments, and they get a clearer picture of what the client wants,” Shah said.

As the students constructed a business plan for Lokaly to launch in the United States and other foreign markets, they were constantly in touch with the client team, even with the significant time-zone difference between US and India. Along with their client interactions, students engaged in self-reflection on their goals, including assessing, at the beginning and end of the course, their abilities to:

  • look at a situation from the client’s perspective
  • identify and define the deeper needs and expectations of the client
  • generate ideas/solutions without fearing that they would not work
  • communicate ideas verbally to the client
  • seek feedback and criticism from the client on their own ideas
  • transform their idea into a real product/model/solution

The built-in reflection component helped Shah adjust course material throughout the week and reinforced the course’s dual learning goals: applying the framework to the specific consulting project and to their work outside of the class.

For additional perspectives, Shah drew from his network and prior consulting experience to arrange guest speakers from companies like Accenture, CIGNA and the Pennsylvania Treasury Department. Each speaker shared the pros and cons of Agile method and the kinds of projects for which they might use it at their organizations.

MBA student Thomas Elliott, who works as a sales engineer for an enterprise software company, said he enrolled in MIS 652 to gain an understanding of how organizations design and deliver technology products leveraging agile frameworks.

“This course went far beyond Agile theory and provided countless real-world learning experiences that I will cherish and leverage throughout my career,” Elliott said.

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