Undergraduate Major Project
Answering the examination – guideline format for answers
Research notes MUST be referenced throughout your answers DON’T simply repeat what is in your notes
Q1 (50 marks)
a) Your company’s current strategic position (30 marks) • Essay format
Your answer should include:
Summary of your company’s current mission and performance (use your Balanced
Summary of external environment (use your PESTLE / STEEPLE and your SWOT)
How your company is placed in its market(s) (use your Porter’s 5 Forces)
Discussion of company’s capabilities (use your McKinsey 7s and your SWOT)
Brief conclusion – signal that you will now consider key challenges in next part of the
b) Key challenges (20 marks)
Identify 3-5 challenges your company are facing
2 or 3 paragraphs on EACH challenge
o Why is it a challenge for the company?
o Why is it important?
o What are the consequences if the company does nothing?
Q2 (50 Marks)
a) Identification and evaluation of options for ONE challenge (30 marks)
• Essay format
Your answer should include:
Brief introduction – link the challenge you have chosen from q1B
Expand on the challenge to give more detail on the issue and why it is important
Introduce and explain as required the options you have identified that will help
“solve” the challenge
Discuss how you have evaluated the options (do NOT simply repeat your SAFe from
your research notes – explain the scores you have given)
• Conclude by clearly stating what your chosen option is. b) Implementation (20 marks)
Introduce by linking to your answer for q2a
Identify practical issues the company will need to address to implement the chosen
o How will it finance the change? (you are NOT expected to undertake any
o Does it need to obtain any other resources? If so, how? From where?
o Does it need to employ staff or train existing staff? If so, how? From where? o Any other practical issues?
Undergraduate major project requirement guidelines for research notes step by step
In the exam you will be asked to:
Fully analyse your company’s current strategic position
Identify and discuss the challenges your company faces over the next 5 years
Identify and evaluate the various solutions your company could use to address ONE of these challenges
Analyse how the chosen solution could be practically implemented at your company
a) What it your company’s strategic position?
· External environment
· Internal capabilities
· Key Performance Information
· All compared with key competitors
b) out of the above, what are the challenges the company is going to face over the next 5 years?
Throughout the Module you will be preparing research notes
These are submitted at the exam and should be:
A maximum of 5 sides of A4 max of notes
A further maximum of 2 additional sides of references (in full Harvard style)
Minimum font size of 10 throughout
The notes are not in themselves assessed, but will give you the ability to answer the examination questions
You must reference your exam answers to your notes.
No notes / no referencing answers……..zero marks!
If you work in a group you can prepare one set of research notes if you wish
All your research must be from secondary sources (published reports, journals, newspapers etc.)
You MUST NOT specifically contact the company or conduct any form of primary research (e.g. questionnaires to customers / staff etc.)
If you work for the company, you MUST NOT use any information that is not PUBLICALLY AVAILABLE
Any student breaking these rules is liable to be removed from the course.
A comprehensive reference list in full Harvard format is required
Your list should also be numbered consecutively from 1 to XXX
Research Notes to Reference list
You should reference the source of every piece of information in your research notes to the external source by using the NUMBER in the reference list
Harvard style in-text citations are NOT required
The Use of Theoretical Models
Theoretical models are very useful as a framework for analysing a business
Your research notes are likely to feature lots of business models e.g. PESTLE / Porters Five Forces / SWOT
Each model will be “populated” with relevant information you have found in your research (all referenced of course)
Make sure that your reference list includes citation for the model itself as well as the information you have found
The remainder of the Module classes will be given over to preparing your research notes and analysis for the examination
Your research should include the following:
Company Key Performance Indicators
This should be made up of BOTH financial and non financial indicators
KPIs are only really useful if they can be compared
over time (has the company got better or worse?)
relevant company / industry averages and competitors (how is my company doing compared to others?)
These KPIs will probably form a key element to your final research notes
· Profitability – (net and gross)
· Balance sheet value
· Share price
· Debt levels
You only need a few KEY financial ratios and you will probably find sources that will calculate them for you!
Return on Capital Employed (profit before interest and tax / Equity plus long term debt
Profit Margin (profit figures / sales turnover)
· Return on Capital Employed (as before)
· Earnings per share (Profit after tax / number of equity shares)
· Price to earnings ratio (share price / EPS)
· Leverage (or gearing ratio) (Long term debt / equity)
· Current ratio (Current assets : current liabilities)
· Acid test ratio (Current assets – inventory : current liabilities)
· Debtor days (trade debtors / sales) x365
· Creditor days (trade creditors / purchases) x365
· Stock turnover (stock / cost of sales) x365
· Reaction / complaints
· Reaction on review websites (remember bias!)
· Delivery times
· Measures of efficiency
· Reductions in waste / green agenda
· Effectiveness of IT systems
Innovation and learning
· How does the company learn to improve (or does it stick with what it has done for years?)
· Investment in training
· Investment in IT and retail space
What are all four of these perspectives telling you about the company??
Try to compare your company with:
· Key competitors
· Industry norms
· Best practice
Again, think what this is telling you – is your company doing better or worse? What does this tell you about strengths and weaknesses etc? How can it improve?
· PESTLE OR STEPLE
· Industry Competition Porter’s Five Forces
· The Industry Life Cycle
· Environmental Analysis: Opportunities and Threats
· Competitive advantage – the VRIN Model
· The comparison of company data with others
· Industry / sector benchmarks
· Best in class benchmarks
The TOWS Matrix
· What business are we in?
· Why do we do what we do?
· What do we want to achieve?
· Core values – those that won’t change if our external environment changes
· Non-core values – those that might be adapted or even removed if the environment changes
How do we govern our business?
Who is on our Board of Directors – Executive and Non-Executive?
How is the business structured?
Who do we have responsibility to?
Who are our shareholders?
How do we keep our staff motivated?
How do we listen to our customers, suppliers etc?
Social responsibility and ethics
Contractual v community stakeholders
How do we know what our stakeholders want?
What if this leads to less profit? Do we do the “right thing” regardless?
History and Culture
What “style” of company are we?
Is this a strength or a weakness?
Business strategy develops slowly and incrementally based on historical and cultural factors
Companies tend to focus on what has worked in the past as solutions to future problem
Sometimes companies become victims of their own success
When the old strategies stop working firms must transform or die – but can they??
Putting it all together McKinsey 7S Framework
· Summarise the Strengths and Weaknesses of the company itself (we looked at opportunities and threats last week)
· SW is comparative – a strength is only a strength if it is a weakness for your competitors!
Question 2 is about change, what should your company do next?
Identify a Challenge
· Question 1 should have included a number of issues, problems and challenges….
· Question 2 asks you to take ONE of them and provide a potential way forward
· This could be for the entire company or for one of its key Business Units
Question 2 Structure
Some good advice….
· Choose a challenge where you can also think of 2-4 realistic options the company could use to move forward.
· Avoid challenges that are just to big and unsolvable for this question
Porter’s generic strategies
How to grow a company?
· Grow in size doing the same thing?
Ø Greater market share – how?
Ø Greater efficiency (lower cost)
Ø Through merger and acquisition?
Growth by Merger
· Vertical integration
Ø Merging with a supplier or a customer
· Horizontal integration
Ø Merging with a competitor who does similar things to you
Ø Merging with another in a different industry type to gain some advantage (maybe as part of a diversification strategy
Which strategy to follow?
SAFe criteria do this
Using the SAFe Technique
Implementing the chosen option
What resources does the company need to implement your solution?
· Staff and expertise?
· Plant and equipment?
Does it have these resources or how can it obtain them?
How should it go about implementing the change?
· Informing staff?
· Informing customers?