pm@olin: Capstone (Class 11)

This week was our last week of Product Management at Olin! For me, this was the most fun class we did. First, It was the most challenging pedagogically for everyone involved. It also nicely tied together what we’d covered. Added bonus: It also gave me a whole new lens to think about my HBS education through.

As always, I couldn’t have done this alone. In particular, Professor Eisenmann was a driving force behind the class. He wrote the case, helped me learn how to teach it from his teaching plans, came to class and observed, and gave feedback and explanation of cases live for my class. A huge thanks to him for helping pull together what I think was an excellent conclusion to our class!

Goals:
1. Cement everything we’d covered so far in the course.
2. See how Product works in a company that has legacy and other complications (instead of the project examples we used).
3. Use a classic business case study instead of small exercises and projects.

Required Reading:
1. Product Development at OPOWER (Eisenmann and Go)

Materials:
1. The Case
2. Case Discussion Plan
3. Board Plan
4. Whiteboards, markers, associated props

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Exercises:

The Case — 90 minutes

The typical HBS classroom case discussion takes about 80 minutes. I don’t have the ninja-skills that HBS faculty have (but I do have the luxury of a 2.5 hour class) so we went a bit over.

I can’t share the specifics of our discussion. One key point of the cases is people don’t want the answers floating around. If you buy a copy of the case and want to chat with me about it, just let me know. If you’re an HBS student, you can request a copy for free from the library (also due to Prof. Eisenmann).

We spent about 45 minutes fleshing out the specifics of the problem. That was listing and evaluating all the options available to OPOWER and the Product Manager. Prof Eisenmann said in a more experienced classroom, we could have cut that to 30–35 minutes.

Then we talked more about some background and general facets. How did OPOWER get into this situation? How does the PM role and the organizational structure play into the dilemma? What is the best software development process? Did this one work? Is this broadly applicable to other projects?

On the whole, I was happy with how the conversation with. There were a few students who I wanted to get more involved (I did do a cold call!) and I wish I’d been more proactive about that during the conversation.

Because we only had ten students, it was easy for everyone to participate. I didn’t have to use a hand-call method, everyone just jumped into the conversation naturally.

I also felt like my leading of the discussion felt apart more as time went on. At the beginning I was pretty clear on what I wanted to cover and how to get it on the board. As we got to the final sections I was afraid it felt more like “box checking” than a genuine elucidation of knowledge. If I did it again, it would be stronger.

The Postmortem of the Case — 15 minutes

After we wrapped the case, Professor Eisenmann shared what OPOWER decided. He also made some comments on the discussion.

The students, in typical Olin-fashion, asked how they could have been better. That resulted in unplanned live debrief about the discussion. We covered how it went compared to an MBA conversation, and how I could have led the conversation more effectively.

I found this part of class rewarding. First — it’s rare to get feedback on your teaching from another experienced educator. That was a treat in itself. Secondly — it was nice to get a bit more insight into the style that goes into teaching a case. I spend a lot of time in the classroom observing what my faculty do, but it was nice to go through the process myself and see what happened.

I did draw from things my faculty do: for instance, Jan Rivkin uses colored chalk to annotate pros/cons. I tried to do the same with my markers. I also tried to ask more questions and restate less, because that sometimes frustrates me in class. After having done the postmortem, I have a lot more respect for why the faculty restate and how it moves the discussion along. I’d do so more in the future.

From the student side: Wow. I was impressed with how well they handled a case study. They evoked similar ideas to an HBS classroom. The discussion went well, in part because everyone had experience in the field and participation went back and forth a lot. Our Babson student was able to give a more business-oriented perspective, helping the discussion.

The students picked up on a lot of best practices. They took strong opinions, they spoke concisely, and they built on each others comments. There was a lot of genuine listening in the room. I honestly thought the quality of conversation was higher than some of the early conversation in our section.

(It definitely helps that they’ve been together all semester, have a smaller group, and are in a lower pressure situation — but was still impressive!)

Class Wrap — 30 minutes

We finished with a general class wrap. I was exhausted after teaching the case, so this part of class was pretty amusing.

We went back through some of the learning goals in the beginning (we covered many of them). We also chatted a bit about Olin and if I’d teach the seminar again. I hope the students benefit from having taken the class and I’m looking forward to seeing what they do next!

(I’m taking it as a good sign: of all the students that enrolled and started at the beginning: no one dropped the class, and everyone attended enough seminars to get credit).

Selected Notes/Changes:
1. I’d spend more time prepping the second part of the lesson. I thought it would flow more naturally from the first.
2. I’d move to a classroom that has the moving-chalkboards the way HBS does. I felt like moving to the side of my room really changed the dynamic of the conversation.
3. I’d spend more time balancing the voices in the conversation.