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To Plan or Not to Plan--That is the Question

Posted By Lisa Bah, Friday, July 1, 2011

Monday's lunch was both a hands-on learning activity and hilarious. Christine and I informed the group that we owned a successful restaurant chain, Green Acres Inc. and that we were hiring eight teams of consultants to create their version "Zalad”, one of our signature products. Teams were numbered off so that students couldn't work with their pals. There were few rules, other than that no team could "claim” any particular ingredient exclusively, and that they should prepare a "logical number of samples, knowing we might invite a few guest reviewers”. Some tables caught on right away that they were not only doing an exercise and that any employee in the building was free to stop by, and that they were also preparing lunch for the entire class. Others seemed to think that because each of the instructors had four voting cards, they should have just a few Zalads prepared, and at first, one group assumed they only needed to make two meals, as we had introduced ourselves as the owners.

Each group was given a list of 30 products (cold pasta, some dry ingredients like croutons, nuts, craisens, salad toppers and dressings) that they could select from. There wasn't even much fuss that there wasn't any lettuce listed on the list. Just when they thought they had their recipe perfected, we presented new business "opportunities”—to have organic Spring Mix lettuces, baby spinach, hearts of Romaine, a lettuce and veggie pre-mix, along with several other fresh vegetables. Fast forward 10 minutes, and we added proteins—ham and frozen grilled chicken (with just 5 minutes to go). The teams were scored on whether all members contributed to the description of the item, if they had all ingredients clearly listed on their menu item so as to avoid food allergy issues, the food presentation and the table scape.

The fun came in when the judges reviewed each table, followed by the groups sampling from all of the other tables. There were 200 points available, and there was only a 4-vote spread between the top three groups. The outcome became a great reflective activity, showing how group dynamics can impact products and services, along with attention to detail. We used the example to reflect back on what they'd learned in the marketing section, along with product development and leadership, and how every element of a business can impact another.

Much of Tuesday was about marketing and the sales process, and how to be thorough from initial greeting through closing the sale and the importance of regular follow-up contact. We spent the entire afternoon covering basic finance for business (everything from bootstrapping to angel investing), along with break-even analysis. Students practiced steps within the sales process, and continued to work on presentation skills.

The afternoon was pretty mellow, as they spent their time doing business research on the computers and began answering the first few questions of their business plans. Most knew they were in for a long night of homework, as they would be on a field trip with assignments throughout the day on Wednesday.

It's so nice having a group that is meeting the level of maturity expected in college level coursework.

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