There is no question that covid-19 has affected business throughout New Zealand, but it is the small- and medium-size businesses that have been affected the most. Driven by covid-related behaviours, many SMEs have experienced a significant contraction (if not a total collapse) of their traditional lines of business. (And let’s not forget that 95% of New Zealand’s businesses are SMEs, which are particularly vulnerable to global crises—think about the stock market crash of the late 80s, the GFC in 2008, and now covid-19.)
It is unclear, even with the whole country back in level 1, to what extent (and how quickly) those businesses will bounce back. While we might hope for a V-shaped recovery, it might never happen for some businesses. As an example, a material number of people may continue to work from home, perhaps only coming 'into the office' once or twice a month, rather than enduring the daily commute. Individuals and business have discovered the benefits and the practicalities of working that way. But for many businesses located in town centres—primarily to serve that transient population—their level of pre-covid business activity may never return.
The question these companies are asking themselves is how to grow their business in this volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world. Where are the new markets and new products that they can move into to compensate for, or even exceed, the business they have lost? And how can these products be brought to the market?
Although the challenges may be similar for large and small business, those responsible for business development in smaller organisations face issues and constraints that can be quite different to their larger counterparts. And yet those smaller firms are often able to be nimble in ways large firms find hard to emulate. Having the frameworks and models to understand and navigate our VUCA world is important regardless of the size of the business.
For product managers—who are often at the ‘pointy end’ of business development, what is certain is that a diverse range of skills and capabilities are required to be successful. In our small country, the majority of product managers come to their role from some other area of the firm: having had engineering, scientific or technical roles, for example. Often, they have had little formal training in product management. Many learn on-the-job, figuring out what will work as they go along.
This is just one of the skills gaps addressed by the University of Auckland’s Master of Business Development, a new programme designed for early- to mid-career professionals engaged in business development. It offers a structure within which these professionals can work to lift their performance and their firm’s performance, as well as their value to the company they work for.
The programme combines strategy, product management, innovation, leadership, and marketing. It aims to sharpen participants’ knowledge and skills in customer insight, market assessment, translating business-to-technical requirements, sustainable products, resource allocation, developing business cases, monitoring product performance and many other topics.
While studying the Master of Business Development, participants have the opportunity to step back from day-to-day business and reflect on what’s really happening in the market and in other organisations. They can become more sensitive to market signals and opportunities, putting them a step ahead of their competitors. And they can learn a wider array of methods, techniques and pathways to grow and diversify their business; giving them an advantage during the current situation, and a set of strategies as we move toward a post-covid world.