The final grade has four components:
||BEM 106: Assessment
Professor R. Preston McAfee
California Institute of Technology
You will find a group (maximum five persons) and choose a topic early in the course and prepare a 8-10 page paper on this topic. A first draft must be finished by the date listed on the schedule. The T.A. and professor will provide comments, criticisms and suggestions for further work, and you will prepare a substantially-revised final version of your paper. Proposal, first draft and final draft due dates are listed on the schedule and are not negotiable.
Each student will individually prepare 4 of 5 possible case write-ups. These are a maximum of two type-written, double-spaced pages and answer a specific question about the case. They must be handed in or emailed (to Sabrina) before the beginning of the relevant class to count. You will be provided with writing feedback on these write-ups. These count for 25% of your grade. The case question can be found on the syllabus. Note that there are other case questions which help prepare for class discussion, but the write-up should concern only the case question from the syllabus.
- Each group will manage a discussion of their paper.
- Group members receive the same grade for their presentation so that they may efficiently allocate their group resources.
- There will be a sign-up for presentation sessions early in the term.
- Non-group members continue to receive participation assessment. Everyone is expected to prepare for every discussion in their presentation session (expected to be five papers total).
- 45 minutes per paper.
- The goal of the group should be to convince the class that their analysis and major conclusions are accurate and correct.
- Class participants should approach presentations like cases: further research will generally be required.
- Groups should start with a brief (e.g. 5 minutes) summary of the paper's major finding(s) and methods.
- Groups face one major concern: sparking a discussion if one doesn't start automatically. This is primarily a concern for the best papers because they are sufficiently convincing that no one will have any issues to discuss. In this case, presenters are free to turn the tables and ask questions of the class -- run the discussion like a case and ask questions. For example, "we faced the following issue ... how would you go about resolving it?" Bear in mind that the participants are expected to have read the paper.
- Everyone should be professional at all times: all criticism should be constructive.
Class participation counts for 20% of your grade. Participation means much more than attendance, although obviously you aren't participating if you aren't in attendence. Portions of this class are run with the socratic method, which only works for people who are present.
Each of you are responsible for the material in each case. I will usually allow students to volunteer to speak, but will occasionally "cold call," especially if no one volunteers. Quality of class participation is much more important than quantity. Maximizing air-time is not the best strategy. Offering well-timed, concise insights usually is. Bring a name tent -- this is how I remember who contributed, especially at first. (A name tent is a folded piece of paper with your name on one side.)
After the first week, I will begin taking roll. I take roll because I am often unable to remember students who attend but do not participate. Missing two or fewer classes would never count against you.
Do not be afraid to make a mistake, when you have prepared for class. I am very well aware that, to come up with a good idea, it usually takes ten bad ideas.
To help students prepare for the class discussion, I provide case preparation questions for each case. Some of these questions may be part of assignments that you are required to turn in, but most are not. Considering these questions will improve your class participation. Giving ill-prepared answers to these, or closely related, questions will count against you.
Students who miss class receive zero class participation credit for that class. Handouts are always downloadabe from the class website, and generally won't be given in paper form.
Bring a name tent to class each day. (Your name on a folded tent-like piece of paper will suffice.) I will learn your names as quickly as I can, which is slowly. But I will not be responsible for class participation credit for students who do not use their name tents.
Participation includes participation in the presentations.
The final project is an 8-10 page (either single-spaced or 1.5 spaced, 12 point font) analysis of a competitive situation or industry practice. The due date is on the syllabus. This is a hard deadline.
The final project accounts for 40% of your grade.
There is no in-class examination.
Instructions for Final Project
- Maximum of five people per project
- No extra credit for smaller group
- A one page (two max) proposal is due the second week of class. This can be provided by email (Word or PDF format) or handed in during class.
- I won't finish reading papers that are excessively long. An important aspect of business communication is the elimination of the extraneous. Supporting exhibits are not counted in the page total. Using a few well-chosen exhibits is a better strategy than many irrelevant exhibits. It is important to provide references for facts you rely on in the analysis.
- The paper's focus should be on analysis, with industry description provided to support that analysis. A common mistake is too much description, too little analysis; the reverse mistake is rare.
- Do not choose a situation from a case from this or another class. Do not revise a paper you wrote for another course as a project without discussing it with me -- it would have to be a new paper to be approved.
- This project is intended for you to perform hands-on strategic analysis. If you were handed a project to analyze a strategic situation by the CEO of your company, what would you hand back? The "Memo to the CEO" is a good way to consider what should be included.
- Paper must be emailed to me (see main page for date and time), in either MS Word or PDF format.
Choose a Paper Topic
You should choose a topic immediately. We are on a very tight time schedule with no room for slippage.
All papers must be strategy papers. This means they have to be about firms. But there is a great deal of flexibility in the choice of topic.
Many papers will involve business plans. Here are some helpful resources to get started.
How to write a business plan:
Deloitte Long Version
- First, choose an industry, based on interest in the industry. Examples of industries range from advertising to zoos, and include digital watches, private jets, diapers, over-the-counter cold and flu formulas, photographic film, automobiles, airlines, football, romance novels, dating services, banana production, or pre-stressed concrete, computer printers, pagers, business schools (UCSD is starting a business school), used cars sold over the web, movie theaters.
- Having chosen the industry, you will need a question or issue on which to focus. Such questions could be broad (What strategies are most likely to sustain profitability?) or narrow (Should firm X build a new plant? Where?). Good questions encourage you to think strategically, and thus should include the likely responses of rival firms to any hypothetical actions. Plan to include your question in the topic proposal.
- A second approach is to choose a story about the behavior of a firm from a newspaper or other source, and research this story. For example, the defense contractor Lockheed-Martin announced a friendly takeover of Northrop-Grumman, and then later dropped the plan after the Department of Justice filed an antitrust complaint. This story contains a dozen potential paper topics. How is the defense industry organized? Why did they want to merge? Why did the DOJ want to block the merger?
I strongly encourage you to choose a topic in which you are interested rather than one that looks easy. Topics that look easy can be treacherous and unpleasant if they are boring.
Tools and analysis
When you have collected a great deal of information and begun to rough out your topic, run through this list of tools and insure that either they are used well, or aren't relevant.
Tools that may be useful but which aren't necessarily covered in this class:
- Industry analysis/five forces
- This is relevant 99% of the time
- entry barriers, rivalry usually, but not always, the most significant
- First mover advantages and disadvantages
- Organizational design and incentives
- Product life cycle
- Pricing and Market segmentation
- Option value of investment, delay
- War of attrition, Intense rivalry, market supporting at most one firm
Paper Writing Strategy
1. Collect Information
Once you have chosen a topic, you should go out and collect a lot of information. An obvious starting place is the web. Much of the information on the web, unfortunately, is unreliable; I would like you to attempt to verify anything you find there. There is a service available at the library called EconLit which will identify economics papers by topic.
For any given industry, there are usually several books that describe the industry. In addition, it is useful to interview people who work in a relevant industry. Prior to interviewing, however, you should carefully think about what you wish to learn and write questions down, to be sure you learn what you need to learn.
Newspaper and magazine articles provide an important source of timely information -- become familiar with Lexis or and periodical search engines at the library.
Companies file 10-K reports with the SEC and these are usually available through interlibrary loan. In addition, company annual reports are also a useful source and are often online.
Interviews are also a way of collecting information. Executives in smaller companies usually are willing to talk. In larger companies, executives in public relations are often willing to talk on the phone.
Papers from past years are available here. They aren't a perfect guide to my expectations.
The Hixon Writing Center offers writing assistance.
2. Draw a Conclusion
This is probably the single hardest part of the job you face. After completing part 1, you are confronted with a huge mass of information. What will you write about?
The best strategy is draw a conclusion--find a point to make in your paper. The main point of your paper is called a thesis. Such points might be:
- The banana industry attempts to create brand names as a method of decreasing demand elasticity, with mixed success.
- Free agency would destroy professional football.
- The Department of Justice should lose its antitrust case against Microsoft.
- Dry-cleaners can price discriminate against women because of imperfect information.
- The hub-and-spoke airline routing system evolved to minimize transportation costs, but has produced significant market power for airlines.
Finding a thesis in a giant pile of information is often quite difficult. You can adopt some other author's thesis and attempt to support it with additional information. If you disagree with an author's thesis, you can choose the opposite thesis and attempt to prove that. If that doesn't produce a topic on which you wish to write, try putting your notes and materials away, and just write a stream-of-consciousness about what you have learned from your reading. Some of what is written this way will make no sense, but you may find "diamonds in the rough," nuggets of thought-provoking inspiration which will form the core of an argument.
3. Organize your facts
Once you have a thesis, cull through your information to select relevant information. Even in this electronic age, index cards remain a useful way of organizing facts. Some information may be useful as background toward understanding the question, as direct support of the thesis, as indirect support, or as contrary information. Do not throw away contrary information. The object is to be accurate, which means assessing all of the relevant information.
It will occasionally occur that the point you set out to make appears to be false, and that the evidence convinces you of the contrary view. This is fine; it requires revising your thesis, but it also means that you learned something significant.
While electronics isn't much of a help to organization of materials, it is a massive help to writing. For most people, the best strategy is to write then repeatedly revise until the material flows smoothly, there are no extraneous asides, and the paper reads clearly. Cooperation also helps--if someone will read your paper and tell you what they found confusing, you know where to focus your efforts at revising. (A trade is a good way to arrange such external reading.)
Don't expect perfect prose, complete with salient quotations and proper grammar, to flow out in paragraph form. Ideas come in pieces and the evidence is scattered throughout your research materials. Get something written and then set about making it better.
5. Criteria for Evaluating the Paper
The following questions are designed to help you improve your draft.
- Are the thesis and argument stated clearly in the introduction? The introduction should tell the reader what you will accomplish with the paper.
- Does the reader know what question you have set out to answer, and how you intend to answer it?
- Throughout the paper, are the connections between ideas and evidence made clear?
- How does each paragraph relate to and develop the argument?
- Do ideas and evidence follow each other in a linear sequence?
C. Argument and Evidence
- Is the argument supported by different types of evidence? Have you provided sources?
- references to authorities
- How does your argument take into account specific arguments by experts on the topic?
- How well are counter-arguments addressed? It is important that you include not just the evidence for your argument, but the evidence against it as well.
- Are a variety of sources used?
- journal articles
- contemporary scholarly books
- newspaper articles
- primary texts
- interviews with people in relevant businesses
- Are the size and form of quotes appropriate? Remember that quotes are generally used only in two circumstances.
- Quotes are used when they express an idea extremely well. Otherwise you should paraphrase the source with a reference.
- Quotes are used to be fair to someone whose opinion you oppose.
- Are your sources authoritative and scholarly? A high school text, tourist guide or fictional novel will not generally produce the level of scholarship desired.
E. Quality of Writing
- Are the style and tone of the paper appropriate?
- Are transitions from idea to idea smooth and easy to follow?
- Check spelling and grammar.
- Does the paper have a logical structure?
- The desired structure has the form "introduction, argument, conclusion."
- The introduction sets out the issues, provides motivation and background, and provides an overview of the paper.
- The middle section, which is the longest and may need to be divided into several sections, makes your point.
- The conclusion sums up, and perhaps handles some of the potential criticisms.
- When possible, make the paper flow linearly, so that each paragraph starts where the previous paragraph stops.
F. Insight and Interest
- Do you show that the subject is worth thinking about? Is the paper properly motivated?
- Do your paper keep the reader's interest? (If possible, get a friend to read your paper, and ask the friend to identify parts that are confusing, boring, tedious, or poorly written.)
- Does the paper fit into a strategy course?
- Does it use strategic theory to help the reader understand the facts?
- Does it use facts from an industry to help us understand how firms compete?
The Honor Code
I have a special request.
Please do not discuss a case or receive notes on a case that has not yet been discussed in class with students who have taken the class previously (either in another section or in a prior year). I like to re-use cases (you will see why from the cases themselves - some are ideal).
You may freely discuss a case with other students in the class who have NOT YET discussed the case in class (for example, with other students in the same section).