Estela Carmona Cejudo, participant of the Global Online MBA Programme, offers valuable advice and suggestions for the application process.
MBA dissertations and consultancy projects are the final modules on most MBA programmes. Our participants can opt for either a traditional dissertation (with a theoretical focus) or a hands-on project, which will see you consulting for a real organisation alongside a team of peers.
Whether you choose a dissertation or consultancy project, you will still be required to submit a written exploration of a research question that is relevant to the world of business as part of the module. This guide offers MBA dissertation help that remains applicable whichever route you take on your Full-time MBA.
Read on to learn about the early stages of the process, choosing a topic, planning out your workload, and how to write an MBA dissertation or individual consulting report. Written by the MBA team here at Warwick Business School (WBS), this article also features some helpful first-hand advice from one of our MBA graduates, Kristen Rossi who studied our Full-time MBA.
An introduction to MBA dissertations and consultancy projects
Although this work will be completed towards the end of your programme, it’s worth getting ahead of the game. Given that your dissertation or project will contribute significantly towards your final result, we recommend learning about the requirements and how the process works even before you apply for an MBA.
As Full-time Warwick MBA graduate, Kristen Rossi, puts it:
From the second the MBA started, there was talk of “The Project & Dissertation” – the part of the MBA that is worth the most credit, which will probably involve an outside company, and (gasp) that you will do alone!
Unless you take part in an internship in place of the module, your first port of call is to choose between an MBA dissertation or a consultancy project. Seem like a daunting decision to make? We’ve outlined the key points of difference to help you get off on the right track.
What is an MBA dissertation?
An MBA dissertation is an independent, yet supervised, research project. It is designed to demonstrate that you have assimilated your learning throughout the MBA course and that you can explore a business issue thoroughly, considering multiple perspectives on the subject.
The output from an MBA dissertation is a piece of written work that explores a research question relevant to the world of business. You could explore any one of a wide range of different topics as part of the dissertation, but your writing should have an academic focus with a strong grounding in theory and your own independent research.
At WBS, you may also choose to focus on Entrepreneurship as part of your MBA dissertation, which is a requirement if you choose the Entrepreneurship Specialism. This allows you to take a deep dive into a new business idea, tackle an existing issue, or use the opportunity to help launch your own venture.
What is a strategic consultancy project?
A strategic consultancy project provides you with hands-on experience of consulting on behalf of a real organisation and investigating a specific business challenge that it faces. Taking place for 10 to 12 weeks over the summer period, you’ll work alongside a group of your peers at the same organisation.
WBS participants can choose their own groups and, as Kristen comments, are given support in sourcing a project:
The consultancy project and dissertation is usually supported by a client who has a topic or question that they would like to know more about. WBS provides specific, mandatory careers sessions dedicated to the consultancy project and dissertation.
The Business School has partnered with many global industry leaders as part of the consultancy projects, from Barclays to Sony and Microsoft.
Once you’ve chosen a group and organisation, each participant selects their own distinct research question. The deliverable is then an individual consulting report addressing this question.
You can find out more about consultancy projects from Antonia in the film below:
The differences between an MBA dissertation and consultancy project
A consultancy project still requires you to produce an extended piece of written work in the form of your individual consulting report, but it differs from an MBA dissertation in a number of ways:
- A strategic consultancy project is hands-on, requiring you to engage with a business issue faced by a real organisation, whereas an MBA dissertation is more theoretical.
- The scope of the issue you explore as part of a project will typically be much narrower and more focused than a dissertation, which can investigate a much broader topic area.
- An MBA dissertation should aim to further the academic community’s understanding of a particular area of business; a consultancy project is geared towards solving a real-world business problem for a specific organisation or group of organisations.
How will a dissertation or project benefit you?
This final phase of your MBA course gives you the opportunity to explore a particular topic in great depth, enhancing your academic or practical understanding of an area of business.
For many participants the dissertation or project is a formative experience that has a tangible impact on their future career paths, supporting their professional ambitions.
But don’t just take it from us. What does Kristen have to say?
“I can only speak for myself, but with the project and dissertation, I gained three things. Firstly, slightly superficial, I now have a fabulous new brand on my CV, Aston Martin Lagonda.
“Secondly, through the interviews I conducted for my primary research I had the privilege to learn a lot about the luxury automotive sector, which I would otherwise have not had the opportunity to learn as much about. Writing to and setting up a conversation with the CMO of a major firm is made easier when you have WBS and the justification of a dissertation, and the information they share is priceless.
“Thirdly, although tedious, I had the opportunity to deep-dive into a particular topic – marketing ROI best practices. This really helped me to understand the challenges and remedies of this topic in depth and will certainly help me as I make my career jump in the coming months.”
Choosing an MBA dissertation topic
Like many participants, you may feel nervous about the thought of choosing a suitable MBA dissertation topic. In reality, however, this is nothing to worry about.
As you progress through the early stages of your MBA programme, you’ll undoubtedly find yourself drawn to a particular area of study or type of business problem. The direction you take is also likely to be influenced by your pre-existing career goals and professional experience.
On this point, Kristen recommends that you make the project work for you:
When choosing your client project and dissertation, try to focus on an industry and topic that you hope to transition into. If you are looking to move into finance, work on a project that will provide you with the knowledge to help you land the job!
It’s also worth noting that you’ll be given extensive support when it comes to picking a research question or sourcing a project. You’ll attend sessions dedicated to selecting the right topic in the run-up to the start of the dissertation or project module — and there is always additional help available at WBS.
How to write an MBA dissertation
Once you’ve chosen a topic for your MBA dissertation or project, your work on the module can begin in earnest.
As a Warwick Business School participant, you’ll be guided through the process from the outset. But if you’re still at the stage of wondering whether this is something you’d want to pursue in the first place, here’s a brief overview packed with MBA dissertation advice from one of our graduates.
Making contact with your supervisor
Kristen’s top tip for writing an MBA dissertation is not to wait to be assigned a supervisor:
“Once your project applications have been whittled down to interviews (early May for the Full-time MBA), look at the topics and seek out an academic in the school whose knowledge (and personality) you think would match the project and you. The sooner you do this the better.
“I had finalised my supervisor by the beginning of June and this head start was extremely beneficial. It allowed me to better project manage the different chapters of the dissertation and be more in control of the process.”
The planning phase
Delivering a successful MBA dissertation or consulting report is an exercise in sound project management; just one of the many ways in which it sets you up well for later working life. And it’s universally acknowledged that the best approach to take with any large-scale project is to break it down into bite-size chunks.
Kristen suggests seeking support to divide up the dissertation into smaller components, from the draft of your first chapter through to the final submission:
With the help of your supervisor, work backwards and set up a timeline to tackle each section of the dissertation. Include milestones where you will check-in with your supervisor (face-to-face is recommended) as well.
Preparing your literature review
The literature review is the all-important foundation of any dissertation – MBA-level or otherwise.
Kristen’s experience speaks to the value of starting your research early and keeping a record of all the papers and publications you encounter along the way:
“Once you roughly know the topic of your project and dissertation, start researching. Do not wait until you have a supervisor or until your elective modules are finished. Start immediately! I recommend this for three reasons.
“Firstly, the initial articles you find will most likely not be the gems you hope them to be and it will take a lot of speed-reading and trial and error before you uncover the wisdom that will actually inform your research.
“Secondly, once you find relevant research, it will take time to read it and most academic literature is not a page-turning detective novel (I can attest to falling asleep mid-read on several occasions).
“Finally, I am a believer that to truly understand and process new material, you need time. Give yourself the time to read, step away and think, and come back to it. In the end, you will be grateful that you did.
Further to this point, when reading journal publications look at the references the author cites. Seek out these additional authors and their publications.”
Communicating with your client contact on a consulting project
Should you opt for a strategic consulting project, the way you manage the relationship with your client organisation is just as important as the write-up of the final report. Kristen offers this final piece of advice:
“If you are not going to their office, then from the beginning of your relationship set in place weekly 30-minute Skype sessions to keep the client up-to-date with what you are doing. This will allow you to build a relationship with them and will help you to address any hiccups along the way.
“Sometimes after starting your research, you may find that the client’s initial request is too broad. This is okay, but you will need to bring it up and negotiate a more realistic deliverable. The weekly updates are also beneficial. As you research, you may find yourself going off in the wrong direction. Checking in with your client on a weekly basis will help you stay on track.”
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