The MBS Case Comp 2020

By Seth Robinson

We spoke with the winners of this year’s Melbourne Business School (MBS) Case Competition to get an inside look at their experience, and heard from case partner D-Lab about what it's like partnering with MBS.

Each year, the MBS Case Competition gives students the chance to work with an industry partner and tackle a real-world business problem. This year, students worked on a case prepared by D-Lab, GHD Digital's global innovation practice. 

'The strategies that each of the teams developed were of such high calibre, that when shared back with the wider D-Lab team they were blown away!' says GHD Digital's Sarah-Tilly Brown. 'Each of the strategies articulated a true understanding of their client’s needs. Putting the shoe on the other foot (consultants consulting consultants), it was refreshing to feel heard and understood. For the finalist teams in particular, the rigour, detail and professionalism was outstanding especially given the new digital format and COVID-19 circumstances. From a personal lens, it was amazing seeing the incredible talent that is coming through the university. I’m really proud to call myself a University of Melbourne alum, and to have opportunities where I can reconnect with some of my favourite teaching staff and help give back to a community – that for me – gave me so much guidance and a ‘leg up’ entering in to the business world.'

While every year is unique, this year students adapted to working in an online space. We spoke with winning team members, Hasini Ilangaratne, Lachlan Price, and Harpreet Sandhu to find out more.

The Team
Hasini Ilangaratne, Harpreet Sandhu, Philip Evermann, and Lachlan Price

What can you tell us about this year’s case?

Hasini: At first, the scope of the project appeared quite broad. As a result, we looked to narrow our approach and focus our efforts where we felt they were most essential. Our project focused on creating value for industries that had been both positively and negatively impacted by COVID-19. While we had little experience in engineering consulting and digital services, we managed to think creatively and design solutions that we believed were truly valuable.

How did you find working in an online format?

Lachlan: Being online obviously offered some new challenges, I’ve never had so many Zoom’s before, but having a great team made it all really easy and I think the faculty and MBS Student Association (MBSSA) did an amazing job navigating and organising the whole event. Ultimately it was super satisfying to complete the entire process and a real honour to win. Our team have all become great friends as a result.

How was your project received?

Harpreet: Well, I hope! A lot of the final teams had similar ideas and recommendations, it came down to the presentation design and how concisely the information was presented. I’ve come to understand that making effective consulting slides is truly an art form and requires a very high level of detail, it can make or break the presentation. The workshop by Austin Chia on presenting was incredibly useful and informed our slide layout. In terms of the deliverables and recommendations for the client, we did our best based on the information provided and the constraints we had. Success in a case competition doesn’t depend on the absolute feasibility of your project, but the quality, presentation and sound justification of your ideas. At the end of the day, we are estimating and inferring a lot within provided parameters.

What were the key takeaways?

Lachlan: By leveraging the strengths of each member in our team, we were able to share the work load and get the best possible output. For example, I focused on all of the financial projections, whereas Harpreet did all of the design, so together we worked well as a team.

Hasini: I believe we learnt a lot about how to distil complex ideas and concepts into digestible chunks that could be presented in a limited number of slides. Analytical skills are paramount but we learnt that creativity was also equally rewarded. Finally, I think confidence in one’s ideas should be reflected when presenting to the wider audience. This communicates the presence of strength and depth in one’s recommendations.

Any advice for students undertaking a case competition?

Harpreet: It’s really not as scary or as difficult to participate as it may seem. Go in with an open mind and don’t underestimate the skills you may already have developed in other areas that can be put to use, my arts background aided in the write up of the slides and my experience in graphic design was reflected in the layout. But our success was rooted in how well our team worked together, the synergies we created with our individual skillsets. Build a team you can rely on because what you can produce together will outshine individual efforts.

Be ready to prioritise the competition for its duration or set aside ample time to complete it to a standard you are proud of. Go through the case document with a fine tooth comb, and be precise in regard to the slides you create, and simplify where you can. If the information is presented in an aesthetically pleasing manner, it will be appreciated and received better.

Be ready to defend your recommendations: the presentation is not the difficult task, the questions you’ll face in the Q and A round are just as pertinent to your success and it would be best to divvy up the topics you may be asked questions on within your team. Give someone financials, someone industry related questions, etc. so the onus is not on one person to do the heavy lifting during question time (be ready to support them and step in, it reflects really well on the team).

Are there certain skills you'll take from the Case Competition into the workforce?

Hasini: Case competitions always ask a lot of the participants. You're asked to leverage your problem solving skills, analytical skills, creativity, communication skills, time management skills and presentation skills. I think this skill set is extremely valuable in the workplace regardless of the industry or type of work. For me, learning how to provide a high level overview of complex ideas and strategies to a panel of experts was of the most benefit to my personal employment prospects.

Lachlan: I would say it has definitely helped me learn how to work in an effective and cohesive team, and how a good team can achieve more than the sum of its parts. Specifically, I learnt how to make a really effective presentation and how to conduct an engaging ‘pitch’ to potential clients.

The whole team would like to share their thanks with the partner organisations, the MBSSA, and Melbourne Business School for delivering the annual MBS Case Competition.