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New Business Strategy Certificate Helps Students Become Better Leaders Q&A With Product Manager and Instructor Adam Grupp
New Business Strategy Certificate Helps Students Become Better Leaders Q&A With Product Manager and Instructor Adam Grupp

A good business strategy is at the core of how most businesses grow. While that sounds simple enough, creating and implementing a successful plan that gets buy-in across an organization is no easy feat.   

We spoke with Adam Grupp, a product leader at Microsoft and an instructor for the new UW Certificate in Business Strategy & Decision-Making, about how the program can help managers learn to build and implement successful plans across any industry — and become better leaders in the process.   

What ARE WE TALKING ABOUT WHEN WE TALK ABOUT BUSINESS STRATEGY AND DECISION-MAKING? 

I’ll admit that “strategy” is a bit of a buzzword. But if we can look past that, what we’re talking about is ultimately pretty simple — we’re looking at how managers and leaders build plans, make decisions and get a company or organization to go along with that plan.  

In my experience, the best plans aren’t just well designed, they’re also well implemented — and this is because they have the buy-in across the organization. Learning how to develop all aspects of that process is what we’re focused on in this certificate program.  

WHAT KIND OF EXPERIENCE DO YOU BRING TO THE PROGRAM?

I work in product management and product strategy at Microsoft, and I’ve also been teaching the Certificate in Software Product Management at UW Professional & Continuing Education for about 10 years. I started my professional career as a consultant, and a lot of the strategies we cover in this certificate are things I wish I’d known when I took my first manager job, because I can tell you — I definitely wasn’t prepared for that position.   

This program’s great because it’s a small, focused cohort that lets students really dig deep into the coursework. I wish I’d had access to the materials we cover in this program when I was starting my career. I think that would have had a profound impact on how I viewed decision-making and made me more situationally attuned to things I might have otherwise overlooked.   

HOW DID THE IDEA FOR THIS CERTIFICATE COME ABOUT?  

We’re looking to take some of what we already teach in the Certificate in Software Product Management and distill it into something more universal that reaches beyond the tech industry. We want to offer a program to help people become better leaders, no matter what field they’re working in.  

Good strategies and decision-making are factors for managers in small businesses, large businesses and everything in between. These topics certainly aren’t limited to a specific field or industry, and they apply across all kinds of leadership roles. 

The mindset I bring to this program is very much how we teach product management and product strategy at Microsoft. We begin a project on a whiteboard, where everything is nice and clean. Then we move the discussion into the real world, and from there, begin to anticipate some of the pitfalls and traps that might occur. We want to make a plan that doesn’t just look good on a whiteboard, but actually succeeds in the real world.   

WHAT TANGIBLE SKILLS WILL STUDENTS TAKE AWAY? 

We emphasize project-based learning. We’ve found that giving students a real-world project to work on helps them absorb the materials and gives them an added way to articulate what they’ve learned.   

In this program students will build a plan, implement and manage the plan, and then they’ll be challenged to deal with serious disruptions to that plan. What we’re trying to create are opportunities for people to shape the way they see problems. We encourage students to think about their worldviews with regards to managing disruptions, and we challenge them to reconsider those perspectives.   

By stringing all these things together in a project-based model, students will have opportunities to build that narrative and apply it to a real-life situation. This course will also give them some walking/talking points to show their employer or a prospective employer.   

WHAT IS THE MOST EXCITING ASPECT OF TEACHING THIS CERTIFICATE?  

I’m excited by the prospect of taking what I already do and shaping it into something that can be valuable to an even broader cross-section of our students. I’m excited to work with students who come from a diverse background of industries, organizations and experiences.   

I love seeing our students learn and grow to fill leadership roles successfully. That’s a great experience to be a part of and something I really enjoy about teaching at UW Professional & Continuing Education.   


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