Do I want to take on a student team?

We often get asked by Industry partners how to manage a student project efficiently and effectively. Time is scarce and managers aren’t sure that an intern or student team can add value. In our experience, you can greatly improve your chances of getting great value for your investment by following a few simple rules.

Firstly – it is an investment 

You need to invest some of your teams time and effort into the engagement to get good outcomes. This is no different than hiring a professional consultant, and that is a good mindset to take. If the students don’t have a suitable project, a realistic objective, clear scope, face time with your team, organised data and documentation, and feedback on findings, it will be very difficult for them to add value. Like most things in life and business – you’re unlikely to get more out than you’re willing to put in. Students respond well to support and interest in their experience. If you treat the engagement seriously, and are investing in the engagement, so will your student team.

Understand the drivers

For the educator and the student. If possible, request a team which has chosen to work on your project. Understand what constitutes success for them, and think about how that meshes with your objectives. What are their assessment criteria? How much are the reports that you will see worth? How important is your assessment of their performance to their grade? Understand how much total time, over what period, the students have available. This is key to set realistic expectations for your team and the students.

Project selection and preparation

Project selection is key. An external, smart but inexperienced team, with limited time to spend with your business brings strengths and weaknesses.  They will be able to bring fresh thinking, no pre-conceptions and up to date theoretical frameworks. However, you’re not sure exactly what you’ll get, they don’t deeply understand your business, and recommendations may not be 100% practical. So in short, you don’t want to give them anything mission or time critical. You don’t want to give them a project which relies on deep expertise or business understanding. You do want to give them projects that would be value adding but not critical path, potentially more exploratory like research or innovation, or precursors to work your team can build on like a strategic review or business analysis.

Preparation and clarity

Students tend not to respond well to ambiguity. This experience is unlike most of their other classes. They may or may not have any professional experience or strong preparation for the engagement. Bring your project management experience to bear in a very explicit way.  Provide a strong brief on the project. Prepare documentation and data for the team to review, set up interviews with stakeholders. You should clearly set out your expectations on scope, timelines, deliverables and standards. Cover the basics. Provide examples. Give the students some incentives if they are putting in the effort to do a great job. Time, attention, lunch, a reference, recruit opportunities, a bonus.

Manager selection

Managing a student project is a great development opportunity for a team member who may not have much experience managing a team or delivering a strategic project. If you select your project manager well, time spent on the project is an investment in them as much as the students. If they see it as a development opportunity, if they know the outcome is important to you, they will treat it seriously and help the team to deliver a good outcome.

Project management

Encourage your manager to hold the students to account. A project charter, well defined scoping, status reports, scope changes, sponsor briefings – all contribute to helping the team take the project seriously and deliver outcomes.

Close out

Hopefully your student team is delivering a valuable outcome. Ensure someone on your team is taking over the students work, and the deliverables and supporting analysis are being handed over in good order. Finally, you want your student team to leave the experience as advocates of you and your business. Who knows where they will end up, and who they will influence. Perhaps one or two are potential employees. Help them get to the positives about the experience and what they’ve learned. Reflection is the key to experiential learning. Give the students some tips on how to reflect on and process the experience. Let them know how important the experience they’ve just had is, and how the experience they’ve just had will stand them in good stead.

So to recap – 7 tips to get a great outcome from work integrated learning;

  1. It’s an investment
  2. Understand the drivers of the educator and students
  3. Project selection and preparation
  4. Preparation and clarity
  5. Manager selection
  6. Project management
  7. Close out