This Applied Management Project is the final report of my postgraduate study, which is also the most important piece of work for the last whole year. To be honest, when I came to the first formal meeting that introduces the module, I was imposed a big pressure on myself. I spent several months in taking nine units, and the time passed very quickly. At the end of the master course, I have to handle a complicated and comprehensive dissertation, which could be regarded as the biggest breakthrough of my study.
I consider I have taken a special and important journey during the dissertation process. Through the dissertation project, I have developed a significant understanding of an academic topic, but it has been challenging me many times. I have to consume a lot of time to focus and do research for the dissertation.
For the dissertation, students were divided into groups to choose the research topics. Working in a group stimulates people to share new ideas and provides support to initiate the research. Regardless of carrying on a group or individual project, the most important thing is to do enough preparation at the beginning. For instance, before I attend a group meeting, I need to know what research questions should be identified and discussed with group members and especially the tutors.
The main research problem of my project is to explore how to manage the customer involvement in the new product/service development process, especially at the design phase. I use many examples of companies to support my analysis. I make a review for some key issues of involving consumers at different stages of the product or service development process. I also acquire a learning of how a variety of innovative ideas can be created by customer inputs.
Recollection of Experiences
The university gave us a week to discuss about this project together just a week after the final exams. When I arrived in the meeting room at the first time, I had a lot of question marks in my head, because I had no idea how to structure and start the project in a correct way. Obviously, it is imperative for the university to provide the students some kind of useful guidance.
At the beginning of the meeting week, the students were arranged to attend some meetings with specific topics related to the project. Those topics included introduction, report writing, information sourcing, referencing, reflection and importantly plagiarism. Each meeting just lasted one hour and I only got a brief perspective about the project implementation. I believe that each tutor who was in charge of any topic would prepare a concrete and empirical lecture for us. However, the time is limited and many people late for the lecture interrupted the tutor. These lectures could not reach the ideal efforts as expected. I realized that I had to devote more time to read the handbook of this module in order to establish myself precisely what to demonstrate and achieve in this project.
After those topic lectures, students were gathered together to select the specific individual topic for the module. I needed to form a new group with some classmates to get the chance to choose the topic. Finally, I joined a group with the other five people, who all come from India. Due to some reason, our group combined with another group to become a big team with eleven people. Then, we chose the third one of the marketing topics, relying on new product development (NPD) & customer involvement. On the following three days of the meeting week, all the students were divided into groups by cohorts to discuss particular topics in accordance with the project deeply. Although we were a big group with eleven members, we decided to discuss in the original group with fewer people. I agreed that it was vital for the university to organize this kind of group discussion. Few of students sat in a small table to talk about the targeted topic and further gain the opportunity to listen to the academic advices from different tutors.
This one week would be the only chance for students to receive the academic support from the tutors, who might give marks to our projects. That means we can ask the tutors any question related to the topic. Every day there were three hours for group meetings. Nevertheless, compared to the numbers of groups, the tutors for each classroom were fewer. I just had the opportunity to talk with one or two tutors each day. Most time, I made the conversation with my group members. Not all the group members could come to the meeting, so I usually saw two or three members per day.
Only five-days activities associated with the project is not enough. Thus, it is necessary for every student to make their own schedule and spend plenty of time on this final report. The basic problem to start the project is to search and collect academic materials as many as possible. How can people approach professional references derived from various sources, including online articles, books and journals? Based on the information told by one of the tutor, I tried to use credo reference, wikipedia and especially google to search information over the Internet. On the other hand, I kept using the digital library of the university to gather some academic journals.
Personal Feelings and Learning from the Experience
At the beginning, I thought everything would be straightforward and I could manage my time. However, it was hard to balance between my part-time job and my dissertation report. In order to prioritize the dissertation, I made a decision shortly to take a period of time out from work and concentrate on the project. Then, I made some plans to keep myself on track. At the first day of each week, I would make a daily plan of what I hoped to achieve and how I could implement it. Therefore, through the whole process of developing this project, I have been capable of becoming more self-disciplined, organized and better at time management. They will be obviously beneficial to future projects and employment.
When I received the topic, I noticed a few of key words at the first sight, such as new products/services development, managing customer involvement and innovation concept. From the insight of the companies, it is undoubtedly proven that the new product development (NPD) should be considered as a key factor that leads to success in the marketplace. There are some inevitable considerations and aspects in accordance with the NPD process should involve the following:
What is the main aim of the product or service, and how it will be used?
How the current product may be improved?
What are the most and what are the least obvious problems with the product?
What are the most important features of the product?
Which new features will be required?
Are the innovations included into the development plan?
More importantly, it is essential for me to explore how to manage the customer involvement in the NPD process. The university provides three articles relying on the topic, which I read carefully. In my opinion, the last article written by Ulwick Anthony W. (2006) is the most helpful resource to integrate with this topic. This article proposed firms should precisely and effectively gather the customer's inputs for the innovation in the NPD process. The first article which comes from 1999 is relatively out-of-date, that's why I do not prefer it. Apparently, the second article which describes the connection between the lead users and the innovation ideas also has a positive influence on the research of this project.
The primary research part was likely to be very difficult and to some extent, very frustrating. It was hard to find some staff who work at the R&D department to be willing to help me with my project. I supposed to perceive more empirical information from real business environment. Finally, by a personal contact, I got the chance to make a short online interview with someone that is working for the new product development of a medium-side company in my country. That person provided me a much clear insight into my field of research.
As mentioned above, the most complex problem for a project is how to search and select useful references. I felt overwhelming at first. I asked a librarian for support in accessing the information I required. It is a good thing to ask for help from someone. What's more, I need to use critical and analytical skills to interpret the information I found. In order to avoid any missing point, I always had to return to my initial question when searching the information. Sometimes, I just perceived that I was not getting anywhere. Now I realize that it should be an important and interesting part of doing research on a particular topic.
Overall, I spent a lot of time in looking for academic materials from the Internet and the university's library. Then, I realized that I had to struggle for finding too much information every day, which forced me to learn how to cull the unrelated information. So I decided to make a brief structure of this report which will guide me to explore more perspectives from others. I consider that the aim of this topic is not to allow me to review what the new product/service development (NPD/NSD) process is and dig all the details of the whole process. This topic contains the question: "how do companies manage the customer involvement effectively during the NPD/NSD process?" Besides this, I also notice a key word "innovation" in the NPD/NSD. I have reasons to believe that the purpose of this topic can be how to incorporate these three concepts together in a logical way.
In short, it would be challenging during the process of writing a dissertation. I have learnt to disregard huge amount of information that might be not entirely relevant to my research target. In some cases, the content of some article is vague and the ideas do not follow logically. I tend to ignore the sources like that automatically. Moreover, because of difficulty in handling a big project like the dissertation, I had to pursue the professional support for writing the dissertation report. I realized that I had inadequate writing skills. I wished I had improved my writing skills to get ready for the dissertation at the earlier time, as this would have saved me from a lot of pressures.
Group Dynamics and Learning from the Experience
After finishing the whole year studying, working in a group is still a complicated issue for me. However, the final report is an individual piece of work. Even though it is inevitable to form a group, the members are not responsible for the grades of the whole group. So I felt more relaxed when touching the project at the first time. At the second semester, I had many group assignments to do, and I joined the same group for most projects. Finally, I found I made a mistake. It is more accessible to acquire new experiences and establish new relationships with different people.
Then, this time, I chose to participate in a group with people who I never worked with before. However, it is a pity that I did not work with people from different culture backgrounds, which would be more interesting for the group project. All my group members except myself are Indian people. They can speak the same language which I do not understand at all. Generally, it may cause problems when we are working together. In fact, part of the group members did often speak their own language during the group discussion.
Group projects can help me to improve my communication skills, especially when I met people from different countries. Through the group discussion about our topic, I found that I had difficulties in asking questions and expressing my opinions. Because I always spoke too softly, sometimes like a whisper. Most importantly, when being asked a question, I usually need more time to think about how to answer it, comparing with the group members. That's why I lost many opportunities to come out with my perspective.
During the group meeting time, different tutors would be sent to each group, students could receive specific suggestions in terms of the research question from them. When I was thinking about what the tutor just said, other group members already put forward a new question. So before the next group meeting, I spent more time to prepare questions about the topic of the project. I told myself, " Don't be quiet in the group meeting, try to join the discussion freely like others." Then, when a tutor came to our table, I tried to be the first to ask the tutor a question. At the same time, I took a lot of notes carefully, which helped me to retrieve the information and solve the research question more effectively.
The advice from tutors we talked with make me perceive a deeper learning of the research topic. However, I might acquire different answers relying on the same question in some situation. For example, one tutor suggested me to start the project with the focus on the new product development strategies, and she emphasized that the marketing concept should not be mentioned too much in details. In contrast, another tutor supported that it should be better for us to draw up a picture of the stages of the new product development process that led to the main structure of the report. He also proposed that some marketing issues like branding, promotion and buying behaviour should be identified in this report. So I could enhance my ability in retrieving information I received from tutors and figuring out which answer would meet the required aims.
Additionally, all the tutors I talked with highlighted that it should be necessary to analyze the new product development (NPD) and the new service development (NSD) separately. At the meanwhile, it is suggested that we should utilize examples/cases related to not only the product development, but also the service development in the project. In general, the tutors also propounded that we could exert many case studies of companies in accordance with the consumer involvement in the NPD/NSD process to provide a variety of evaluations that solved the main problem of the report.
What's important, the emergence of new technologies has put a positive impact on the customer involvement in the NPD/NSD process. The tutors claimed that the Internet would be a good example to demonstrate this perception. On a whole, I have gained an in-depth understanding of the research questions from the supervisor consultations. I learnt to establish a framework of the project and identify the information needs based on the research problems formulated by the tutors' suggestions.
Lessons for Future Projects
Firstly, I need to see the situation from other people's perspective more actively. Although sometimes group members may have disagreements on many views, I should just become a good listener and try to understand what other group members think and feel.
Secondly, I should enhance my communication skills to avoid misunderstanding of other group members' views. As mentioned above, it is better to focus on the person when he is speaking. While listening to the person's talking, I need to prepare how to make reaction to his perception. When it is the time for me to respond, I should be capable of conveying a clear and active perception that reveals I really understand the content and the feelings behind his words. To be opposite, when I am going to express my opinions, I should make my speech more organized and active following with proper body language in order to evoke a positive reaction from other people in a group.
Thirdly, as a group member, it is important for me to keep present and punctual in attending the group meetings. I found that if someone in the group came late, the discussion would be interrupted. So I will try my best to come to the group meetings on time, and further I will not leave early. Sometimes, when any person comes late, do not blame him continuously.
Fourthly, I should be ready to take the lead of the group if needed. In some cases, the schedule of the group project is delayed because part of the group members do not care about how the group project is going. I can be the group leader to divide the jobs related to the project into individuals and even motivate other group members to share their ideas directly. To some extent, being a leader can be one of the best means to make contribution to the group project. Moreover, I will be encouraged to enhance my leadership skills.
Finally, when doing a group project, it is essential for me to keep in touch with other members even if there was no group meetings. In this case, after the introduction week of this project, I did not have many chances to see other group members, because they had not only their own jobs, but also family issues to deal with. Thus, we usually made contact with each other by e-mail. However, in most situations, if I sent the e-mail with questions to the group members, it was difficult for me to receive a quick and active response. Next time, when I take part in a group project, I will ask the contact ways, especially phone numbers from other group members and keep frequent contact with them. It is also suggested to use various online techniques, like Facebook and Twitter to share ideas, knowledge and experiences with people working in the same group.
To conclude, the dissertation assignment helps me to improve my confidence in the lengthy process of identifying the key problem, synthesising searched information and producing creative solutions. I was encouraged to think conceptually. I also found that this project could be really challenging, enjoyable and most importantly, I got a chance to improve my personal communication and teamwork skills. Now, I am excited and motivated by the prospect of getting a job in the marketing area.