The Consulting Practicum, formally ICA, is a core course taught to first year MBA students during their spring semester. The Wisconsin School of Business partners with a company for a consulting project that allows students to gain hands-on problem-solving skills and real world business experience prior to summer internships. Students work in cross-functional teams of four to six for the semester-long project.
This year’s partnership is with Exact Sciences, a Madison-based medical diagnostics firm that owns Cologuard, an innovative colorectal cancer (CRC) screening test for adults at average risk of CRC. Exact Sciences is seeking to answer two forward-looking business questions: how they can more effectively reach women and diverse populations who are at risk of CRC. My group was tasked with researching the latter.
We took a structured approach to solving the business problem. First, we assigned roles to each team member based on their professional background and strengths, and we created a roadmap outlining the steps we needed to take to complete the project. The next phase consisted of in-depth secondary research on topics including the competitive landscape of CRC screening and tactics for marketing healthcare products to specific underrepresented groups. This step helped us identify why diverse groups were not being served by current marketing efforts and informed our proposed business and marketing strategy. Once the initial strategy was formed, we took the opportunity to meet with various faculty members to pressure test each aspect, from the high-level strategic elements to the details of the financials. The last step is to create and refine our presentation, which we presented to a panel of faculty members. The two teams with the best presentations had the opportunity to present to Exact Sciences at the end of the semester.
The consulting practicum left me with three main takeaways that will stick with me as we transition to our summer internships. Your first project for a company always starts with a large amount of ambiguity. Being able to clarify some of the ambiguity by asking questions and doing research is an important skill, but so is being able to make a decision with incomplete or inconclusive information. This was reflected when it came to deciding on messaging for our target audience – some of it had to be an educated guess. Second, I learned the importance of building relationships with team members and proving your value to them to earn trust. In the many instances where decisions needed to be made in our team, it was not until after I had earned my teammates’ trust that I was best able to lead the group to consensus. Lastly, a skill I am still working on is being able to tell a coherent and concise story. After a semester’s worth of work, winnowing our proposal into a sleek 15-minute presentation is challenging. Being able to take a step back, imagining you are a panel judge, and asking “what are the important questions I need answered for this proposal to make sense?” is the key to communicating your strategy in an effective manner. The skills we have gained through the Consulting Practicum are valuable to any career in business, but are especially applicable to marketing insights and analytics, where the ability to deliver actionable insights through concise and convincing storytelling is crucial to success.