The Fuqua Client Consulting Practicum (FCCP), a hallmark program at our business school, is an experiential learning opportunity where students work on a team to solve a real-world problem with a client. Being a firm believer of the “learn by doing” principle, I applied for the program as soon as the application went live and got selected to be on a team. My team was composed of an analytics professional, a federal government lead, a brand manager, and me—a management consultant. Given the diverse professional backgrounds and range of experience, the group instantly sensed we would make a great learning team.
Our project was with MiracleFeet, a non-profit clubfoot brace provider based in Chapel Hill, which is just down the road from Durham. For those unfamiliar with clubfoot, it is a congenital birth defect that causes one or both feet to turn inward and upward. It’s one of the most common birth defects and occurs in approximately 1 out of 800 births around the world.
We opened the first phase of the project by exploring the client situation and aligning on the project scope. During our kickoff meeting, the client briefed us on its operational issue with brace shipment. Given the sheer volume of its partner clinics (124 clinics in 25 countries) and increasing demand for braces, MiracleFeet has encountered challenges with delivering braces on time.
Our team began with brainstorming potential ideas and hypotheses that may address MiracleFeet’s operational challenge, such as establishing in-region storage or partnership for shipment sharing with an NGO. Starting with the hypotheses was helpful because it allowed us to structure our work plan around testing the hypotheses. We scheduled weekly internal meetings to discuss project progress, assign work, and prepare materials for client meetings.
In addition, we worked with our faculty advisor, Alden Zecha, whose coaching was valuable because of his previous consulting experience and insights from advising numerous clients in the health care industry. Alden encouraged us to take a proactive role in driving the project work and mainly engaged us when we requested his guidance. Because of this working relationship, we were challenged to think more independently and critically about our work and priorities. One of my key learnings from Alden is the power of anticipating potential questions from the client and doing the necessary due diligence to find the answers ahead of time.
My favorite part of the project came when we traveled to Nicaragua to visit the clinics that use MiracleFeet’s braces. There, we met with the doctors, clinical staff, and patients. It was heart wrenching to see many faces of the children patiently waiting for their turns in the hallway. We learned that some patients and their parents often travel for hours to get to the clinic and get on the waitlist to see a doctor, with no guarantee to see one the same day. Hence, it was crucial to have sufficient braces in stock to ensure patients receive their treatments in a timely manner. Otherwise, the patients would need to return another time and that can be an indefinite while for some.
We were inspired when witnessing the clinic staff laboriously working on casting a child’s fragile foot in the middle of a sweltering day. It became evident in our minds that our project was no longer a mere academic class. Our project became a mission when we realized we can be the ones to help make a difference in these children’s dreams to be able to walk on their own two feet as quickly as possible.
After 5 months of arduous work, research, number crunching, and numerous meetings, we produced our final deliverable. We landed on our final recommendation after pressure testing the various hypotheses and considering MiracleFeet’s current situation and resources. We also delivered potential risks and mitigation plans associated with our recommendations as well as areas for future considerations, such as a product design idea to make it more user friendly. Once again, kudos to Alden for pushing us to go the extra mile to create value for the client.
The client expressed their gratitude for our work and committed to executing the implementation plan we provided. I recall the client mentioning during the final presentation that one of our immediate impacts was highlighting the need for MiracleFeet to drive operational improvements, and thus our recommended initiatives would be prioritized.
Reflecting on my experience, I think the value of FCCP really depends on what you make of it. I certainly got what I was looking for. While most of my teammates were looking to get their first exposure to consulting through FCCP, I was intentional about developing my leadership and team management skills through the experience. Having an open discussion at the beginning of the project allowed us to set expectations about our respective development goals, and we committed ourselves to supporting those. Throughout the project, my team encouraged me to manage the project plan, delegate work, and lead key client meetings.
While I highly recommend FCCP to any aspiring business school student who believes in learning by doing, I should caution that FCCP may not be for everyone. Undoubtedly FCCP will add significant workload to your already demanding MBA journey. Sometimes you may question why you signed up for such extra commitment. But if challenges excite you and you are eager to learn from doing meaningful work with the support of awesome faculty advisor and teammates who will push you every day, then I say throw your hat in the ring!