The changing focus of MBA programs

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at:

MBA programs are adding more digital courses.

Isn’t it surprising that this is happening now and not in, say for instance, 1999? Or is this perhaps an evergreen story that is being recycled (because I seem to recall similar articles almost 15 years ago)?

About this:

“That’s because the degree suggests a person steeped in finance and corporate strategy rather than in the digital-age arts of speed and constant experimentation — and in skills like A/B testing, rapid prototyping and data-driven decision making, the bread and butter of Silicon Valley.”

Hasn’t A/B testing been around since the 1950s? Perhaps they mean this strictly about websites?

Rapid prototyping has been around at least since World War II, and really much earlier.

Data-driven decision making — is this in contrast to ignorance-driven decision making?

It’s possible that the NYT meant these 3 things in a new sense, specific to the Internet? Especially with a phrase such as “Data-driven decision making” I can imagine that the NYT was thinking of something specifically modern, but they should have defined this better; otherwise, what is the point of the article? I’m sure the earliest MBA programs of the 1920s and 1930s felt they were teaching future leaders to use data to make decisions.

There is a germ of an idea in this article, which the writer, Steve Lohr, does not bring out very clearly. At the risk of giving him too much credit, I think he was trying to say that the modern business leader needs to have a much better understanding of what the engineers are doing.

This was the most interesting 2 sentences in the article:

“Today, David B. Yoffie, a professor at Harvard Business School, estimates that a third or more of the 900 students there have experience as programmers, and far more of them have undergraduate degrees in the so-called STEM disciplines — science, technology, engineering or mathematics. “There’s been an extraordinary change in the talent pool,” Mr. Yoffie said.”

I am willing to agree that in the future the leadership of large organizations will want to understand software development better than they do now. I am sure that the botched roll out of Obamacare will be remembered as the most serious self-inflicted injury of the Obama administration (emphasis on “self-inflicted”).

What is the right metaphor for bad software? Computer programmers (such as myself) typically refer to this as “technical debt” but Steve Freeman says the right metaphor is an unhedged Call Option (with no expiration date). This was a good essay on the subject:

As Freeman says:

“The problem with the “Technical Debt” metaphor is that for managers debt can be a good thing. Executives can be required to take on more debt because it makes the finances work better, it might even be encouraged by tax breaks. This is not the same debt as your personal credit card. Chris came up with a better metaphor, the Call Option.”

(Someone in the comments pointed out this was an option with no expiration date.)

I do think the leadership of the future will need to understand this metaphor. They need to understand how much risk they take on when they push the engineering team to hit such demanding deadlines that the programmers feel they must skip well known best practices (such as automated test suites).