A capstone project provides MBA students an opportunity to utilise the knowledge and research skills gained during the course to solve real-world business problems or draft a business plan for an entrepreneurial effort. Depending on the program, these large-scale projects may be completed in the last two semesters or spread out over the entire course duration.
It becomes all the more interesting if the course venue is a happening place, like say, the Silicon Valley itself where numerous start-ups and other ventures provide students hands-on experience in various sectors. Thus, it is no wonder that Carnegie Mellon Tepper School of Business gets students to move into the Bay Area for the final seven weeks of the semester. Professor Arthur Boni had been bringing students of his Designing and Leading a Business capstone course for the past three years.
Why the Bay Area? Prof. Boni believes it to an exceptional place where within a 20 mile radius you have a concentration of money, technology, people and companies like nowhere else.
How does a Capstone project help an MBA? Most of them require students to draft a detailed set of recommendations for how to solve a specific business problem for an organization selected by him or her with the approval of a faculty member. In creating these recommendations, students demonstrate their competency in common MBA areas of study, including finance, accounting, marketing, strategic management, and operations.
Business Schools have different approaches to Capstone projects. In the case of HEC Paris, the project could be started during the opening modules of the program and submitted at the end. The students could take up a rigorous analysis of a real-world company or even embark on an entrepreneurial venture. The goal of the project is to address and analyse an issue of particular strategic importance to either a for-profit or not-for-profit organization from an executive management viewpoint.
The project could be taken up either independently or in small teams of three to four participants. The topic must address an issue that is of strategic importance for the organization concerned and allows you, either individually or collectively, to support “what should be done” recommendations.
The company’s position within the industry is to be analysed and strategic recommendations formulated. This exercise is to enable students to establish concrete relationships between the concepts and methods studied during the program and real-life strategic and managerial issues.
Diverse elements of the program are to be applied to carry out a comprehensive study. It is expected to enhance negotiation skills, collaborative behaviour and leadership. It is also expected to develop both written and oral skills of the participants when presenting the results of the work.
The written report must feature the audit results and conclude with strategic recommendations, supported by an action plan, which attests to the feasibility of the recommendations.
The final deliverable is a 30-page report, written in English. The project must demonstrate the level expertise that one expects to find in reports submitted to members of an executive board. This is followed by a high-level 90 minute presentation before a three-member Capstone Committee. The successful completion of Capstone Project earns the student the last 21 credits out of the 120 required for the HEC Paris Executive MBA degree.
Recent projects at HEC included creating a company to design and sell solar systems in North Africa; Developing a business plan for a global IT solutions company; Exploiting the technological ecosystem to obtain profitable growth from a range of multimedia mobile phones; Creating a joint venture services company between seven European electricity transmission utilities and restructuring a thermal production business.