Analytical decision making with spreadsheets with Sudhakar Deshmukh

February 13, 2013

When you apply for an MBA you are in for the whole ride; if you stop during those two years or when you fail some of the first year mandatory courses and never redo them you will end up with a very expensive set of attended individual courses and no title to show for. And how much are those individual courses worth? They are probably worth something but not the 60,000 baht you have to pay for each and every one of them.

One of the few courses I am happy to pay for

One of the few courses I am happy to pay for

There are a few exceptions though; courses that give you skills or insights that might be so useful that you would be willing to pay 60,000 baht to just attend that course without earning your MBA at the end of the road or having the whole MBA experience. One of those courses, in my view, is “Analytical decision making with spreadsheet” with professor Sudhakar Deshmukh. My years of experience in the investment management industry in The Netherlands have taught me the importance of being skilled in Microsoft Excel, so whenever you get the chance of learning how to effectively use this program I would recommend you to grab it with both hands, as did Professor Larry Gorman earlier in our year (actually he advised to get skilled in any programming language, but I think Excel is one of the most widely used in companies and the easiest to learn).

Professor Deshmukh teaching at Sasin

Professor Deshmukh teaching at Sasin

This course does not teach you the basics of Excel though, as those skills are assumed present already when you register for this course. What it does teach you is how to approach a problem and after analyzing it how to effectively put all the requirements and constraints in Excel so a program like Solver can help you give the optimal outcomes. In practice this means that after reading a case, which normally does not cover more than one page, we first go to the blackboard to write down what was given in the case and what we are looking for. Some dummy numbers are filled in, some calculations are done, and when possible we even find the optimal solution already without using Excel. Next we just copy everything from the blackboard into Excel and let Solver confirm we indeed have found the optimal solution. The tendency to immediately start working in Excel is suppressed this way and while it seems really annoying in the beginning you will start seeing the value of working out the problem on paper quickly.

He wanted it on one page, so he got it on a huge page.

He wanted it on one page, so he got it on a huge page.

The method of teaching has some downsides like that you need to pay continuously close attention because if you miss one step in Excel you might not be able to perform any of the following steps being explained during the rest of the day. As far as I know nobody experienced this issue though, something that was probably also helped by the fact that we not only got the data for each case discussed in class in Excel format but also the answers and worksheets he had created himself with the complete model we would build in class. It seems like a strange method to give people the complete model first and then try to let them pay attention in class when we will build that model again, but it did work, something that can be contributed to the teaching style and systematic approach to each problem of professor Deshmukh.

No exams, but a lot of group assignments to make up your grade

No exams, but a lot of group assignments to make up your grade

Unlike normal courses there is no exam for this course. Instead we form groups of 3 in the first class and hand in reports on assigned problems during the weeks this course runs. The good thing about this is that it forces you to keep up with what is going on in class to have something to contribute to your group and there is no peak in study efforts near the end of the term coinciding with the peak in efforts of every other course you are doing. Downside is that the workload is probably a lot higher now that it is spread out, something that became apparent the morning we had to hand in the second assignment and at least 12 classmates had spent the night at Sasin to finish the assignment on time. So you are warned when you pick this course!

Setting up our own problem and analysis.

Setting up our own problem and analysis.

Practicing to present our own problem and solution.

Practicing to present our own problem and solution.

On the last day of class we presented a problem we constructed ourselves, and the solution. This class was by far the least interesting since everybody is very interested in their own presentation and problem, but nobody is interested in the things another group did. But hey, we already learned so much during this course that one day of gazing at the ceiling would not hurt that much.

For questions/remarks you can contact me at: eric@stuckinthailand.com

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