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HBX Business Blog

How to Tackle Your FY17 Budgets in the New Year

Posted by John Wong on January 4, 2017 at 8:52 AM


For us here at Harvard Business School, budget season coincides with the NFL football season. While the idea of "budget season" may incite a few grunts or rolled eyes, careful budget plannning is an important component of running a business. Read on for important budgeting tips with a football twist!

Budgeting is a Team Sport!

A successful budget manager will need to tackle an organization's operations and engage with functional managers and their teams in order to understand the role of their group along with the work streams and tasks under their responsibility. However, before you start blitzing and tackling your fellow co-workers, it’s a good idea to review your organization's game plan.

What’s the Game Plan, Coach?

Budgets are built for the purpose of measuring and monitoring key activities in pursuit of an organization's goals and objectives. The game plan for many organizations comes in the form of mission statements, or multi-year strategic and financial plans. Before starting on building a budget, an understanding of your organizations goals and objectives is critical to creating a successful plan that will meet your needs.

Do Your Job!

Just like the players on a football team, each team member at an organization plays a specific role. Team members must focus their efforts on the components of an organizations objectives that are more in line with their area of expertise to help move the entire organization toward the goal line. Building a successful budget requires an understanding of these various players, the jobs they are tasked with, and the key metrics that drive them.

For example, what are the work streams that a marketing team is tasked with so that an organization can achieve its goals and objectives? What are the key metrics that drive and impact that work stream? The resulting answers are the building blocks of a budget.

Learn From the Past, But Focus on What's Ahead  

After a big win or loss, most coaches will tell you to shake it off, learn from it, and focus on the next game. Similarly, historical data is essential to building a budget but should be used as a reference point and not necessarily a starting point. Business conditions change rapidly and basing your current budget on historical information can adversely impact budgets within other areas of an organization. 

Huddle Up!

Regular communication is key to the success of a budget. Establish an organizational process to regularly review actual performance against the current budget. This is a critical part of building a successful budget that will allow teams to monitor their performance, re-allocate resources, and shift business priorities. 

Keep in mind that budgets are dynamic, and occasionally the team may need to call a budget audible to update the budget, or rather provide a forecast. Having a review process in place will facilitate the forecasting process and will allow the organization to have updated information to use in their decision making.


About the Author

John is the Associate Director of Finance, Planning & Analysis at HBX primarily focusing on financial planning and reporting for the department. He is a graduate of Northeastern University and has worked throughout his career in the educational publishing and technology space.  In addition to being an avid golfer who has witnessed 3 hole in ones, John is a board member of two local non-profit youth organizations, The Boston Hurricanes and The Business of Doing Good.

Topics: HBX Courses, HBX Insights

Backstage at HBX: Bringing a New Course to Life

Posted by Courtney Kaplan on December 6, 2016 at 10:17 AM


For the past several months, we’ve been hard at work behind the scenes to prepare HBX’s newest course offering on negotiation. Developing a new course is an incredible undertaking – it involves nearly everybody in our 80-person office – from our software engineers who build enhancements to the course platform, to our program service team who handle student applications and enrollment, to our creative team which owns the full multimedia production. In total, the process takes anywhere from nine months to just over a year.

As a member of our content team, I work with Professor Wheeler to research, write, and develop all the materials for the course. This has included everything from developing the course syllabus, writing case studies, building and testing negotiation scenarios, and traveling near and far to interview our panel of negotiation experts.


We initiated course development in February 2016 with a blank whiteboard. While we were fortunate to have years of Professor Wheeler’s course materials, research, and experience to weave into the course, we had to contend with a critical question. We wanted to focus on the ways in which online education could – and should – differ from the HBS classroom experience. Specifically, we sought opportunities to broaden and build upon the classroom learning experience, and did so in a couple ways.

First, we incorporated a broad and diverse range of negotiation perspectives, including 12 expert negotiators and seven Harvard faculty members. Our experts span an incredible range of industry, function, and experience. We traveled to Washington, DC to tour the Smithsonian Museum of American Art and interview the Director of its collections, and then to Florence, Italy to interview the Global Chief Litigator of General Electric’s Oil & Gas Division. In Los Angeles, we spoke with the former FBI Lead International Kidnapping Negotiator. We interviewed entrepreneurs, a mediator, a literary agent, lawyers, businesspeople, strategists, and even a mayor.


Armed with these perspectives, we began our second round of filming. This time, we were in our studio, a professional soundstage near our offices in Allston, MA. As the course syllabus and outline took shape, we developed detailed scripts for Professor Wheeler’s lessons. These lessons are the backbone of the course, but are interspersed with material from our experts, additional faculty, and dozens of interactive teaching elements.

Our last few months have been consumed with finalizing the content and packaging it together. I’ve been working with our creative team to select video clips, which they’ve edited, animated, and brought to life. We’ve also been testing out new teaching elements which were built for the course. These technical enhancements enable students to negotiate live on the HBX course platform, take personality quizzes, and complete negotiation puzzles and games.

Overall, it’s been quite a journey! From all of us at HBX, we’re thrilled to share this incredible new course with you! If you're interested in learning more about Negotiation Mastery: Unlocking Value in the Real World, visit our website here.


About the Author

Courtney is a member of the Course Delivery Team at HBX, focusing on developing courses in Negotiation and Financial Entrepreneurship. She holds a BA in Global Affairs from Yale University. In her free time, she enjoys spending time outdoors and with friends, wandering around libraries, and learning new things.

Topics: HBX Courses

Where to Find Answers to Your Most Pressing HBX Questions

Posted by HBX on August 16, 2016 at 1:42 PM

HBX CORe Platform on a laptop screen

Considering enrolling in an HBX program but still have questions? The HBX team has done a little roundup of existing resources to help you find the answers you've been looking for! 

1. Start With our FAQ Pages

Whether you have questions about course structure, the admissions process, grading, fees, or financial aid, check these pages for answers to dozens of the most common questions we get about our programs:

2. Read Through Facebook Reviews and Past Q&As

We are lucky to have such a rich and supportive community of learners from around the world. Some of them have been kind enough to write up thoughtful reviews of their HBX experiences or join us for Facebook Q&A sessions, answering questions for prospective students. You can read through the entire conversations here: 

3. Learn About Other Past Participants Through Their Student Profiles

“Is this program right for me?” This is a question we hear all the time, but it's a difficult one for us to answer objectively. Often times, what people are really asking is if their educational background, professional goals, interests, or existing skill set will position them for success in an HBX course or if they will find the investment of time, energy, and money to be worthwhile. 

Our Student Profiles are a great resource for anyone who wants to hear firsthand from a variety of past participants about why they chose to participate in our programs, what they hoped to gain from the experience, and how they are using what they learned. 

4. Browse the HBX Blog

The HBX Blog is a place where you can dive a little deeper into the subject areas covered in the HBX programs (i.e. What does Cash Conversion Cycle mean, or why should I study accounting), or for those who want to hear more from students who have participated in an HBX program. Here are a few types of posts you may be interested in:

5. Still have questions? Ask them using #AskHBX on Twitter!

If you've read through these resources and still can't find the answers to some of your burning questions, feel free to ask them on Twitter using #AskHBX. We will keep an eye out for questions and answer as many as we can!

Topics: HBX CORe, HBX Courses, HBX Finance, HBX tips, HBX Disruptive Strategy

To P-Value or Not to P-Value - That is the Question

Posted by Jenny Gutbezahl on May 17, 2016 at 8:22 AM


For centuries, the p-value has been the gold standard of statistical testing. Whether it’s determining whether a specific result is significant, or deciding whether a study is publishable, the science and business communities have used p-values as a main criterion. If the p-value is less than 0.05, we reject the null and conclude that something is going on. If the p-value is greater than 0.05, we fail to reject the null and conclude that there’s nothing to see here; move along.

However, over the past few years, more and more disciplines have been questioning the validity of the p-value. For example, most of the major psychology journals have either stopped using the p-value as a criterion for publication, or have banned its use entirely.

The p-value doesn’t give any indication of how important the results are (that is, it doesn’t measure the magnitude of the effect); it doesn’t even give an indication of how likely it is that the results are due to more than random chance. All a p-value communicates is how likely a result would be IF the phenomenon under review WASN’T there. If you find this confusing, you’re not alone; it’s a very peculiar way of looking at a question.

Let’s take a concrete example. Imagine scientists wanted to find a connection between jelly beans and cancer. They could collect a lot of data about people’s jelly bean consumption habits and the incidence of cancer, and then perform statistical analysis to see if there’s a relationship. Well, spurious correlations are abundant in the real world, so we’d expect at least a slight connection, just by random chance.

The question is: are the patterns we’re seeing in the data GREATER than what we’d expect by random chance. If there were no correlation between jelly beans and cancer, each sample would give a slightly different result, but they’d all be pretty close to showing no relationship. At a certain point, they’d be far enough from showing no relationship that we’d say “Hey, it’s REALLY unlikely that we’d see this if there were no relationship; so there probably is one.”

Usually, our threshold for REALLY unlikely is 0.05. If the null hypothesis were true (if there were no relationship between jelly beans and cancer), we’d only see results this extreme 5% of the time. We consider that unusual enough that we could say, hey! There’s something going on here.

Source: xkcd

This means we would imagine that if we do 20 studies where nothing is going on, we’d expect, on average, that one of the studies would end up statistically significant at p<.05, just by chance. Let’s say we do 20 studies, and three of them end up significant. On average, one of the three is just due to chance, and the other two are the result of an actual phenomenon. However, we have no way to identify the one that is just random chance. Furthermore, a result of p=.04999 and result of p=.05001 are virtually identical; but one is “significant” and the other is not.

This doesn’t mean p-values are worthless. But it does mean that researchers (and consumers of research) need to be thoughtful when interpreting them. A p-value by itself doesn’t tell you much, and simply knowing that a result is “significant” tells you even less. More useful is an estimate of the effect size, or a review of multiple studies looking at the same phenomenon.

To learn more, check out this great post from PLOS.


About the Author

Jenny is a member of the HBX Course Delivery Team and currently works on the Business Analytics course for the Credential of Readiness (CORe) program, and supports the development of a new course in Management for the HBX platform. Jenny holds a BFA in theater from New York University and a PhD in Social Psychology from University of Massachusetts at Amherst. She is active in the greater Boston arts and theater community, and she enjoys solving and creating diabolically difficult word puzzles.

Topics: HBX CORe, HBX Courses, HBX Insights

3 Key Takeaways From Harvard HBX

Posted by Kayla Lewkowicz on April 12, 2016 at 8:31 AM

Kayla Lewkowicz participated in the January 2016 cohort of HBX CORe. This is the final installment of a series of reflections inspired by her experiences. The original post appeared on her blog here, and the whole series is available here.


As my time with my cohort comes to a close, I wanted to pause and reflect on what I learned, and what I'll take with me moving forward in my career. HBX was incredibly time-consuming but ultimately, very rewarding and insightful.

To make a decision, look at all the factors


When you make a decision, you have to know everything that's at stake. Building a team of people that can help you see beyond what you want to see--your inherent bias--is essential to make an informed decision. Economic and market forces, cultural shifts, the political landscape, and how your product is received all impact the financial statements and the data. You can't look at one aspect of your business to know whether or not you're successful, but you do have to know what's most important.

Related: Know What's Most Important

This means that judgment can be more important than data collection or quantitative analysis. Though the numbers may tell one side of the story, they can be just as subjective as survey comments or customer sentiment. As a manager and decision-maker, taking a holistic view of all of the possible data points--qualitative and quantitative--and then looking beyond what the data says to get to the "why," will make you more successful.

Be an experimenter


Rather than going with "what feels right," use data to make a decision.

Most people know this is the right way to do it, but have trouble in practice not because they're data illiterate but because failure is psychologically painful. An experimental mindset--where you're tinkering and tweaking--encourages understanding your customer, your audience, and your performance in a well-rounded way.

Related: When In Doubt, Test & Learning to Experiment

To do this right, we need to ask questions. Experiment. Get curious. Test. Otherwise you'll never learn anything, and never ship products that really innovate.

Relationships matter


Where your business fits in the market matters, because its relationship to other companies matters. As consumers, it's how we figure out what we want; as managers, it's how we know how we're performing. In business, everything is tangled up in so many factors that it's often not clear what's what. After all, you can't find the solution if you don't know the problem.

Related: Kickstart Your Business With Networks & It's All Related

Making decisions isn't always so easy as "because of this, we should do that." Whether that's price, logo, or investing decisions, the world isn't so linear. With such high stakes, we need to separate what's important from what's not, and what's related with what's not. We can do that by experimenting, asking questions, or collecting data. Knowing that relationships matter, and seeking them, helps us make more holistic business decisions (see above) and maybe even predict the future.

Would I recommend HBX?

In short, definitely.

As a liberal arts student with very little in the way of business background, I feel more comfortable and familiar with the language of business. In our quarterly earnings presentation, I understood the CFO for the first time. I've been able to take a new look at social media data and performance for the Twitter handle I manage. And ultimately, I have a better understanding of the principles that make up business decisions.

Interested to know more?

Learn more about HBX CORe  


About the Author

Kayla Lewkowicz participated in the January 2016 cohort of HBX CORe. She is the marketing coordinator for a tech start-up in Cambridge, MA who took CORe to better understand her company. Her reflections on the program can be found on her blog.


Topics: HBX CORe, Student Bloggers, HBX Courses, HBX tips

A Scandal in Black and White

Posted by Jenny Gutbezahl on March 8, 2016 at 11:06 AM


I start everyday by doing a crossword puzzle, and I spend most of each day working on statistics (including supporting HBX CORe’s Business Analytics course). So I was excited when fellow crossword and data lover Saul Pwanson starting compiling a database of crossword puzzles published in various venues since 2003.A couple of weeks ago, puzzlemaker Ben Tausig (who edits the wonderful American Value crossword) noticed something interesting about some of the grids. A statistical analysis confirmed his suspicions: a significant number of puzzles published in USA Today or syndicated by Universal Crossword appeared to have been plagiarized. Interestingly, both the USA Today puzzle and Universal are edited by the same person, Timothy Parker.

Regular solvers know that it’s not unusual to see a specific word show up in multiple puzzles, even words like ETUI or ANILE that rarely show up anywhere else. However, the USA Today and Universal puzzles often contained long phrases that had appeared in previous puzzles. In some cases, almost the entire grid was identical to an earlier puzzle. Overall, more than one in six USA Today puzzles contained 25% or more material that had been published elsewhere. So did more than one in twenty of the Universal puzzles. For comparison, less than one in one thousand New York Times crosswords matched other puzzles that closely.

So far Parker, who is known as the most prolific editor in the crossword world, has denied any wrongdoing. However, the scandal continues to gain steam. Even the normally conflict-averse Will Shortz (editor of the New York Times crossword) has called this “an obvious case of plagiarism.” Interestingly, Parker has taken a sabbatical while his employer, Universal Uclick, investigates.

To learn more about the scandal and how crossword puzzles work, check out this great article by FiveThirtyEight: http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/a-plagiarism-scandal-is-unfolding-in-the-crossword-world/


About the Author

Jenny is a member of the HBX Course Delivery Team and currently works on the Business Analytics course for the Credential of Readiness (CORe) program, and supports the development of a new course in Management for the HBX platform. Jenny holds a BFA in theater from New York University and a PhD in Social Psychology from University of Massachusetts at Amherst. She is active in the greater Boston arts and theater community, and she enjoys solving and creating diabolically difficult word puzzles.

Topics: HBX CORe, HBX Courses, HBX Insights

Harnessing Disruptive Innovation for Long-Term Success

Posted by HBX on February 4, 2016 at 10:05 AM


For two years, HBX Disruptive Strategy with Clayton Christensen has empowered thousands of leaders from diverse industries to bring insight to their most complex challenges. With industry-high consumer ratings, Disruptive Strategy is driving impact all over the world.

Regarding the content of Disruptive Strategy, Professor Christensen says,

“There are times at which it is right not to listen to customers, right to invest in developing lower-performance products that promise lower margins, and right to aggressively pursue small, rather than substantial, markets. This derives a set a rules, from carefully designed research and analysis of innovative successes and failures…that managers can use to judge when the widely accepted principles of good management should be followed and when alternative principles are appropriate.

These rules, which I call principles of disruptive innovation, show that when good companies fail, it often has been because their managers either ignored these principles or chose to fight them.

Managers can be extraordinarily effective in managing even the most difficult innovations if they work to understand and harness the principles of disruptive innovation.”

Whether you're an incumbent protecting your market position or an entrant navigating a new market, Disruptive Strategy will equip you with the tools, frameworks, and intuition to make a difference.

Learn more about HBX Disruptive Strategy with Clay Christensen

Source: Clayton M. Christensen, The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail (Boston: Harvard Business Review Press, 2000).

Topics: Disruptive Strategy, HBX Courses

The Power of Data: Driving Social Change

Posted by Jonathan Williams on February 2, 2016 at 2:32 PM


Data is reshaping how problems are defined and how solutions are developed to address pressing social issues. With the evolution of data-collecting technologies and the ability to apply analytic methods in new areas, unique insights are advancing the common good through data.

These four initiatives use data analytics to bring about positive social impact:

Eliminating Medical Prescription Errors

MedAware uses analytics to search for unusual patterns in medical prescription and diagnosis data that would signal a prescription error. By searching for outliers, MedAware could potentially save lives while also reducing the medical costs associated with prescription errors.

Ensuring Equitable Working Conditions

Laborlink, powered by Good World Solutions, collects data from international factory workers using mobile phone technology. Empowering workers to report their working conditions, Laborlink collects real-time data about wages, safety, and worker satisfaction. Not only are companies better informed with Laborlink, but they can alter their practices based on this new source of data.

Saving Lives with Targeted Campaigns

DataKind, a community of data scientists and organizations, worked with data from the American Red Cross to identify counties in the US that would benefit from smoke alarm installation campaigns. The team’s work combined Red Cross data with other data sets to develop targeted recommendations for delivering the Red Cross program.

Driving Governmental Progress

In HBX’s home city of Boston, local officials are using data to drive government progress. From the data dashboard that hangs in the mayor’s office displaying critical citywide data, to monitoring the city’s trashcans to ensure timely collection, data is helping to build a stronger Boston.

Interested in learning more about data analytics as well as economics and finance?

Learn more about HBX CORe


About the Author

Jonathan is a member of the HBX Course Delivery Team and works on the Business Analytics course for the Credential of Readiness (CORe) program. He has a background in mathematics, statistics, and design.

Topics: HBX CORe, HBX Courses, HBX Insights

Word of the Week: Materiality

Posted by Patrick Healy on January 5, 2016 at 3:13 PM


Materiality. Can you use it in a sentence please? No, it’s not related to the accumulation of physical wealth or some obsession with material possession. That’s materialism. Materiality is a key accounting principle utilized by accountants and auditors as they create a business’s financial statements.

Materiality: an accounting principle which states that all items that are reasonably likely to impact the decision-making of investors must be recorded or reported in detail in the financial statements of the business.

Why does it matter? In essence, materiality is related to significance. Is some transaction or business decision significant enough to warrant reporting to investors or other users of the financial statements? If it is, we say that the information is “material” to the business.

What’s considered to be material will differ based on the size and scope of the firm in question. For example, while a small mom and pop grocer may need to record a small expense for promotional coupons, Whole Foods may not need to record a large one for a similar customer offer. It’s all relative.

Material items can be financial (measurable in monetary terms) or non-financial. So a business might need to report a pending lawsuit to the same degree it reports its revenues. Indeed, of late there has been a big push to include more non-financial material information in financial statements.

For example, with a bigger investor focus on sustainability nowadays, a business might want to include information related to its environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) practices to assure shareholders that the business itself is a “green investment.” In fact, as Professor Robert G. Eccles discusses in a recent HBR article, there has even been talk of creating new accounting standards to better measure material information related to sustainability.

Interested in learning more about materiality and other topics in finance, economics, and business analytics?

Learn more about HBX CORe

Topics: HBX CORe, HBX Courses, HBX Insights

Where Will You Be on Black Friday?

Posted by Bryan Guerra on November 25, 2015 at 2:00 PM

Will you be shopping with the masses or breathing in the crisp fall air outdoors? REI, an outdoor gear company that is also the United States' largest consumer cooperative, is opting out of Black Friday for the second year in a row and encouraging its customers to #OptOutside.


The company is a great example of a retailer that has cracked its consumers’ “job to be done” – to create a retail experience that’s more about a shared community that stands for integrity, transparency, and a love of the outdoors than it is about simply shopping for product. REI has translated this purpose into everything from its product offerings to its promotional strategy.

An estimated 2.7 million people are opting outside this year and at least 275 other organizations, including Google, Subaru and the National Parks Service have joined in on the campaign. For REI's consumers, the Friday after Thanksgiving will be spent outdoors, not inside waiting in line for the next doorbuster sale. Will you be hitting the trails with REI's customers this year?

To learn more, check out Why REI Is Opting out of Black Friday Again This Year from Fortune.com.

Topics: Disruptive Strategy, HBX Courses, HBX Insights