Reflective Report For Project In Fostering Solutions
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As a part of my Postgraduate degree program I got an internship opportunity for a period of three months at Fostering Solutions Ltd. The internship duration was from June till September. This report is a reflection on my experience of working as a consultant at Fostering Solutions. The project consisted of conducting a Competitor Analysis for the betterment of Fostering Solutions. Along with me were my team members Li who was responsible for carrying out the process improvement and Mani Shankar was vested with the responsibility of devising a national and marketing strategy. There was going to be a lot of team work, since the three parts would be combined together as one project. The project turned out to be a grand success and in this report I take you through my journey as a consultant from the beginning of the project till its conclusion looking at the various problems I faced and how I overcame them, the skills I learnt, my strongest motivation, how we developed team capabilities and finally the ending of the project. This was one of earliest projects that were posted on blackboard which I applied for, and was successful in proclaiming an internship after an interview with Fostering Solutions at Manchester Business School. It was a special feeling as I had a chance to work for a foreign company and this would subsequently add commendable strength to my resume.
The prospect of working on a live project as a consultant evoked plenty of excitement. For me the most significant aspect of the project was my opportunity to inculcate the theories and models I learnt in class to the corporate world. Having done my Bachelors in Management studies and currently pursuing a Post graduation in Business Analysis, this was the perfect opportunity for me to utilize my skills and relate to the learning's from the classroom. Most significantly having the knowledge and understanding of business models which I studied in the Analysing companies module at Manchester Business School helped me a lot. Though, this was possible only because I was able to implement those learning's in my internship project.
The beginning was challenging because this was a new industry to me and we were unfamiliar with the concept of fostering. I had to start from scratch by learning the fostering basics, the industry mechanics followed by the current scenario of the market. This was going to be the foundation of the project and a key factor to its success. All this had to be done in a short span of time because I needed to get a head start in the project.
2.1 Day 1
In our first meeting with the client at Fostering Solutions Ltd, we were introduced as external consultants to all the members of staff in different departments. My first observation about the company was its organisational culture. I noticed that the organisational culture was of the role culture type, in which the organisation is split up into various functions and each individual is responsible for a particular duty. (Learn management, 2010) We were given a briefing about the project, the company's background and the fostering industry in general. I learnt that Michelle Sloan would be supervising me for my part of the project at the company. My first impression about Michelle was that she is a friendly and easy going person. I was given authority and freedom to work in any method comfortable to me. Her style of leadership was participative, since she would give me freedom and authority to work in my own way although she would check and double check my work to assess its suitability. We were presented a red folder containing inspection reports of different offices of fostering solutions, details of Fostering Solutions offices, contact details and a survey that was conducted on foster carers named as Foster Carer Viewpoints. This was the first significant aspect of my learning process to carry out a competitor analysis, this was regarding an inspection carried out by an organisation named Ofsted on independent agencies known as Ofsted Ratings. I learnt that Ofsted ratings is one way to assess competitors.
I was strongly motivated by the fact that Fostering Solutions were going to take our findings and analysis very seriously. Subsequently our supervisor Prof Kurt kept highlighting the fact that Fostering Solutions unlike other big company internship project would analyse our recommendations meticulously and implement a few key ones. Knowing I had an opportunity to make a difference to an organisation was a big driving force for me. In addition to this I acknowledged to the fact that I was working for a social cause of helping overcome the shortage of foster carers in United Kingdom to the increase in the number of children in care with local authorities. My findings would help Fostering Solutions to recruit better and more foster carers and in turn help a number of children find homes and family.
The Learning process
In this section I reflect upon the learning process with respect to this internship project. I illustrate the gradual progress I made towards completion of the project successfully, there were learning's and knowledge gain at every level. The learning process began with understanding the foster carer approval process. Understanding this process was very complex and was a difficult task. As the project progressed I realised I cannot compare the approval process or the number of foster carers approved between different competitors because they would not divulge such key information to me. There was no other procedure to find the information either. However understanding this process helped me understand that for a fostering agency it is critical that the right people register their initial interest with the agency. This was the first step to recruiting foster carers. Therefore, more the number of suitable applications received more will be the foster carers approved. The learning process continued with understanding the Fostering industry business model. Learning and understanding the business model was key to carry out an efficient competitor analysis. Independent agencies like Fostering Solutions recruit and approve foster carers, and place them with children provided by local authority. The Independent agency charges the local authority for this and pays the foster carer allowance for their carer service. Shown below is my understanding and reflection about the fostering industry business model.
My Understanding of the Fostering Industry Business Model
For determining an organisations success in today's highly competitive and complex environment, the business model is the most significant tool. I understood that for any company to exist in this industry it has to recruit foster carers. Subsequently, I learnt more and more about the company, the industry and how things work in general with each passing week. One of the key learning's was when I realised that the local authority runs this industry and is a key ingredient of the business model. This understanding was essential for me to carry out my competitor analysis. After this the most significant aspect was to list out the key issues involved in recruiting foster carers. I understood that different people had different motivations to choose fostering. They are 1. For the sole purpose of fostering. 2. For the purpose of fostering and the financial interest in the allowance they would get. 3. They could be interested in adoption but first would like to foster the child and adopt at a later stage.
After this I began the data collection process by assembling data regarding the industry to write a brief description and the challenges it is facing. By doing so, I learnt that there was a shortage of foster carers in the industry and an increase in the number of children coming into care. I learnt that the government of the United Kingdom were looking to reduce spending on Fostering in the coming years and this was a major threat to the fostering industry. By the end of June after consulting with Michelle, Fostering Solutions, we short listed nine companies on whom I would be filing reports which would shed light on how these firms compete with Fostering Solutions in the market. On doing further analysis to understand the factors which clarified how these firms compete with Fostering Solutions, I came up with criteria on which they would be compared and analysed, these criteria included turnover, profit margin, number of employees, location, foster carer allowance paid, services provided, placement provided and Ofsted ratings. On carrying out a through analysis of these factors would enable me to gain an understanding of the positioning of these companies in the market. The learning process reached its peak when I could prepare a framework for my project report as shown below.
Framework of the competitor analysis
Working in teams
There were times when I had to inherit the qualities or role of a leader, friend, colleague and subordinate while working as a part of a team. Good team leadership is to create conditions which would allow thoughts, ideas and people to succeed, by coming together and with a flow in the performance. When in pursuit of challenging team goals one can encourage effective teamwork by balancing people's strengths with building good relationships. I enjoyed working with this team. The team would meet twice a week to discuss our parts and understand the progress each one of us was making. We would go to the office to meet with the client twice a week till the middle of July.
The difficulties I faced in working in this team were communicating with Li who is Chinese and has a funny English accent. Similarly, she would have found our accent funny and would have found it a little difficult to grasp an understanding in one conversation. There were numerous occasions most recently today itself when I had to ask her to repeat her suggestion on the recommendation because I could not understand her English in the first attempt. Despite the cultural and geographical differences, it was an interesting experience working with a person from another country. I adjusted my method of working and communicating with the dynamics of the team. I believe this would be a key requirement for my future prospects when I work in an organisation. It is very important to adjust and settle down in accordance with the dynamics of the team you are working with. Despite our differences, we were a team that worked together, fought the difficulties and appreciated each other's work. (Lawford, 2003)
We shared work in such a way that every member could use his/her strengths to attain the required goal and not have to work on tasks which required skills which may be deficient. By doing this we increased the productivity of the team and the team morale. An example could be that I was good at making charts and compiling the whole report, whereas Li was good at the editing work and proof reading and accordingly we distributed the tasks to achieve proper synergy.
An example of our progress as a team with reference to the Tuckman's Team Model
Tuckman's Stages of Team Development - Tuckmans model gives an understanding of how a newly formed team gradually develops maturity, ability and the establishment of relationships within the team members. From the Forming stage where the team comes together for the first time through 4 different stages the team goes through a series of changes and ultimately performs as a team and works towards achieving its goals
Forming stage - Formation of the team
Tuckman's model explains
In this stage the team has been assembled and tasks are allocated among members. Team members pretend to get on with each other but they might not trust each other due to not knowing each other well enough. At this stage I felt it was important to bring the group together and work on our goals. It was important that we established our roles and this stage was a period of high learning. It is a stage where I learnt about beliefs, attitudes and observed the behaviour of my team members. Such things gave me an idea to understand these individuals and thus understand the group dynamics which were going to be formed.
Tuckman's model explains
In this stage the team members strive to get down with the issues and ways to achieving them. At this stage, it is expected that arguments and tempers will flare. We did have a lot of arguments regarding each other's report analysis and findings. The arguments occurred on topics such as format of the reports, whose part should come first and also the word count. As mentioned above, the incident where I named a file wrongly had led to arguments. Sometimes teams can become stuck in this phase for a long time due to persistent arguments and problems. At this stage the most important thing is to listen to each other, there was a need to create a positive vibe in the group and appreciate each other's work. There was a necessity to set tasks and walk along with the team towards the next step. Hence a belief of "yes we can" was needed to make the transfer to the next stage.
Tuckman's model explains
This as the stage where the team members get used to the working ways of each other and develop trust and strive for team productivity. In this phase teams begin to work as a cohesive unit trusting each other. Li and Mani were aware that I work through the night and sleep early in the morning right upto 11 a.m. Hence we used to schedule some meetings for 1p.m. or later. Mani and I took a little longer to finish our sections of the report because we had a tough time getting the data we needed from secondary sources. Li understood and appreciated this difficulty. We had developed an understanding of exactly what was going on in each others section of report. It is highly important to self evaluate and communicate effectively at this stage. We shared responsibility by delegating tasks to be completed between the three of us. The risk at this stage was that the team could become complacent and lose its creativity or driving force that is required to achieve success in its goals. Our team did not lose its focus we kept working towards a common goal and took the step towards the final stage of our project.
Tuckman's model explains
This is a stage where the team is totally committed and strives towards a common goal. This is the final stage of the team where it focuses in finishing the tasks it set out and adjourning. Once we finished individual parts of group report, we met regularly at Manchester Business School to discuss the link between the 3 parts. At this stage individuals in the team are highly motivated for the success of the team wasting little time with high trust on one another. We proof-read each others work and thoroughly examined each other's recommendations, sometimes through discussions, before coming to a consensus. It is key to note that a team according to tuckman's model can return to an earlier level if there is a change, for instance a review of the recommendations or the report or if a team member leaves prematurely.
Difficulties Faced and How I Overcame Them
At the outset of this Internship project I faced plenty of difficulties. In this section I reflect on the difficulties that I faced and what I did to overcome them. The beginning period was very tough for me from a personal point of view. My Father had a heart problem during May end/June start. I could not concentrate on my work and kept thinking about how things would be back home and worrying. It was an emotional and stressful beginning. At such time, there is no way to find out if your family is telling you the truth about the situation or otherwise. This makes things all the more difficult. It took me about ten to fourteen days to get back to normal self and believing that everything was alright. Nevertheless, this incident motivated me a lot to give it my best shot. I worked harder than ever to make my parents proud of me.
6.1 Problem solving model
This problem solving model was adapted by me from the eight disciplines problem solving method. (David Bruce, 2010) I reflect on different problems I faced during the project and how I used this model to find a solution to those problems.
Lack of Data
During the early days of the project I had a tough time because I was reading information that had nothing to do with competitor analysis. Such was the vast nature of information provided to me about Fostering Solutions. I was given a number of books on fostering, care and training methods, which I read and found out, had nothing to do with my competitor analysis. A lot of precious time was wasted in going through irrelevant data. Often in research projects consultants could spend time reading, researching information that are of no use in the research but still have to be read and assessed to find out its use in future analysis. When analysing this problem with respect to the model I concluded the best option would be to create a framework and scope for my research. By doing so I exactly understood the data I was required to collect and carry out further analysis.
I got all the data regarding Fostering Solutions from the company. However getting information about competitors to undertake a competitor analysis was a challenging task. Getting the financial data such as turnover, profit margin proved to a job in itself. During a meeting with Dr. Kurt, he suggested FAME database and it worked. The data for 8 companies out of 9 was available but TACT being a charity organisation there was no data. Another problem was that for Orange Grove (now taken over by Hillcrest Foster Care) and SWIIS the financial information available was only for the year 2008 and not 2009. But the data for other companies was available as per our requirement. The research could have been better had I got the required annual reports of these companies. I overcame this difficulty by considering the options to counter this problem. I selected the best suitable option which would be to conduct a comparison of these companies on data that I had such as services provided or foster carer allowance. In this way I used my problem solving model and decided to concentrate on the data I possessed to continue my competitor analysis, rather than getting demotivated about the unavailable data.
Similarly, getting data regarding the foster carer allowance was a hurdle. This information is important as it provides insight into who provides the best allowance to the foster carers and where Fostering Solutions stands in comparison. The hindrances I faced during this task were immense. This data for many competitors was not available directly; it was either hidden in the services page or FAQ's section. By The Bridge did not divulge this information as it was not present on their website, but only in their brochure which they won't send out unless an initial application was filled. I went to the step 2 of my problem solving model and tried a few options to find out this data. I tried calling fostering companies on my radar and acting like a person who was interested in foster care and asked for access to their annual reports, brochure and foster carer allowance. I was told there was no access to annual reports and for brochure I would be required to fill in an application form. Later, I decided to try calling them saying I was a Manchester Business School postgraduate student and wanted their brochure, annual report of 2009 or 2008 as I am doing a research project on fostering industry. Even this trick did not work as they outsmarted me. The person I spoke to told me to forward my research project plan and key objectives and then only they will send this information. I could obviously not send this because the research objective was a competitor analysis for the benefit of Fostering Solutions. Thus, foster carer allowance for By The Bridge and TACT could not be found out after exploring the options stage. Hence I went to step 3 of the problem solving model and decided to compare these companies on other key factors such as size, turnover, ofsted ratings and services provided.
Similarly, there was no data available regarding number of children placed by each of the competing companies. It would have been very helpful and interesting if I could have got data regarding children placed by each of 9 competitors. There was data available only regarding total children placed by all the Independent agencies and local authorities. I have included the same in the competitor analysis, but there was no data available on children placed by each competitor.
Vast nature of the project
The vast nature of the project and short span of time of 3 months to complete was a hindrance. According to our Academic supervisor Prof Kurt this project could have been carried out as a PhD for a three year term, such was its wide scope. I had 4000 to 6000 words to present and analyse data, compare the 9 companies to fostering solutions and come up with how they compete with them. This was always going to be too short to compile reports on these companies, write down my analysis, analysis regarding financial data, compile findings/comparison for each company to fostering solutions and lastly recommendations. I progressed to step 2 of the problem solving model and explored my options. Then I selected the suitable option of presenting some of the important data in the appendix and decided to strictly following the framework I had set out for the project and restricting myself to only presenting analysis and information that was key and omitting irrelevant data.
Skills Utilized, skills I Lacked and Skills Acquired
Skills I utilized to successful completion of the project
It is extremely crucial that a consultant has a complete understanding of the project requirement. I achieved this by breaking down the project into small elements and developed my understanding of the requirement of my client. This was done by discussing the project brief in detail with Fostering Solutions and Prof Kurt. Having applied this skill effectively I now feel I would be able to carry this experience on to future assignments I receive at my workplace.
Secondly, having broken down the project into tasks I utilized my communication skills to keep the client informed about my progress in the report. I used the 7 C's of communication clarity, confidence, comprehensive, concise, conviction, comfort and charisma to effectively communicate throughout the project.(Leslie, 2010) Having good communication skills helped me massively because this being a team project, there were three lines of communication. Firstly with the client, secondly with my team and thirdly with my academic supervisor Prof Kurt. Hence, to avoid confusion it was important to see that everyone was on the same wavelength. This was achieved by arranging a meeting between the company supervisors and our academic supervisor, Prof. Kurt. We agreed that all communication regarding meeting with our academic supervisor would be handled by Mani Shankar. I would be reporting directly to Michelle at Fostering Solutions and emailing Prof Kurt regularly regarding the progress of my report. We had a number of meetings at Manchester Business School and Fostering Solutions to discuss the progress of the project. Once the channels of communication were established early in the project, I had no problems working on the report and communicating with both the supervisors. Thirdly, I needed to be a good analyst to successfully progress in this report. Prof. Kurt gave me a nudge in the right direction by suggesting FAME database to me to look for financial data of companies that are available. Once this was done, competitors were assessed and compared with Fostering Solutions on turnover, profit margin, foster carer allowance paid, services provided and placements provided. This required a lot of data collection most of which was secondary and required a lot of analysis to find out exactly how they competed with Fostering Solutions in the market.
Having analysed data on each competitor I discussed it with Michelle and Prof Kurt and got their feedback on the same. I found out an interesting statistics at fostering.net. From this file I found out that local authorities were always going to be big competitors with independent agencies in this industry. They had placed more children, recruited more foster carers and received more applications than the independent fostering agencies across the UK. This was the first analysis I had conducted. Showing it and proving it in meetings at MBS with the supervisors and again at Fostering Solutions gave me a lot of confidence. I started believing in my abilities to succeed in this challenging project and provide a lasting contribution to the success of Fostering Solutions. I found it difficult and challenging to collect the data required in order to carry out my analysis. FAME provided limited information and financial data for some companies were available only for the year 2008. There was no other way to find out the information I needed. I overcame this problem by comparing and doing my analysis for these companies on other variables such as foster carer allowance and services provided. Belief in my abilities grew when I discovered that local authorities had recruited, placed more children and received more applications than independent agencies and proved it with evidence in a meeting at Fostering Solutions. I conducted my analysis on turnovers, foster carer allowance, services provided and the locations of the competitors. This understanding was essential for me to come up with important observations regarding how the competitors compete with Fostering Solutions. Thus, in this way I excelled in using my analytical skills.
Skills that I developed during this internship were my planning, organisational skills and time management. If I had to be successful in this project it was essential for me to plan and organise tasks before executing them. I believe I did this efficiently. One thing I would like to highlight and criticise myself is it took me a while to get a head start; Prof. Kurt and Michelle were extremely understandable, patient and helpful. This report could have been better if I had made a better start and I am critical about this issue. Though, the effort that has been put in is the same as I worked longer hours at a stretch when the real assignment began. I efficiently planned the time schedule for understanding the industry, data collection, analysis and writing the report. After analysing the data I would discuss it with Michelle. She would give her feedback and I would incorporate the completed data and analysis in my written report. As planned I completed writing my report before August 22nd 2010. Hence I believe that I have developed good planning and organising skills because without them I would not have been able to complete this project within the time duration; especially after the slow start that I had.
One skill I lacked due to my inexperience of working on a project of such magnitude was presentation skills with respect to formatting and presenting a management report. This was the first time I had worked as a consultant for a company. I had no idea about how to present a report of such magnitude. Prof Kurt in one of our final meetings was critical about the way I had presented and written my report. My report draft had a shabby presentation with parts in bold, unnecessary paragraphs and some parts underlined unnecessarily. Prof Kurt showed me the right way and guided me to prepare the report and present it in a more professional and readable way. He taught me that presentation is a key aspect in report writing and all the hard work done could be undone by a shabby presentation. He gave us ideas to make the report look good and interesting to the reader.
AIDA Model Attention Interest Desire Action - I learnt that a good presentation of the report is a must because firstly it will capture the attention of the reader and generate an interest in the material. After which the reader would develop a desire to read it. These lessons will remain with me for the rest of my life and in future when I work for a company and have to present a consulting report I would reflect upon these lessons Prof Kurt enlightened upon me. (Aida, 2010)
Working with Fostering Solutions - The Client
Fostering Solutions were supportive of this project. Michelle my supervisor was very excited about the whole project from the start. She was very friendly, supportive to me during the duration of the project. I was given a lot of freedom to choose whether to go and work from the office or working from my home/business school library. Michelle could not give me proper feedback because my report was in bits and pieces and in draft format till start of first week of August. But once I sent her the report in full, she helped me edit and also proof read given data analysis for me. Once I submitted my final draft to her, she was very happy with it and gave me her feedback. Michele and Prof Kurt appreciated my effort inspite of the challenges I faced such as lack of data, time constraints, word constraints to conduct a competitor analysis. Michele presented my findings, analysis and recommendations to the director of Fostering Solutions who requested for the FAME financial data to be put in the appendix, and congratulated me for my good work.
In my recommendations to the client I adopted a diplomatic method to avoid being too critical or too polite. Michele was critical about a few of my recommendations at first, but once we debated the issues involved she realised that I had raised valid arguments. My responsibility was to recommend ways in which Fostering Solutions could compete in a better way in the market with respect to competitors. Hence I had to find out and raise concerns in the current working methods/strategy of Fostering Solutions in comparison with its competitors. This had to be done with care due to sensitivity of the issue involved, no organisation would like to hear or accept their faults or limitations. Thus I had to structure my recommendations in such a way that it would be read and accepted by the client. The reason being unless they are accepted with an open mind there is no chance of it being implemented by the organisation.
Self evaluation model
Following is a self evaluation model in which I assess the utilization of skills in this internship project using a coordinate diagram.
X axis - Skills to be evaluated
1 - Planning and organising tasks
2- Communication skills
4 - Problem solving skills
5- Presentation skills with respect to formatting, editing.
6- Team work
Y axis - Perfomance rating
1 - Poor 2 - Satisfactory 3 - Good 4 - Excellent
Self evaluation model
Excellent 4- (1, 4) (3, 4) (6, 4)
Good 3- (2, 3) (4, 3)
Satisfactory 2 ------------------------------------------------ (5, 2) -------- (7, 2)
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Skills to be evaluated
Coordinates and evaluation using the coordinates model
(1, 4) Planning and organising skills Excellent
(2, 3) Communication skills Good
(3, 4) Analytical skills Good
(4, 3) Problem solving skills Good
(5, 2) Presentation skills with respect to formatting and editing, presentation of work has to be improved -Satisfactory
(6, 4) Team work during the project Excellent
(7, 2) Creativity skills Satisfactory
Conclusion and What I Learnt from the project
I learnt that when working in a team it is very important to adjust to the group dynamics of the team. Only after this can you work towards achieving efficiency and strive to reach team goals.
Presentation is a key attribute when presenting a report of this magnitude. Prof Kurt highlighted the importance of presentation and formatting skills, lessons which will guide me in future project management reports.
Understanding the project brief is the most important aspect for a consultant. Asking questions to the client and understanding their expectation and requirements of the project clears any chance of future confusion or communication gap.
Maintaining a log to record important notes from discussions, brain storming sessions and important meetings assists when writing the final report.
A consultant should follow a diplomatic method when criticising certain aspects of the client.
I successfully completed my competitor analysis and the recommendations I came up with were accepted by Michele, Fostering Solutions. This project was a learning curve for me as it helped me realise my strengths, it answered questions like if I could work under pressure in a corporate environment and what skills I need to develop or improve in order to become a quality consultant. I would like to thank Prof Kurt who has been a big motivator and a guiding force to me throughout this project. I also would want to thank Fostering Solutions, Michele for her support and for choosing me to become a part of this fascinating project.
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