Students “Make Data Tell a Story” in MSBAPM Capstone Course

Analyze…Manage…Communicate… Analyze an industrial size dataset, manage the project risk and time commitment, present and “sell” your results to all the stakeholders. This was the theme of the capstone course in the MS in Business Analytics and Project Management (MSBAPM) program, taught by Sudip Bhattacharjee, Mark Tschiegg, and Michael Vandusen from January – April 2013. The final student presentations were held on Monday, April 22 at the Graduate Business Learning Center (GBLC) in downtown Hartford.

Students in the MSBAPM program pick up several skill sets from different courses: predictive modeling, data mining, process modeling, project management, project risk analysis, data management, and decision modeling. “What was needed now was to test drive these skills,” says Bhattacharjee, Associate Professor of Operations and Information Management (OPIM).

The corporate partner for this year’s capstone course, LIMRA, was represented by Marianne Purushotham, Corporate Vice President, and John Wilson ’13 MSBAPM, Senior Data Research Analyst and Project Management Portfolio Coordinator. The enthusiastic supporters provided the students with live data to:

  1. Predict customers who will buy life insurance; and
  2. Forecast the growth of the life insurance market.

“Groups of students jumped into the fray with gusto,” says Bhattacharjee. “A real life project is the best way for students to understand the tools and skill sets they have learned in the program. It helped to stress test their knowledge in the field and know how good they are.”

There were challenges on the way. First, students had to understand the domain knowledge of the insurance industry – the domain of the data. Then they built analytical models from the data, using knowledge from previous courses and tools and software from SAS. “On the way, we had to pick up new analytic skills and learn new tools to make the models work. When we found that we did not have all the tools, we had to improvise. We had to modify and regroup; that is part of the learning process,” explains Bhattacharjee.

Along the road, student teams made sure to meet time and budget constraints, and identified risks that could derail their projects, using knowledge from prior project management courses. Managing the team also required project management expertise. “We kept track of it all using PIEmatrix, a cloud based business tool,” shares Tschiegg.

Finally, the class had to sell their work. Student teams had to communicate the insights from analytics and recommend implementation steps to the partner company. “This was a crucial exercise, one that needed to be done well to convey the value of analytics,” says Vandusen. The story was honed over multiple marathon presentation and feedback sessions between team members and professors. Groups also fine-tuned their 15-second “elevator speeches” and that clarified and distilled the essence of the work!

Then, students learned the handover process to the industry partner—to make sure the partner is conversant with the results and can implement the models in their business.

According to the instructors, the important lesson from the course is that analytics needs to tell a story, and the story needs to engage the audience. Simply showcasing the work done is not enough; a successful analytics project needs the complementary and powerful skill sets of analytics, project management, and presentation skills.

Bhattacharjee likened the students’ work on the project to that of a master chef preparing a gourmet meal on the TV program ‘Chopped’: “In the hands of a master chef, ingredients are fine-tuned and combined to produce a gourmet feast, under tremendous time pressure. In the hands of MSBAPM students, data and domain knowledge is kneaded and marinated, and analytic techniques are applied to produce actionable intelligence. The ‘dish’ is then presented to the corporate partners for their critical feedback. The MSBAPM program is training these ‘chefs’, and looks forward to cooking up many more analytic-table dishes!”

Check out the pictures from this event here: View Photos

(Photos submitted by Sudip Bhattacharjee)

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