BY ZACH GOLDMAN – GUEST CONTRIBUTOR
AMR will be a major part of your second year at Anderson; it will have a significant impact, not only on your GPA, but on your overall experience here and your future relationships with your teammates. A little bit of forethought and discipline can ensure that you have a pleasant and successful experience.
Why Should I Care? AMR gives you the chance to solve a real ‘MBA-level’ problem backed by the resources of UCLA. Succeeding here prepares you to succeed outside of school.
Why does AMR matter? It’s a legitimate question as some students view Anderson’s thesis program as a collection of unimportant assignments, creating busywork in a second year that would otherwise be either a stress-free time on the beach or a marathon of recruiting. Beyond the fact that a thesis is required to graduate in the UC system and that AMR is worth 10 units (and, BTW, grades are individual, so your individual contributions matter), I suggest viewing the program as a chance to practice MBA level project management skills while making an impact that will benefit both you and your client. AMR projects can be messy, stressful and ambiguous; just like problems in the real business world. Regardless of whether you plan to go into consulting, marketing, renting surfboards on the beach in Bali, or whatever, practice with structuring an approach to a problem, executing on that approach, managing the challenges along the way and ultimately putting together a convincing deliverable will help you to succeed in your chosen field. Your AMR experience should produce real results, not only for your client, but for you as well. In addition to building relationships with your team, advisor and client, a strong performance has helped alums land jobs. For example, when 2013er Aspan Dahmubed interviewed at Amgen, the recruiter noticed that he had done research in China through AMR. Not only did Aspan have the opportunity to share a story and take control of the conversation, but he was also offered the job and now works for the company in a post that involves international projects. In short, AMR is worth caring about.
Positioning ‘FTW’ MBAs generally like to succeed; some planning related to AMR can ensure an enjoyable experience and reduce the stress level during your second year.
Level with your teammates. Those of you currently in OB are likely learning about the importance of mutually aligned incentives. In forming or getting to know your team for what will be the largest academic component of your Anderson experience, be sure to ask some important up-front questions about where your teammates are coming from and what they want out of AMR. For example:
- What do you want out of the AMR experience?
- How important is it to you to “wow” the client and/or get an A?
- A re you anticipating any life events (like a wedding/baby) that might affect your project availability?
- What resources or skills do you bring to the table?
- What are you really interested in working on?
Asking these sometimes difficult questions at the front end of your AMR experience helps to set you up for success and can prevent some unpleasant surprises down the road.
Prepare for three types of pressure. AMR teams commonly describe feeling three sources of pressure: i) client, ii) advisor and iii) team dynamics. In going through the process, you might sometimes feel like you have multiple bosses, but this is reflective of what many of us will experience in our postschool professions. While issues and stress in these areas are sometimes unavoidable, you can take steps to minimize friction. Client-related pressure can be minimized by clearly defining your project’s scope up front, keeping the client updated regularly as you make progress against the scope and knowing when to politely push back on out-of-scope or scope-change requests (your advisor and the program office can help with this). Friction with your advisor can be minimized by keeping your advisor updated weekly on your team’s issues and communicating candidly about project-related challenges. Finally, team-related challenges can be minimized by clearly setting expectations up front, equitably dividing roles and assignments to speak to people’s strengths and politely but honestly discussing issues as they arise.
Know there will be bumps in the road. Parts of AMR will be difficult or annoying, just like parts of projects in the outside world. If solving business problems were easy, post-MBA jobs wouldn’t pay too well. However, anticipating some of these pitfalls can be useful. Below are a few examples I observed going through the program:
• Don’t half-@$$ the first six weeks — As a TA for the program, I saw some teams that really ‘phoned in’ the scoping and research planning phases of their projects. This left them exposed to major scope changes when their client or advisor pushed back on their early work and often resulted in a lot of painful scrambling toward the end, which could have been avoided by pushing a bit more on the front end.
• Prepare to deal with paperwork — Because AMR is, ultimately, your thesis, some paperwork is a fact of life. You’ll need to do things like an NDA, primary research report and final written paper. The office really does try to minimize this and is always open to suggestions on streamlining deliverables. However, at the end of the day, this is an academic exercise intertwined with external businesses, so expect a few academic assignments.
• Keep your advisor in the loop — Yes, I did mention this above, but keeping your advisor updated on your team’s progress, as well as any individual concerns you may have, is to your advantage. Team dynamics and individual contributions matter in grading and, since your advisor can’t see what goes on in your team meetings, it’s important to reach out to him/her with any issues worth discussing.
Your Friendly Neighborhood AMR Office. The AMR office exists to help you through the AMR process. Getting to know your team positions them to better help you. From helping your individual team with project-related issues to hearing your suggestions on improving the program overall, the AMR Office’s job is to make your life better (assuming, in this case, that your life primarily revolves around AMR). Dropping by their offices (in Student Affairs, off the D-Atrium) to say hi to Chelsea, Sendy and Yixin puts a face to your name and will help these intrepid staffers with some of the following functions:
• Project-related issues — From helping you to pitch a selfsourced client to getting you a room for a client call, the AMR Office is willing and able to help you with a wide range of project issues.
• Helping you avoid nasty surprises — If you have a question like “can I get reimbursed for X?” or “how can I resolve my issue with person Y?” dropping in and asking the AMR team (or program TAs) can save you from an unpleasant “whoopsie.” Don’t worry; asking questions doesn’t affect your grade…
• Improving the program overall — The AMR team cares a lot about student satisfaction. Student suggestions thus far have resulted in everything
from lunchtime sessions on project-related issues to establishing Wednesday mornings as a class-free time for AMR activities.
If you have ideas on improving the program, let them know. Finally, beyond the AMR staff , UCLA has a whole range of resources available to help you with the AMR process. See above for a quick reference of who can help you with what: As a final note, feel free to reach out to me (as the outgoing program TA) with any AMR questions I can help with; otherwise, Andersonians, go forth and crush it.