Student’s Field Application Project Makes an Impact at Microsoft

Before Lan Luan even began the MBA for Executives Program at Wharton | San Francisco, she knew what topic she wanted to pursue in the first-year Field Application Project (FAP).  A senior product manager at Microsoft in Bellevue, WA, Lan wanted her education to make a real impact on her company and saw the FAP as an ideal vehicle for making that happen.  We asked Lan to tell us more about the FAP and how her team’s findings are benefitting Microsoft.

“The FAP, which is part of the core management course called Management of People at Work, really attracted me to Wharton.  It is an opportunity to find an existing concern or problem at students’ own companies and use management theories from class to come up with solutions.  After I was accepted into Wharton’s program, I contacted Microsoft’s leadership team about the FAP to run my project ideas by them.

“In the Online Services Division (OSD) at Microsoft, we work on the frontier of new technology:  search and online advertising for PC and Mobile devices.  But for search engines, we’re the underdog so innovation is very important to our organization.  The question I wanted to address in our FAP was how Microsoft can foster a stronger culture of innovation within OSD.  The leadership team was very supportive.

“At the first FAP meeting in class, I proposed this topic to my learning team and they were very excited to work on this project.  An interesting thing at Wharton is that learning teams are based on diversity so our team brought many different perspectives to the project.  Other members included two students from a consulting background, one entrepreneur running his own company, another from a banking background, and another from a medical and R&D background.   Everyone was excited to learn about innovation at Microsoft and how they could apply that to their own areas.

“We started out by conducting around 30 phone interviews with people of various roles in the organization.  My teammates then came to Bellevue to visit our office and meet with several key employees, including the president.  Microsoft has an open door policy so we were free to approach anyone on the leadership team, but we didn’t expect to get to meet with the president much less have an in-depth conversation with him.

“After conducting all of our research and holding discussions with our Professor and TA, the final part of the FAP involved late night crunching of the data, applying management theories from inside and outside of the classroom, and writing up the report.  When it was done, we submitted it to Prof. John Paul MacDuffie for the course, but I also sent it to my sponsor at Microsoft as well as the president.  To make the biggest impact, I wanted to share it with everyone at Microsoft so I even submitted it to the company’s Think Week, which began years ago when Bill Gates would solicit papers from employees and then take a week to review them for promising ideas.

“All employees can read the Think Week papers as well as rate them.  Our paper got a five-star community rating out of a possible five stars, which is a huge honor.  We also received the Top Paper award.  It looks like the leadership team will be taking our recommendations and implementing some of them.  I think our project will really make a difference!

“The FAP was a highlight of my first year at Wharton, which has gone above and beyond my expectations.  It really encouraged me to think about new ways I can contribute to my company beyond what I’m doing day to day.  And by applying theory from class to the workplace, it helps me appreciate what I am learning so much more and deepens my understanding of the knowledge.”

Thanks to Lan for sharing her experience with us!  Learn more about Wharton’s Field Application Projects.