Last Week in Kenya

Last weekend, we went to Zanzibar, and where we snorkeled, played beach volleyball, learned some Kiswahili, among other things. It was relaxing and a nice break from our work. We also visited the historic Stone Town and drove around the city soaking in all the beauty.

Zanzibar

Sunset in Zanzibar

For this week in Kenya, we are focusing on the project report and other final deliverables due for GAP and the client. We went to the client location to gather some final data that would be helpful for our project. Most of the other days, we are either working from the guest house or the ‘Java House’ (café shop near our accommodation).

We met Doctor Dennis, who works with the Client, and received his assistance filtering through some of the data resources to arrive at relevant and useful information. He was busy last week conducting vaccination drives with the government. Similarly, we also interviewed David and Sammy, who have worked closely on the product to understand their perspective on how things should move forward. I feel it is always important to take suggestions and inputs from the actual stakeholders as they are the ones who will work on the project long term. If they don’t feel committed to the ideas and recommendations, and if they don’t feel a part of the solution process, there is a higher probability of these recommendations not being implemented.

We designed the PackH2O manufacturing process based on the cycle times that we calculated. We produced a concept layout for the complete manufacturing process of the product that utilizes all resources the most efficiently. Simultaneously, we have carried forward inputs from last year’s GAP team and built a cost model structure for the manufacturing process. We have also developed a model to analyze the cost savings to the government through the distribution and use of our product.

Through our conversations, we learned that many similar programs use music concerts and skits to create awareness about diseases and their prevention. This was interesting as I have seen similar drives in India, too. We also learned more about the client’s social media presence and how they were effectively using the different channels for different goals. Unlike some of the other GAP projects, we do not have to give a final, deck-style presentation to our client. Our reports will be our final deliverable.

I am flying to Dubai after this project for a couple of days before heading back to the US. My internship starts a week after. I am sure I will be using some of the things I learned in Kenya in my career. There is so much more to see in Kenya and Africa; I am sure I will be returning back soon. So until next time… Kwaheri!

Botswana, Our Home

Our time in Botswana has been enjoyable. Our University of Botswana colleagues gave us a tour of their school—one of the best in the country and currently ranked 32nd in Africa. Their semester is coming to a close and students were busy with final exams and getting ready for their three months of summer vacation. While the universities are completing their semesters, other schools (elementary/middle/high schools) are just beginning—adding to morning traffic. In Botswana, MBA programs typically last 2.5 years and students must submit a dissertation for graduation. The MBA program has students from around the world, and the university has exchange programs to promote diversity. It is a really big school; we walked for a while and saw only a portion of the campus. Highlights of the tour included a large dining hall, grocery store, library, and study rooms.

During the weekend, we visited Mokolodi Nature Reserve—twice.  On Saturday, there were heavy rains (abnormal for the season), so we returned Sunday to do a Rhino tracking game drive. Mokolodi Nature Reserve is a non-profit organization approximately 15 km south of Gaborone that was established in 1994 and is 3,700 hectares in size. It has an education area for children to learn about nature, conservation and the environment. The Reserve is home to a variety of mammals, including some rare and endangered species, and a diverse array of reptile and bird species.

On our Big Five game drive, we saw Giraffes, Impala, Kudu, Warthogs and Cheetah. The highlight of this activity was accompanying our qualified guides into the bush as we tracked spoor from the Rhinos. After about 30 minutes of tracking, we were quite excited to find a family of three. At beginning, it was frightening because they were acting in a defensive manner, but gradually they became calm, sat and kind of ignored us. We never imaged that we could so close to such amazing animals.  Our day at Mokolodi concluded with a picnic by a stream in the park.

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Week Two at Barclays

We continued our work in the conference room this week, engaged with several more shareholders, including meeting with staff from HR and legal, and attended a new business committee meeting. We also had the opportunity to meet with Reinette van der Merwe, Managing Director of Bank of Barclays, Botswana. She was eager to meet with us and learn about our backgrounds and our project, and she was kind enough to provide us with her own insights and guidance. All the stakeholder interviews have given us a better understanding of the loan process here and offered ideas of where there is room for improvement.

This week, we progressed through finalizing our data analysis and compiling and prioritizing our recommendations for the future state.  During these past few weeks, our faculty advisor, Professor Pennington, has given us feedback on our work and helped to keep us on track. Next week, we will move into the final rounds of stakeholder engagement as we prepare to present our official findings. We have also benefited from leveraging knowledge of members of the Center for Operational Excellence for best practices in the US banking industry as well as internal knowledge from Barclays Bank to provide recommendations (and associated costs).

As the week comes to a close, we have begun compiling our presentation and are looking forward to interacting with key stakeholders next week to test our assumptions and recommendations before our final presentation next week.

Dumelang Botswana

We have quickly come to realize that life in Gaborone is very different than life in the United States. One of our biggest struggles has been the way business is conducted. However, after a few days, we are gaining more familiarity with business customs in Botswana. Much to our delight, the local food is both tasty and affordable. Finally, the country itself is very unique with natural resources that we have been able to enjoy.

The way in which life and business is approached in Botswana is much more laid back than what the team has grown accustomed to while working in the United States. Our days begin at 8am and the schedule is quite fluid. The colleagues we have met (mostly from Botswana and South Africa) have all welcomed us with open arms and most seem genuinely interested in improving the processes at the bank.

The food has been the highlight of the trip (so far)! The office is set in a ‘central business district’ which is still under construction and also the home to grazing cows, donkeys and dozens of food ‘caravans’ or ‘mochachos’. These food truck-like establishments offer the traditional staple papa (a maze based starch similar to mashed potatoes) as well as beef steaks, chicken, and side salads with vegetables. The food is great, and the prices are very reasonable (less than $3 for lunch and $10 for dinner).

We’ve been able to get out of the office and housing to enjoy some of the country. There is a mountain hike which is near enough for us to hike to from our housing. The mountain is the highest peak in Gaborone and provides great views of the city, the dam and the surrounding areas. We plan on heading out to local game reserves over the weekend to take advantage of viewing the local animals.2 3

First Week at Barclays Botswana

We are now in day five of being on site with Barclays Bank for continued work on Project Firefly in Gaborone, Botswana. The week has gone by very fast at times, with lots of information being gathered through meetings with many of our new colleagues at the bank. We are on track with our timeline, and our client is content with our progress thus far.

We have been given a ‘war room’ which we have fully dedicated to our process. We have posted the current-state process flow, as well as the value stream map on the walls, and walked our colleagues through it. This exchange was both useful and enlightening, as we found that we had misunderstood a few steps from our conversations when still in Columbus.

Week one will culminate with the end of our discovery phase. We are in the process of conducting research that will provide us a basis for understanding why the loan process is not as efficient as it could be. We have interviewed many of the responsible units (R/Us) who manage the process for a few reasons: to ensure the flow was correctly tracked, to gain insight into the biggest areas for improvement and finally to identify best practices both internally and observed across the industry. These interviews have been very valuable, particularly when the R/Us have been very frank and honest about the areas for improvement within their roles.

Additionally, we engaged multiple R/Us in group interviews, which has been both entertaining and insightful as the groups were given the opportunity to discuss ways to improve instead of constantly blaming their counterparts, most of whom were in the room.

We are struggling with the provided data that we need to analyze in order to develop our solutions. The points in the time, the volume, and accuracy of the data are all challenging our ability to provide a quantitative assessment essential to leveraging our recommendations.

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Focusing on Personal Insights in the UK

As the focus groups progress along, we have come to realize how valuable face-to-face communication on the ground level of a project can be. The sort of insight we have gained into the UK online clothing shopping preferences is invaluable and using only survey results would not tell the full story. We are feeling good about being able to incorporate this knowledge into our recommendation for the client.

The group has been working hard on coming up with strategic and tactical recommendations for the client. We have had some disagreements, but we stuck it out and were able to come up with a solid plan incorporating our secondary research insights, focus group insights, and shipping study insights. We have also had a live online survey out in the field this past week, which is to be taken down soon. We are using the insights from this survey for our recommendations, as well. Each one of these research focuses have provided both unique and consistent results that will help give us a strong backing to our plan.

In the next week, we will be finalizing our presentation and further incorporating the survey data results into our final recommendations. We will have a very busy week ahead of us, but we are confident that we will be able to get everything done by the time we return to the States. We are very excited about presenting our findings to the client!

A Cultural Cross Section of the UK

Football
While “football” has a different meaning in the United States than it does in the United Kingdom, both countries are just as passionate about their sports. The people we chat with in the UK will often point out that we call “football” soccer and don’t know much about the real football. They will, however, speak positively of Tim Howard, who played in the Premier League and was one of the best goalkeepers from the United States.

Football
Tim Howard walking for the last time through the Everton Goodison Park Stadium.

Different Accents, Personality, and People
We recognize that there are different types of British accents in different parts of the United Kingdom. There are also different dialects that they use in different cities and countries of the UK. The people in Scotland or Wales are very proud of their own histories. They do not want us to call them English, but Scotts or Welsh respectively. Interestingly, Wales has its own language that is very different from the English language. The lack of vowels in Welsh can make it very difficult to pronounce. Furthermore, people in Scotland have a very thick accent that is hard to recognize by our ears. We had some difficulties understanding what our tour guide said during the Loch Ness trip because of this.

Histories & Castles
The United Kingdom is filled with history and rich stories that the people of the UK are very proud of and happy to share. We saw their passion and excitement when we visited the Tower of London and learned the stories of the kings and queens who lived there. In Loch Ness, we heard stories of how people tried to find the famous monster, or at least fake a sighting. The people in Manchester couldn’t wait to tell us about their role in the industrial revolution. We were also pleased to see a monument in Manchester to Alan Turing who cracked the enigma code during WWII (and was recently the subject of the popular film, The Imitation Game). Consistently, we have found that people in the United Kingdom are proud of their legacy and would like to show it to people all over the globe.

Loch Ness
Loch Ness

Guard
Guard at the Tower of London

Steam
A demonstration of steam power at the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry

A Common Language: Focus Groups in London

We have learned a lot in our first week doing marketing research in the UK. We knew going into our project that consumer preferences would be different from what we are used to in the US, but the amount of nuance has been surprising. We are doing our best to understand not only what UK consumers are saying about their buying preferences, but also how they are saying it. The expression “two countries separated by a common language” makes a lot more sense on this side of the pond.

Focus group research requires a lot of listening and good observational skills. In the United States, we have experience with the social cues and idioms that are commonly used in speech. Here in London, we have to ask for clarity in many cases while trying not to put off our respondents. It is a difficult balancing act, but it is very rewarding. Each time we learn a new cultural value or expression we gain better insight into the consumers of the UK. In turn, this has allowed us to build out stronger recommendations for our final proposal.

In the next week we will be traveling out of London to Manchester and Edinburgh, and again we will be faced with new challenges on the project. The biggest advantage we have moving forward (aside from understanding a few expressions that span the length of the UK) is that we have a better idea of what sorts of things we don’t know going into the conversations with consumers. We can clarify what we are trying to relate and learn from our respondents without assuming that there won’t be confusion because we “speak the same language”.

London Underground

Let’s talk about the Tube! Coming from Ohio, the group had various levels of familiarity with public transportation and trains. Some of us have experienced subways in the US, others experienced trains in India and further abroad, but London has a fantastic transportation system that we have been happy to learn and embrace. It has made it very easy for us to get around, and in turn quickly learn about the city that has been our home for the last week. We are glad to present a few pointers from an outsiders perspective on how to use the London Underground.
First, let’s clarify some language: The public transit system in London is referred to primarily as the London Underground, or the Tube. There are also the National Rail and London Overground services that connect at various change stations with the Underground. Just don’t call it a subway- that’s a clear giveaway you’re not local.
Keep Left. While you may be glad you don’t have to drive on the other side of the road here (if you’re from the US), you might not know that you should walk on the other side. When in doubt keep left. Go up the left set of stairs, or walk on the left while people stand on the right on escalators.
The World’s Your Oyster. The London Underground uses contactless payment in addition to prepaid paper tickets. Pick up an Oyster Card for five pounds, and you’ll be zooming through the tube in no time. You can top off (add more money to your card) at any station, and even get a refund if you’re leaving and there’s still money on your card.

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Mind the Gap! No post on the London Underground would be complete without mentioning this world-renowned safety advice. Mind the gap simply means that you should be careful and pay attention to the space between the train and the platform. Now you don’t have to ask a Londoner and become very embarrassed.
We will miss the London Underground as we head North this next week, but we’ll be sure to report back with more thoughts from our travels!

The Great Wall

The Great Wall

“Where has the moon got to?” The cloudless azure sky stretched limitless in all directions as I paused to catch my breath and look above—the view of the horizon all round was obscured by the outline of mountains. We were at the top of the world and wondering, “Are we really standing on one of the few man-made structures visible from the moon?”  The undulating wall followed the profile of the mountainous land it stood on—at places the ramparts were so steep we had to clamber up the steps whose rise was higher than the tread wide. Just then, an elderly American couple passed me.  My thoughts darted back to reality and I saluted their spirits—the incredible feeling of being there was making it difficult to keep thoughts coherent. Down below, an establishment of dwellings seemed as though it was in the middle of nowhere.

One of the cars of the continuously moving rope way scooped us off the platform down at the foot of the hill and hauled us all the way up to the top of one of the mountains from where we started our Great Wall experience. With our feet dangling under us and the land underneath retreating fast, the adrenaline was sent rushing even as the wheels trundled every time the car passed one of the suspension towers. The echo of my team mates’ ecstatic screams filled the valley below. On our way back, the experience was altogether different: hurtling down the meandering toboggan chute was a perfect way to round out the adventure.

The Olympic Garden (the site of Beijing Olympics), another marvel of engineering, stands testimony to the fact that China has arrived. The gigantic screen stretched across the the Olympic Gardenconcrete trusses surrounding the curved walls of the stadium, with dazzling images of ice hockey playing, threw flashes of light across the square sprawled around the stadium. It was easy to imagine the grandeur and the cosmopolitan atmosphere the place would have had eight years ago. The chilly air, the floodlit ambience and the starlit night sky made a perfect combination—the Olympic torch burnt close by, a true representation of the human spirit.

A train journey from Shanghai to Beijing and back gave us a glimpse of the Chinese countryside. As the train gathered speed, the high-rise concrete apartment and office blocks gave wBullet Trainay to endless acres of arable parcels of land dotted with polytunnels. Vehicles along the freeway running alongside and complete with all the street furniture looked like toy sets before the bullet train racing at 300kmph.

Cut to Shanghai alleyways. An interesting sight is the deftly maneuvering scooters navigating Shanghai’s streets despite heavy traffic—both pedestrian and vehicular. The lidded pannier mounted behind the pillion seat gave the scooters a utilitarian look. Sometimes it seemed like local business proprietors were carrying around their stuff, while at other times it was regular office goers trying to snake through the heavy rush hour traffic.

An open air tourist bus ride across the city gave us a low-down on the major landmarks of Shanghai—toriental-pearl-tv-towerhe Shanghai World Financial Center, the Bank of China Tower, the Shanghai Stock Exchange and the Shanghai Tower. From the topmost deck of the Oriental Pearl Tower, the sight of the city sprawled across thousands of acres in all directions was a thrill to watch as well. Pleased as Punch.

Chopsticks! They watched curiously as I struggled. Eventually, I gave up and went back to fork and knife. The minions at the local restaurant looked on as I ate my broccoli-mushroom and rice. I must admit that even after Hong’s repeatedly demonstrating how to hold chopsticks between the fingers and carry the food all the way to the mouth, I couldn’t do very well. Clearly, this art will take some getting used to.

Finally, a mention of the local cuisine. Strange sStreet food culturemells wafting across the city streets made us realize we were away from home. Freshwater fish, eels, crustaceans, seafood, and water plant—all kept alive in water-filled tubs with air bubbling through. Street food culture in Shanghai is pretty popular. Patrons of all ages dining outside along the sidewalks are a common sight.