Common MBA Problem-Solving Mistakes

18 August 2011 at 5:32 pm 1 comment

| Peter Klein |

From Luke Froeb, author of the excellent Managerial Economics: A Problem-Solving Approach, shares his most common comments on MBA student assignments. Excerpt:

“What about the organizational design?” Figure out what is causing the problem, and then think about how to avoid the problem. A lot of papers identified a bad decision, and then suggested reversing it. But they neglected to address the issue of why the bad decision was made, and how to make sure the same mistakes wouldn’t be made in the future.

“Don’t define the problem as the lack of your solution.” For example, if the problem is “the lack of centralized purchasing,” then you are locked into a solution of “centralized purchasing.” Instead, define the problem as “high acquisition cost” and then examine “centralized purchasing” vs. “decentralized purchasing” (or some other alternative) as two solutions to the problem.

“What is the trade-off?” Every solution has costs as well as benefits. If you list only the benefits, it makes your analysis seem like an ex post rationalization of a foregone decision, rather than a careful weighing of the benefits and costs. If you spent some time thinking through the tradeoffs, show it. If not, then you should.

These are excellent suggestions. For example, students want us to teach them solutions, but usually the best we can do as instructors is help them understand the relevant tradeoffs.

Entry filed under: - Klein -, Management Theory, Strategic Management, Teaching.

Entrepreneurial Studies and Applied Economics at the AOM 2011 More Back-to-School Advice

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. srp  |  19 August 2011 at 7:45 pm

    Heh. I just sent out a memo to my class preparatory to an essay final exam with some of the same points.

    A couple of my own:

    Avoid “dehydrated water” recommendations that hedge so much they end up being meaningless. It’s fine to propose an interior solution with a balanced tradeoff, but you have to specify where you want to be compared to the status quo or to other benchmarks. “Focus on X while also making sure to take care of Y” isn’t a whole lot of help–you could reverse Y and X in that sentence and the reader would not be able to tell the difference.

    Don’t rehash case facts except to support an argument. Long quotes from the case don’t “speak for themselves.”

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