15 June 2022

Core and peripheral: the choice of Elective Courses during the MBA

Author: Luca Bianchi - International Part Time MBA student

In marketing, the core features of services or products are the main characteristics the market needs from companies’ offers. They are fundamental and essential, but they are not always pivotal. Rationally, you shouldn’t consider buying a product or benefiting from a service that does not offer the basic attributes. Peripheral features, on the other hand, are part of the whole product and support the final offer. They should be both independent and interlinked with core characteristics but, for sure, they have to provide something more to prospects (or a group of prospects) in order to increase the value of the final offer. Usually, peripheral qualities let the market leaders strengthen their positions or, on the contrary, let newcomers wipe out long-lasting incumbents.

There are some similarities with professional competences: every worker has a set of core competences needed to do its own job and then there are others not strictly required which can, however, make the real difference in the workplace. And, just to be clear, this does not overlap the concept of hard/soft skills; it is known that some soft skills are core and sometimes more important than hard ones.    

With this in mind, during my MBA, I have made the choice of “Elective courses”: intense lessons about a specific topic in support of all the program’s mandatory classes. I decided to apply for courses not specifically related to my actual job or my industry: I have intentionally chosen subjects that could enlarge my spectrum and my skills, being mindful not to choose completely unrelated matters (if not for personal learning).

In my case, for example, I have chosen a course that deepens your knowledge of project management. Even if I am in charge of International Sales, I believe that having project management skills is crucial to better face and overcome everyday problems and better define a long-view plan. After all, every year enterprises have a budget to respect, and every year the effort and the conditions are different because of changed external factors, internal transformations, new product launches, new competitors to look at, and so on. In fact, the classic project definition (an endeavour to accomplish a specific objective through a unique set of interrelated tasks and the effective utilization of resources or products), mutatis mutandis, can be applied to the endeavour of a planned, organized and goal-oriented effort to generate quality revenues for the company.           

The risk for workers in general, and for the new generation of workers in particular, is that focusing only on core competences will end in a “commoditization” of personal contribution to the enterprises, devaluating the real value of the outcomes and transforming added value positions in perfectly replaceable jobs. The objective of every employer is to enrich contributions by exploring new ways of doing things, uprooting old and ineffective ways of completing tasks while importing from studies and tested research new approaches to new challenges.

Coming back to the initial differentiation of core and peripheral attributes, we need to say that in the last decades some companies have changed this paradigm, transforming a few core attributes into peripheral ones, and giving potential customers access to a more basic and unbundled product with the aim of enlarging the market and hitting different targets. Classic examples are the low-cost airlines that turned core services taken for granted (such as a choice of seat or the on-board meal) into peripheral (and paid) services.

We are, of course, talking about a specific group of companies but, at the same time, we could also say quite the same for a specific group of professionals. In agile project management, for example, the role of the Project Manager is “replaced” by two figures, the Product Owner (more similar to an Account Manager) and the Scrum Master; and the latter has lost the “direction” of the project and of the team: he/she supports and helps members to understand tasks and carry them out. It is not an easier task or a downgraded position: it is a completely new way of managing specific kinds of projects, but it is not applicable to all situations.

In my opinion, elective courses do characterize the MBA path with contamination and a starting point for future in-depth analysis and studies. I have found them to be “branches” that fortify and add value to the “trunk”, strengthening and differentiating it. My mission for the future is to go on nurturing them, day after day, and applying what I have learned in real cases. Instead, a caveat to myself, is to not take them for granted or leave them unattended.

15 June 2022

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