Darden Consulting & Venture Projects for Full-time MBA Program

  • While consulting and venturing projects have much in common, the desire to serve these different stakeholders has led us to design somewhat different methods and requirements for each course. To assist in your decision as to which type of project you are interested in pursuing, the principal criteria, who the stakeholder of the project's output will be for, is listed below:

    • In Consulting, the stakeholder is a client company seeking professional advice. The company may be small or large, for or not for profit.
    • In Venturing, the stakeholders are some or all members of the team who wish to develop a business model for their own entrepreneurial goals.

    International Students: Please contact the International Studies Office (ISO) for the appropriate paperwork.

  • If you have questions about these projects, please contact the corresponding supervisor as listed below.

    Consulting Projects

    Tim Laseter
    LaseterT@darden.virginia.edu 
    +1-434-924-4078
    Faculty Office Building Room 111

    Venturing Projects

    MJ Dougherty Toms
    TomsM@darden.virginia.edu  
    +1-434-924-4408
    Camp Library Room 209C

    Administrative Questions

    Kathy Shelton
    SheltonK@darden.virginia.edu 
    +1-434-924-7486
    Faculty Office Building Room 113 

    Overview

    The objective of a Darden Consulting Project is to assist a US or International client organization in resolving a set of demanding business issues and to use this experience as a platform for learning. Consulting projects offer a learning experience in specific areas that range from helping the client arrive at an appropriate problem definition to conducting high-level meetings with the client.  Consulting projects can be done either in the Fall (Q1-Q2) or Spring (Q3-Q4) and can take place in the US or abroad. As part of the course you will be required to attend a series of workshops that will better prepare you for the consulting process. 
     
    Opportunities for Consulting Projects may be sourced by a student, faculty or the Center for Global Initiatives (CGI).  
     
    For information on projects sourced by CGI (GLOBAL) please go visit their site. For information on projects sourced by a student or faculty, please review the Timelines tab.

    Form & Approval Process

    FALL 2016 Consulting Projects

    Darden Consulting Project FORM (This is for US based projects only.  If you are interested in a global project please go here.)

    Consider the following when completing the form:

    First, we would like to know what the project issues are and why they matter to the beneficiary. What is the logic for devoting professional (your) time to it? Give a careful definition of the project objective and scope it sensibly (Goal of Project).

    Second, we would like to know how (methodology) you want to approach these issues and why this approach seems most appropriate given the limits on your time and mobility. In particular, what field work do you intend to do? What resources within Darden or outside do you wish to tap? How do you want to husband your resources for maximum effect? Describe how you wish to organize yourself as a team. How often do you wish to meet with your faculty advisor and your client (consulting). What resources do you need (expense budgets, fees)?

    Third, consulting projects offer a learning experience in specific areas that range from helping the client arrive at an appropriate problem definition to conducting high-level meetings with the client. Please describe what you intend to learn.

    Fourth, what are your deliverables?

    Length and Quality

    A complete form varies in length from 1 to 5 pages of (single-spaced prose) and avoids padding with lengthy item lists.

    Approval Process

    • Have the completed form signed by your project faculty advisor.
    • Turn the completed and signed form in to Kathy Shelton (FOB 113), by the deadline.
    • The course head will then review the form (with copy to your faculty advisor). He may provide suggestions for improvement and generally approve if you are willing to consider those suggestions.

    FAQ

    What are the basic requirements for a consulting project?
     

    The principal distinguishing feature of a consulting type project is a client relationship with a third party who relies on the project team for business advice. The project must have an external client who relies on the project's outcome for sound business advice.  The client may be an individual, a non-profit organization, an institution or, of course, a company.

    How do you obtain your own project?

    Here are some sources of projects:

    • You are encouraged to establish a client relationship on your own.
    • You may contact individual faculty members (or they may contact you) in search of prospective project leads.
    • You may join a project that is being formed by your colleagues.
    • You may speak with Tim Laseter regarding possible project leads.

    Why and how should you generate your own project?

    Nothing in our experience is as likely to result in a superior project experience (on both sides: client and team) as a project that has been generated by yourself alone or in cooperation with fellow students. If you are interested in securing your own project, you should contact the course head as soon as convenient in order to approve your project and offer you suggestions on how best to sell a project. (Some basic tips are summarized below).

    How big are teams and how do they get formed?

    Consulting type project teams should not exceed five students. However bear in mind that project clients are a concerned about teams that are too small as about large unwieldy teams. The former lack diversity, internal accountability, and do not generate the kind of debate among peers that clients would like to benefit from. Your learning experience too will be more intensive if you interact in colleagues. Hence: The range of three to five students per team has proven to be ideal.

    You are free to recruit your own team (or join a team that is in formation) but participation is voluntary and joining a team requires the agreement of the team. The key point is that members of a team should have chosen to be members based on their interests and willingness to work with each other. There are just a few additional ideas that you may want to keep in mind when thinking about teams:

    • Clients often have some specific wishes on team composition. They may want some engineering knowledge in the team or language skills. We should make an effort to elicit and accommodate these wishes.
    • UVA is bigger than Darden alone. We have at times recruited non-Darden students (and even faculty) into teams for specific expertise. This has always worked well and clients were pleased to see our ability to mobilize resources beyond Darden.
    • Working in a team with your friends is not necessarily a good idea. First, friendship and mutual accountability don't mix well and the latter is important for the workings of a team. Second, working with friends is not what you will be doing later so why do it now? Third, why risk a friendship? On the other hand, I fully understand why some of you will choose to ignore this sound advice.

    Basic tips on selling consulting projects

    The tips and considerations below are a very incomplete list of things to bear in mind when approaching potential consulting project clients. For more information, please contact the course head.

    Don't hesitate to sell! 
    The consulting project program - once properly explained - is very attractive to most companies: we know this from past projects, repeat clients and independent surveys. When first approaching a prospective client you should be aware that as a generic category, "student projects" have a decidedly mixed reputation because only few schools have tried to build a program that is aimed to serve the companies as well as educational goals. Our sales proposition is basically to make clear that the Darden Consulting Projects are a professional proposition coming from the School. It is a service offered by one institution (Darden) to another (client). You are a representative of the School.

    The elements of the proposition that work best are:

    • We believe that putting the client first serves our educational goals best. We don't want clients to pretend to have problems that we want to study. Our best hope is to work with them on problems that are of genuine business interest to THEM. Resist the temptation of asking potential clients for projects that are of interest to you. In the best case, you lose the client. In the worst case, they oblige and agree to a project that is of not much relevance to them.
    • We are committed to this program and handle 20-30 projects each year. We can only hope to generate such number of projects if our reputation remains solid. In other words: we can't afford to have disappointed clients.
    • The project is for academic credit: the grade will reflect the client's satisfaction.
    • With a workload spread over 2 quarters and teams of three to five students, the project work is of substance and sustained (not a quick shot).
    • The School has overall responsibility for the project represented by the course head who will be in contact with clients. We will enquire about difficulties and seek to correct them promptly.
    • Faculty interaction: in addition to the course head, project teams and clients interact with a faculty advisor on a regular basis. The team's work in progress is reviewed by faculty. Darden teams are moreover encouraged to use the entire faculty as a resource for advice and expertise.

    You must take the risk of being led by the potential client to issues that are of critical interest to them. This may lead to project ideas that Darden teams are incapable of executing: we must tell the client. Or it leads to project ideas that represent no challenge to us: we should politely decline. Or to project ideas that have none of the above defects but are of truly no interest to you personally: you pass on the lead to the course head and we can try to find students who are interested.

    Listen well and listen some more!
    We tend to react to business problems with premature advice that tend to confirm business people's worst fears about MBA students. The best approach is to listen, ask questions, take copious notes, and suggest to the prospective client that you summarize your understanding of the problem in a draft note to him for revisions. If such a draft note is well written, 2-3 pages long, thoughtful, and gets back to the client in less than a week, your chances of success increase by several orders of magnitude.

    What sort of a project?

    Based on our experience there is only one reasonably reliable predictor of the quality of a project experience: client interest! In addition, the following rules of thumb have considerable validity:

    •  Proximity to Charlottesville matters enormously. You will find that you have no time to visit distant clients and that the lack of face-to-face interaction is a big burden on a project.
    • The high-tech world is appealing but very difficult to serve well. They move a lot faster than you can (given your schedule) and the necessary technical expertise is often forbidding.
    •  The problems of very small companies often do not present enough of a challenge and teams get bored.
    • Very large and/or bureaucratic organizations are bad news generally.
    • We can not handle implementation: your schedule leaves no time for it.
    • We have serious difficulties with operational issues: again you do not have enough time for the necessary work at the client's premises (unless very close to Charlottesville).

    Our best projects tend to focus on external issues of a general strategic/marketing nature in industries that can be thoroughly understood without great technical expertise.

    Timeline

    Deadline for Fall Venturing Proposal Approvals:
    Completion of Final Deliverable:

    Deadline for Spring Venturing Proposal Approvals:
    Completion of Final Deliverable:

    Overview

    The purpose of the Darden Venturing Business Projects option is to provide students with the opportunity to develop a business concept into a proposal for a new business plan. Accomplishing this task normally requires an analysis of the feasibility of the business and the development of a plan for the business' development and funding. However, alternative deliverables are possible where dictated by the particularities of the venture.

    A Venturing Project may be undertaken by an individual student or by a group. 

    Details

    Projects will be approved by the Director of the Venturing Project course, MJ Dougherty Toms, on the basis of a proposal. The proposal should contain the following elements: 

    A. Business concept (two pages max; see Business Concept competition guidelines)

    1. Who is the market for your proposed product/service? Why will they want (better yet, need) your product/service?
    2. How do you propose to satisfy your target market's demand? What is your value proposition? How does it differ from existing or potential future solutions?
    3. Who are the venture's principals? Why are they uniquely suited to launching this business?

    B. Plan of work (one page)

    1. What are the key issues that must be addressed to determine the feasibility of the venture? How do you propose to address these issues? What is your schedule for completing feasibility assessment?
    2. What is your schedule for the overall business plan? How will you organize to develop the key parts of the plan? What intermediate milestones are in place to ensure timely progress?

    C. Organization

    1. Who are the team members?
    2. Who is the faculty advisor?

    D. Learning Value

    Please step back from the plan/project and articulate what learning you would have from such a project. How does this learning supplement your Darden education?

    E. Credit Hours

    3.0 credit hours (120 working hours) is available to both individuals and teams of up to 3 students.


    Spring Consulting Projects Timeline

    GCP Info Session
    Due 13 November
    Team check-in with Professor Laseter at 1:30 p.m.

    Spring GCP Applications
    Due 20 November at midnight (12:00 a.m.)

    Notification of Spring GCP Selections
    6 December

    Deliverable #1: Scoping Document & Hypothesis Tree
    Due 25 January 2018
    Team check-in with Professor Laseter: 22 January, 6-7:30 p.m.

    Deliverable #2: Research Methods
    Due 1 February 2018
    Team check-in with Professor Laseter: 29 January,  6-7:30 p.m.

    Deliverable #3: Interviewing Guide
    Due 8 February 2018
    Team check-in with Professor Laseter: 5 February, 6-7:30 p.m.

    Deliverable #4: Killer Charts
    Due 22 February 2018
    Team check-in with Professor Laseter: 19 February, 6-7:30 p.m.

    Deliverable #5: Field Research Plan
    Due 1 March 2018
    Team check-in with Professor Laseter: 26 February, 6-7:30 p.m.

    Student Travel to Fall GCP Client's Site
    Travel window is 12-30 March 2018

    Deliverable #6: Final Presentations Draft
    Due 12 April 2018
    Team check-in with Professor Laseter: 9 April, 6-7:30 p.m.


    Venturing Projects Timeline

    Deadline for Fall Venturing Proposal Approvals: DATE
    Completion of Final Deliverable: DATE

    Deadline for Spring Venturing Proposal Approvals: DATE
    Completion of Final Deliverable: DATE