MSIN0020: Strategy by Design


Term 1, 2020/2021; University College London, School of Management

Module official page

Strategic management consists of managerial actions intended to affect business outcomes. This module provides an overview of major approaches to strategic management and an introduction to the use of design thinking and design theory as tools in the practice of strategy.

During the module, students will explore classic strategic management approaches and examine how design thinking supplements some of the limitations of classic strategic management in dealing with uncertain, new, or rapidly changing environments.

This module’s approach

The philosophical position and core content for this module is captured in the following four short essays:

  1. Strategy by design
  2. Goals are the foundation of strategy
  3. Meta-level strategic thinking
  4. Understanding the strategic situation

What alumni say about the module

You are forced to write with concision and clarity. Additionally, you understand how to construct arguments to convince others to do what you want/believe what you say. This is essential in any corporate/business context.”

You will surprise yourself making conclusions you would have not been able to before taking this module. Useful when you are doing a competitor analysis for Scenario Week, for your dissertation, or when researching companies to apply for an internship or graduate scheme.”

Useful for personal or career development, eg writing the personal statement of purpose (applications for masters degree) and being able to use the module’s approach to make a strong argument that I should be in the programs because of my unique set of attributes”

Provided me with a perspective of business I had never tapped before.”

I found many of the frameworks useful for self-development and figuring out what I want to do, personally and professionally. This module gives you very useful tools to understand what your situation is, and what is available to achieve what you really want. “

It helped me to think more critically and make better arguments. As an aspiring entrepreneur I benefit a lot from having taken the module.”


  1. Detailed description of assignments
  2. Rubric for all assignments

A little more detail

This module is for second-year undergraduates in the BA Management Science course at UCL. The course as a whole is ostensibly quantitatively and analytically oriented and highly selective. Over 70% of the students in the course are international.

The module provides an unconventional, almost framework-free overview of business strategy infused with design thinking. The sole graded assignment is a strategic analysis of an organisation of the student’s choice. This assignment entails three short pre-writing assignments (10% of overall grade) and a final paper (70% of overall grade).

Generally, this module freaks students out because it requires them to

  1. Develop a reasoned position supported with evidence …
  2. in the absence of certainty about the correctness of that position …
  3. and relay that position in convincing prose.

Basic teaching logistics

The module is delivered in Term 1 each year. Teaching commitment runs from the last week of September (preparation work) to the first week of January (by which time all grading will be completed). Most actual teaching time is expended in the 11 weeks running from October through mid-December.

There are 8 lecture sessions (I run these) and 2 writing seminars (TFs run these). The total class size will be 81 students in 2020/21, divided into three 27-student seminar groups. Lectures are held collectively (all 81 students) and writing seminars are held in the 27-student seminar groups. TFs don’t need to attend lectures unless they want to.

TF workload is not spread evenly through the term; I’ll explain the patterning below.

What each Teaching Fellow does

Each TF will be assigned one of the three 27-student seminar groups. For the students in that seminar group only, this TF will be responsible for,

  1. Offering advice on choosing an organisation for the written assignments,
  2. Offering advice on the writing and research needed for the written assignments,
  3. Running two writing seminars,
  4. Grading written assignments.

Just to be clear, each TF will only be responsible for the 27 students in his/her assigned seminar group.

More about the work

Before reading on, it will probably help to take a look at the detailed description of the writing assignments and the grading rubrics. Due dates shown in these documents have not been updated for the 2020/21 delivery but are approximately indicative.

Office hours

Most non-grading work should be done through weekly office hours (2 hours each week per TF, at times to be determined by each TF). These weekly office hours are for students in each TFs assigned seminar group to discuss the written assignment.

I generally hold office hours as drop-in group sessions.

Advising on the written assignments

TFs can expect questions from their students on

  1. Choosing an organisation to focus on;
  2. Articulating motivation and general applicability of an analysis of chosen organisation;
  3. Developing an arguable thesis;
  4. Brainstorming appropriate types of data to support chosen argument;
  5. Gaining access to data;
  6. Analysing data in support of argument;
  7. Structuring data and exposition for effective argumentation.

I recommend talking through these questions only in group office hours instead of responding to individual student emails; individual TFs have discretion in deciding how they will advise students.

Running the writing seminars

There are two writing seminars, one in the week A1/A2 come due and the other in the week A3 comes due. Writing seminars last for two hours and are always on Fridays; exact weeks are still to be determined.

TFs are responsible for

  1. Grading student assignments before the two writing seminars (NOTE: this is a tight grading turnaround of 1.5 days, but A1/A2 and A3 are short.)
  2. Running both writing seminars during which students discuss their work with each other. TFs have discretion in designing and running these seminars to achieve three goals:
    • Highlight problems common across how students have approached the assignments
    • Make the students themselves identify these problems.
    • Make students offer suggestions on how to resolve the problems they have found in the assignments.

My recommended writing seminar format is as follows:

  1. Select a few illustrative pieces of student work, particularly those weak in areas that other students in the seminar group are weak in.
  2. Remove identification from these pieces of work and distribute to other students accompanied by the grading rubric.
  3. Run the seminar as a discussion of these illustrative pieces of work, driven by students evaluating the work against the issued rubric.
  4. A structure that has worked for me in the past:
    • Seminar 1: Choose 3 pieces each for A1 and A2, discussing each piece for 8-10 minutes
    • Seminar 2: Choose 6 pieces for A3, discussing each piece for 10-12 minutes

Grading written work

TFs are responsible for grading the three prewriting assignments (A1, A2, A3) and the final assignment. Students submit all assignments through a submission service called Turnitin hosted on an instructional platform called Moodle. Grading is done in Turnitin using an electronic version of the respective grading rubrics; TFs are also expected to provide brief comments at their discretion.

Work pattern

A1/A2 and A3 are due in the middle of the term and have very tight grading turnarounds.

The final assignment is due in early December (exact date still to be determined). Grading must be completed within 12 days of the due date to accommodate review and other UCL-mandated processes. I aim for TFs to complete grading before Christmas, for everyone’s sanity—but sometimes we slip for unavoidable reasons. After receiving TF grades, I double-grade the bottom 35% and the top 5% of assignments before sending a sample of assignments to the module’s internal examiner for approval.


The compensation level is currently being set—I’ll update as soon as it is confirmed.