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A veteran’s tips: speed, efficiency – and practise

Published on Friday, 19 Oct 2012
Stephen Nason
Photo: HKUST

There can be few people in a better position to give advice to the teams taking part in this year’s Citi International Case Competition (CICC) than Stephen Nason, professor of  business practice at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology’s Business School.

Over the 10 occasions the contest has been held, Nason has served on every CICC judging panel bar one. This year, he will once again be chief judge.

“There are two prerequisites for success in these competitions,” he says. “One is coming up with solutions that are innovative and feasible. The other is a convincing presentation of these solutions.”

Practise can improve team members’ skills in both these areas. “Every case is different, but consultants have developed sophisticated ways of approaching cases, such as rootcause analysis. Teams can learn how to use these sorts of tools. Basic presentation skills can also be honed to help present with confidence, passion and clarity,” he says.

Since the inception of the competition, Nason has seen participating teams’ performances become more and more sophisticated. Things can, however, still go wrong.

“What can happen is that a team gets the case and the first thing they think is: ‘There’s no way I can answer this.’ They struggle, they go on the internet and they wander around trying to find some sort of traction until, three-quarters of the way through the allotted time, they finally choose a topic, accelerate their analysis and come up with an idea, sometimes a very good idea,” he says.

“But they haven’t had time to think about how they’re going to prepare or practise their presentation and they just throw the idea together. They spend too much time searching for the problem and wandering around in the analysis, and not enough time on establishing and presenting the actual recommendations.”

These situations can, fortunately, be avoided. “When you only have 26 hours, efficiency is vital,” Nason says. “So when you first get the case, it helps to quickly glance at the first and the last pages to get an idea of the central problem. Then you can read the whole case, focusing on the information that relates to that central problem.

“Teams should be able to go through a case and within half an hour have a good idea of who, what, where, when and why. From there, they can develop a schedule for themselves.”

Nason suggests that they should then commit to defining the problem in the next 90 minutes and coming up with three alternatives in the 90 minutes following that. From there, they can assign team members to analyse each of the alternatives within a fixed time. The idea is to define clear deliverables that specific members of the team can be held accountable for.

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