Research, Design, Build – The Power of Design Thinking

As I hunched over my bathroom sink for the umpteenth time recently, I wondered why it was acceptable for most adults to bend over to about half our height multiple times a day. “Adjustable sinks – Why aren’t they a thing yet?”, I thought to myself. I then went online to dig deeper and research the same question.

This is the effect internalizing design thinking has had on me. I no longer accept the status quo because it exists; I question how a product might be if I could design it on a blank canvas in a new, unbiased way that satisfies user needs.

Kellogg’s Research-Design-Build class simplified the design thinking process into three major buckets:

Research

It is important to identify the right problem to solve. We learned we need to first recognize if there is a problem, and then define the scope of the problem. We don’t want to ask people outright what they want, because as Henry Ford said, “If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.”

Our class was asked to solve a problem, any problem, for Northwestern. And to do this, each team in our class spent two weeks on research — doing interviews with students and faculty, shadowing people, taking pictures and videos, and generally observing how people interacted with the Northwestern environment. Teams refined their research objectives and project focus over the course of those weeks based on some interesting, relevant and actionable (IRA) insights we derived from our user research.

Design

Once we had our problem statement and insights, it was time to start brainstorming and designing solutions. Each class was structured such that there would be a gallery walk where all teams presented their last week’s work to receive feedback from peers and professors, and in the remainder of the class we learned tactical tools and frameworks that would aid us in designing possible solutions.

We used Post-its and sticky notes while brainstorming to record our ideas, and were open to moving those around or just discarding them and starting with a fresh board. We were encouraged to think beyond the obvious and to come up with ideas that pushed boundaries, were innovative and grounded in insights. We learned the “Yes, and” approach to idea generation. One of the first things Professor Greg Holderfield told us at the beginning of the class was: ‘Ideas are not precious. Experiment with them.” And that’s what we did during this phase. The focus was to generate lots of ideas and enjoy the process of idea generation.

Build

We were asked to evaluate and validate the ideas we generated during the Design phase. We thought about the desirability, feasibility and viability of our proposed concepts. Would our solution solve a problem for people? Would users want our product or solution? How easy is the solution to implement? Is it scalable?

I was struck by the power of simple prototyping and the use of storyboards to tell a story and present an innovative solution instead of a PowerPoint presentation, and how much more interesting and compelling these presentations were. I have since used storyboards to present product concept ideas even in job interviews, and they were well received!

———————————————————————–

In the second half of the course, our class had the opportunity to apply the design thinking frameworks we learned in the first five weeks to address problem statements set by a client — Protein Bar.

It was challenging and exciting to visit different Protein Bar stores in Chicago, interview customers and staff and observe people’s in-store behavior to come up with innovative solutions rooted in insights to the problem statements set by Protein Bar. Each team presented interesting new ideas and got feedback from Protein Bar executives who visited our class during the midway mark; this gave teams a chance to validate ideas and course correct (if needed) in preparation for the final.

We presented our final solutions to Samir Wagle, the CEO/President of Protein Bar, and this was an invaluable exercise in bringing all we learned to life and pitching potential ideas to a top-level decision maker receptive to innovation. A few months after our presentations, this was in the news. It will be interesting to see how the ideas we pitched will be adopted into Protein Bar’s new stores.

Overall, this was a course that validated my decision to apply to Kellogg’s MMM Program, and I know I will have the opportunity to apply this newly gained design thinking toolkit in my upcoming internship as well as my post-MBA endeavors.

Advertisements

Preparing for Kellogg

I haven’t done many blogs lately since I’ve been busy preparing for Kellogg. I thought I should give you guys a quick update on what’s been happening the last few weeks. There is just so much to do! But sometimes, like now, there’s a lull – I feel like I should be doing something productive, but instead I just laze around catching up on TV shows I love and spending time with family. 😀

These are a few things I’ve checked off my list:

  • Financing my MBA (Apply for a loan & get personal finances in order)
  • i20 application
  • Visa Application
  • Visa Interview: Had my interview on 27-Apr-2015 and got a mail that my visa has been issued on 29-Apr-2015. Yaaayyy! I plan to do a post on Applying for a US Visa for international students.
  • Health Insurance & Health forms: Healthcare in the US is expensive. 😦

What I still have to do:

  • Find an apartment: Since I’m moving to Evanston in the Summer quarter instead of fall, I’m having a hard time finding good deals. I’ll do a follow-up post on how to find housing just as soon as I sign a lease.
  • Tutorials in Microsoft Office, Photoshop and Basic Accounting Principles
  • Complete 2 mandatory pre-enrollment online courses set by Kellogg: I haven’t done this so far because the courses are not up on the website yet!
  • New technology: I’m thinking of buying a new phone/laptop but I might just do this once I get to Evanston.

It helps that Kellogg has a handy To Do list on the Welcome site for admitted students. I’ve just been checking things off one by one from that list.

But I’ve come across some incredibly helpful blogs online, these are some:

108 Tips for new MBA Students (by Matthew Kuo – UCLA Anderson)

A letter to an incoming MBA Student (by Rohan Rajiv – Kellogg Class of 2016)

My Kellogg Interview Debrief

This is a long overdue post! A lot of Indian applicants, having scheduled interviews in March, reached out to me asking about my interview experience with Kellogg.

I had a Skype interview with a member of the admissions committee. Since it was my first business school interview, I was jumpy and nervous. As with most business school interviews, it was friendly and conversational, and within a few minutes of starting the interview, I was in the zone and calmer than I was when the interview started. 🙂

The questions I was asked were fairly standard and there were no surprises there (thank goodness!). I made a note of all the questions I was asked during the interview immediately after it was done (you guys have no idea how long it took me to locate this piece of hastily-scribbled-on paper from months ago). These are the questions I was asked:

Give me a high level overview of your career till date – especially focusing on why you made the career choices that you did. Take your time.

Are you an individual contributor or do you work in a team? (If you work in a team, do people report to you?) 

Do you prefer working in a team or as an individual contributor? Explain your reasons.

What would your team say is your greatest strength at work? What would your team say was the one thing they’d change about you at work?

(Same questions as above for “What would your manager say…?”)

Talk about a challenging professional experience that you had. What was your thought process? How did you handle the situation?

What are your short term and long term career goals? How will Kellogg help you achieve these goals?

Why did you apply to Kellogg?

How will you contribute to Kellogg?

What are your interests outside of work? (and a few follow-up questions about this)

Is there anything you’d like to add? If there’s anything that you think has not been mentioned in your application or that has not been discussed during the interview – you can talk about it now. (She did mention this was not a question to throw the candidate off-balance, but just an opportunity for us to address anything that we think they might’ve missed. I felt that I had not adequately addressed how smitten I was with Kellogg, so I spent a few minutes talking about MMM and my fit with Kellogg based on all my research. She seemed impressed with all the research I did on Kellogg, and commented on the fact that I was able to get so much information despite living halfway across the world.)

Then it was time for questions. I asked just 1-2 questions, and then we signed off. The entire interview lasted about 40 minutes.

These are my takeaways from the interview, and some important pointers:

– While the interviewer was friendly, it was not what I’d call an informal interview. You have to treat it like any job interview – be courteous, and be friendly, but retain some formality.

– Look at the interviewer and the camera. This is especially important in a Skype interview. You have to try and make eye contact to make it feel like a conversation. Don’t keep looking at yourself in the camera and adjusting your position accordingly (they can tell if you’re constantly checking yourself out on screen).

– I think it’s very important to showcase your passion for the school and focus on your fit with the school’s culture. In your answers, focus on team work and collaboration. Talk about all the things that (in your opinion) make Kellogg the best place for you to spend the next 2 years of your life. Admissions want to make sure that they take people who really want to join. Make sure they know that if you get in, you will attend Kellogg.

– Speak clearly and concisely. This is not really specific to Kellogg and you should do this in any interview, but Kellogg grads have a reputation for being good communicators – reinforce this image in your interview by enunciating clearly, not stammering and being as grammatically correct as you can be. It’s okay to take a few moments to collect your thoughts before answering a question. Don’t just rush into an answer without knowing what you want to talk about, or you’ll end up rambling!

Good luck to all the R2 applicants interviewing with Kellogg! Reach out to me if you have any further questions – I’d be happy to chat.

The Decision is Made…

And I have decided that I will be attending Kellogg School of Management. I’ve been accepted to the Kellogg MMM program, and I truly believe this program is a great fit for my future goals. There were a lot of factors that weighed in my decision, some of which I’ve listed out in an earlier post. I will do a longer follow-up post soon.

I am finally at peace about my decision and can get excited about preparing for business school. I will be flying out to Chicago this June. Wheeeeeee! 😀

I can’t wait to hear my fellow bloggers decisions. Out with it! 🙂

Kellogg Video Essay Questions

Most Kellogg applicants I know are intimidated and stressed out by the Video Essay component of the application that has been in play since 2013. This year, there are some changes in the video essay section as compared to last year.

1. The applicant is expected to answer 2 questions – 1 behavioural (ice-breaker) question and 1 Kellogg-specific question.

2. Less time to prepare: Last year, applicants had 1 minute to formulate an answer to the question that was asked. This year, we get 20 seconds.

3. No option to redo the essay: Once you record an answer to your video essay question, that’s it. Irrespective of it went, there is just that one chance to record your answer.

Video Essay Questions List

I have listed real video essay questions that applicants have encountered in the 2014-2015 admissions cycle.

Behavioural Questions

What is the best piece of advice you have ever gotten?

What is your favorite TV show?

Tell us about your first job.

If you could teach any course, what would it be?

What is the one thing you have always wanted to try?

When did you realize you were good at your job?

What interesting or fun fact would you want your future Kellogg classmates to know about you?

[I found this blog by Piyush Jain immensely helpful while preparing for the behavioural question section – he’s listed out a ton of questions from last year as well.]

Kellogg-specific questions

Why are you applying to Kellogg?

What do you anticipate will be your contribution to the Kellogg community?

What makes you a great fit for Kellogg?

What is your favourite club at Kellogg?

Advice for applicants attempting the Video Essay section: Be yourself. Do not try and give scripted responses to the questions that are asked. It is good to be prepared so that you know what you want to talk about in the answer to each question listed above – so make sure you introspect to really know yourself. But apart from that, just be casual and confident. The adcom is not looking at the strength of your vocabulary or your oratory skills – they just want to know that you can speak in a clear, concise manner and that you can articulate your thoughts and communicate them to your classmates effectively.

It’s okay to be nervous, but remember that this is just one part of the application. It is an important part, as you get to show the admissions committee a side of you that they don’t get to see on paper. But it is just one piece of the puzzle, so relax and give it your best shot.

All the Best, and let me know how your video essays went!

Why I love Kellogg and the MMM Program

Kellogg MMM Program

I have noticed over the last month or so that quite a few of you in the blogosphere – My Life of Bliss, Pulling that MBA Trigger, ProGMAT and a few others are interested in Kellogg’s MMM Program. Some of you are on the fence about it while others have decided to apply (and I hope I’ve played a part in helping you make that decision 😉 ). With that in mind, I thought I should do a (long overdue) post on everything I love about MMM. Irrespective of whether I make it to Kellogg (but I sooo hope I do!), I think this is post could be useful for those of you evaluating the program.

1. Product Management career path: They recently revamped the entire MMM program to make it more Product Management/Innovation focused, and this ties in with my future goals of Product Management and tech entrepreneurship. I hope I was able to sufficiently articulate the “fit” with the program in my application. If you’re looking at similar roles in your career, I would recommend the MMM program.

2. Design Thinking focus: What I’ve noticed as a Product Manager is that:

(a) Finding the right problem to solve is more important than problem-solving itself: You really need to get into the end-user’s head to figure out what feature/design would make the most sense to them/what would they like to see in your product – only then will your product be a successful one. The Design Thinking approach taught in the MMM program teaches you think from the end-user’s perspective and to find the right opportunities from myriad data. I think is an invaluable tool, not just for Product Managers but for entrepreneurs as well (which is my long-term goal).
(b) General Design courses: As a MMM student, you have the opportunity to take specific design courses from the Segal Institute. Not only can you learn about how to create great user experiences, these courses also add to your course credit!
3. Awesome Courses and Experiential Learning : Have you seen the MMM course list? It’s super interesting! There are courses like Research-Design-Build where you form groups and actually get your hands dirty and conceptualize, develop and launch your own product in a group. There’s also an Integration Project in addition to your regular Internship where you get to work in teams to solve a real-life business/design problem for a company – so there’s more focus on experiential learning.
4. Dual Degree: This is just a perk! 🙂 You graduate with a Kellogg MBA as well as an MS in Design Innovation, which is pretty cool – both for future job opportunities and for wow-ing  potential investors.
5. Small Class + Great Networking Opportunities: You get to have the best of both worlds! You take ALL your classes with the rest of your 50-odd classmates and you can form really strong bonds with them, but you also take core classes with regular 2Y Kellogg MBA students, so you’re not missing out on anything! Another perk is that you get to start early on campus. If you are a MMM student, you start classes in June – one full quarter earlier than the other Kellogg students(more time to spend on campus – yay!), but ultimately you graduate together with the Kellogg FT 2Y class.
6. Selectivity: I’m not quite sure whether to put this in this list or the cons list. Yes, they have a class size of only 60. But I found out that they get only about 350-400 applications for the MMM program. (that might change this year as they’ve been making an effort to spread more awareness about MMM) So the selectivity rate is about the same for Kellogg MBA and MMM. They take about 1 in 5 candidates. But I like my chances better in MMM – I’d rather compete against 400-500 applicants than 4000 applicants! You do have to keep in mind though that even though there are only around 350 applicants for MMM, these will likely be people with stellar profiles who really know what they want from the program and their career. It’s  slightly intimidating to compete with a group like that. I’ll leave you to make a decision if this point must be in the pros or cons  list. 🙂
7. Interviews:  This not exactly a MMM-specific point, but is characteristic of Kellogg. Since Kellogg tries to interview everyone, it’s just great to get an opportunity to show the admissions committee a side of you that might not have translated well in the application. You can really let your personality shine 🙂
Apart from all the above reasons, which are specific to MMM, I love Kellogg for KELLOGG. It’s just such an amazing school – all the people I’ve spoken to in the last few months from Kellogg have been so helpful and friendly (characteristic of Kellogg students) and the wealth of information I’ve gotten from them has only made me more excited to apply and (hopefully!) attend Kellogg. For those of you looking to get in touch with alumni/current students, I’d recommend just reaching out to people on LinkedIn.
To get an idea of the school’s culture, you could take a look at:
  •  #MyKellogg on Instagram. The pictures are endless. Students are most active on Instagram as compared to all other social media!
  • Youtube: There are SO many videos that you could get lost out there. Apart from Kellogg’s Official Youtube Channel which is a great source of Kellogg-related material, you should most definitely check out the LipDub Videos, CIM Showcase videos and other random videos made by students to witness Kellogg’s student camaraderie firsthand. If you’re interested in glimpses of what business school classes at Kellogg are going to be like, you should find those videos as well. An example is Harry Kraemer on Values Based Leadership – it’s something I’ve watched at least 3 times! I also regularly watch videos by Mohanbir Sawhney – I find his insights on technology, innovation and consumer products fascinating!
These are some resources I used to get to know MMM better:

Kellogg MBA Students Blog 

Kellogg MMM Student Perspectives

“This is MMM” Facebook Group

MMM Schedule – Courses and 2Y Plan