Content and Format Guidelines for the Strategic Analysis Program Paper
The goal of the SAP project is to write a paper that analyzes the industry and the company and develops recommendations that will improve the competitive position of the firm. In order to do this your group will have to demonstrate an understanding of your firm’s current competitive position, an awareness of how the industry is changing and what opportunities are being created by that change, and insight into what your firm needs to do remain or become competitive going forward. Note that the emphasis is on a group or team project, not a group of individual papers stapled together. You must work together as a group to produce a paper that reflects a collective effort.
The SAP project consists of a paper and a presentation. The specific content requirements of the paper will be discussed below and presentation guidelines will be reviewed later in the semester. Both sets of guidelines are posted on Blackboard.
You will work in teams to develop those papers and will be graded as a group (for specific point allocations, see paper evaluation form). Individual grades will be determined through the use of group and individual peer evaluations. In order to assess performance of all team members, each student will complete a peer evaluation form after turning in each of the three major sections of the paper and after both the class and client presentations. Thus, performance will be assessed five times during the semester. You will submit your peer evaluation assessments online via CATME. Grades for assignments will not be released until all group members complete CATME for all assignments.
The SAP paper should include the following sections and be organized as follows:
A Table of Contents with page numbers for each of the following sections should be included to facilitate access to each of these sections
Executive Summary: The Executive Summary summarizes the key findings of each of the major sections of your paper (the external analysis, the internal analysis, and the recommendations). The reader should be able to get a complete picture of your paper by reading the Executive Summary. It should be single-spaced and not exceed two pages. The Executive Summary should be written last and turned in only with the Final Draft.
General introduction to the paper: The general introduction should provide a brief introduction and clearly set up the outline and content of the rest of the paper.
Industry (External) Analysis (content discussed below)
Company (Internal) Analysis (content discussed below)
Recommendations (content discussed below)
General conclusion: the general conclusion should summarize the key points from each section.
The three major sections on which the SAP paper is based are: 1) an industry analysis, 2) a company analysis and 3) recommendations how that company can improve its competitive position. The content for each of the major sections follows.
The first major section of the paper is the External/Industry Analysis. The goal of this section is to identify relevant opportunities and threats. Please note that this section is about the industry and not your company. You may refer to your company to illustrate a point but you should discuss the actions of other firms in the industry as well.
You should have a brief introduction to this section that explains the analysis and identifies the subsections of the Industry Analysis. Each section that has multiple parts should also have a brief introduction. You want to guide the reader through your paper.
The section should include five subsections (clearly titled):
Before starting the analysis, you must first clearly identify the industry (SIC or NAIC code?) and use that code or your industry definition and describe the economic characteristics of the industry. For example, you should address:
Market size (sales)
Sales growth rate
Stage of the life cycle (of the industry)
Types of products sold (For example, are products highly differentiated, weakly differentiated or very similar products? On what basis do products differ?)
Variations in sales – are sales affected by business cycles? Are they seasonal?
What do profit margins for the industry look like?
Scope of rivalry (local, regional, national, global)
Key competitors in the industry (who are key competitors (name names!)? where are they? What size are they? Is competition fragmented or consolidated?). You must identify competitors and identify criteria and compare them to each other based on that criteria
You should identify the key success factors (KSF) for the industry. What are the critical factors that determine whether a firm will be successful in this industry? What must a firm deliver to be successful? You should identify 3-5 factors that are unique to being successful in this industry and give examples of companies that illustrate each key success factor. Be specific how you know these factors are important to be successful.
Don’t try to cover everything a company needs to do to be successful (i.e. make a good product, hire good employees, make money….) but try to focus on what is unique to being successful in this industry. What differentiates the successful and not so successful companies?
The third part is to discuss structural forces affecting industry profitability using Porter’s 5 Forces analysis. If one of Porter’s Five Forces is not important in this industry then you do not need to discuss that force. Nevertheless, you should mention in the introduction to the section what the five forces are and indicate which forces aren’t relevant (and why) and which forces will be addressed.
Be sure to utilize your research to demonstrate with concrete examples how strong forces negatively affect profitability or how particularly weak forces create an opportunity for increased profitability. You need to show how buyers, suppliers, new entrants, competitive rivalry or substitutes have negatively affected profit margins or how they help increase profit margins.
The fourth step is to identify and discuss driving forces or macro environmental trends (economic, social, demographic, legal/regulatory, ecological, and technology) that are creating opportunities or threats to industry growth. Again, focus on the trends that are impacting this industry. If ecological trends aren’t important, for example, don’t force them into your paper.
Again the use of research is critical to clearly demonstrate how these trends are creating growth opportunities or threats to future growth.
Conclude this section with a summary of the opportunities and threats for the industry. You should include all opportunities and threats you have identified and discussed throughout this section (i.e. in the KSF, Five Forces Analysis or in the Trend Analysis).
First, develop a bulleted list of opportunities and threats. The list should not contain any opportunities that you did not include in your analyses of KSF, Porter’s 5 forces or trend analysis.
Then, create a table that weights each opportunity and threat in terms of importance to the company’s performance and in terms of how well they are managing each opportunity and threat. You need to make sure you explain the table to the client in the text. Otherwise the client will not know how to interpret the table.
Please note that this section is about the industry and not your company. You may refer to your company to illustrate a point but you should discuss the actions of other firms in the industry as well.
The second major section is the Internal/Company Analysis. The goal of this section is to identify strengths and weaknesses of your company relative to competitors.
You should have a brief introduction to this section that explains the analysis and identifies the subsections of the Company Analysis. Each section that has multiple parts should also have a brief introduction. Again, you want to guide the reader through your paper.
This section should include five subsections (clearly identified):
Similar to the industry section, begin this section out with some introductory information. Provide a brief description of the company that should:
describe what the company does (what are its products or services)
identify who customers are
address where they operate
define firm size (sales and number of employees)
identify the year company founded & describe its growth history.
Clearly identify the mission of the company. If the company does have a mission statement, evaluate its effectiveness (does it address all the components we discussed a mission should?).
If the company does not currently have a mission statement, note that as a weakness. You should plan to write one for the client and include it in the recommendations section (not here).
Assess Performance: (3 steps)
What is the company’s generic strategy and is it implemented well? Provide a brief listing of reasons why the company fulfills its strategy (what functional level strategies do they use?).
If the current strategy is not clear or not implemented well, discuss that and give examples of implementation problems. You can more fully discuss the success or shortcomings of the company in the VRIO or value chain analysis. You should propose how the company can better clarify and develop their strategy in the recommendations section.
How well does the company meet the key success factors you identified in the external/industry analysis? You must refer back to the list of key success factors you identified in the industry analysis and evaluate your company on those factors. Provide specific examples of what your company does to fulfill the KSF and/or examples of what competitors do as well or better.
As you may cover some of content raised in this section later in the VRIO analysis or the value chain analysis, you can briefly address whether the company fulfills the key success factor, note your reasons and refer the reader to the section where this may be more fully discussed later in the company analysis.
Conduct a financial analysis. In addition to looking at sales growth rates for the last three years, this analysis should include analysis using the four types of financial ratios for the same three-year period. Also include the numbers for the industry or for a company you are suing to benchmark your company against.
Don’t just crunch the numbers here, you want to also analyze the trends and try to explain what is contributing to these trends. Do not simply present the numbers, you need to discuss their implications. You can summarize the financial results in the text and put many of the tables in the appendix. You may want to include some key graphs in the text to support or emphasize a point.
Identify resources and capabilities of the firm and evaluate them using the VRIO analysis. You have two basic approaches you can use to analyze resources and capabilities:
One approach is to categorize resources and capabilities into four categories (physical, human, organizational, and financial) and assess each of these four resources and capabilities on each of the VRIO dimensions (value, rareness, imitability, organization). First, clearly define and discuss each of the four categories and then rate all the resources and/or capability in each of the four categories. A table using listing the resources with each of VRIO table is not sufficient. The table only summarizes your discussion.
If you use this approach, you do not repeat the financial analysis in this section. For financial resources focus more whether the financial resources that the firm has at is disposal is sufficient to develop/pursue opportunities and sustain operating performance. Look at cash flow, access to capital, and assets that may reflect a source of a financial resource.
By applying these VRIO dimensions to various resources and capabilities, the competitive implications of each resource and capability should be identified and the nature of each strengths and weaknesses noted. Core competencies that lead to a competitive advantage are those resources and capabilities that meet all four VRIO criteria
See the Barney (1995) article for additional information on this approach.
An alternative approach is to utilize a value chain approach to classify strengths and weaknesses. To do this you will need to:
Define what the value chain of your company looks like. If the traditional value chain does not reflect the activities of your company, you may have to redefine the value chain to reflect what your company does.
Discuss and evaluate firm performance at each stage in the value chain (organizational infrastructure, human resource management, technology development, procurement, inbound logistics, operations, outbound logistics, marketing and sales, and service)
Decide whether this value chain activity represents strength or weaknesses by applying the VRIO dimensions (value, rareness, imitability, organization).
See the Duncan, Ginter, and Swayne (1998) article for additional information on the value chain approach.
Regardless of whether you use resources and capabilities or the value chain approach, you must make sure that you demonstrate how performance is affected. Demonstrate how a resource, capability, or value chain activity is a strength or weakness. Does the resource/capability/value chain activity hurt performance? Does it hurt efficiency? Does it weaken corporate culture? How do you know this is a strength or weakness????
You must include information on what successful competitors or other firms in the industry do in order to demonstrate that the resource/capability/value chain activity is a strength or weakness. Can you give examples of what other companies successfully do by comparison?
Conclude this section with a summary of the strengths and weaknesses you have already identified and discussed throughout this section. Specifically:
First develop a bulleted list of strengths and weaknesses that summarizes what you covered in the section of the company analysis (mission, KSF, performance assessment or evaluation of resources and capabilities/value chain activities).
Then, create a table that weights each strength and weakness in terms of importance to the company’s performance and in terms of how well they are managing each strength and weakness. You need to make sure you explain the table to the client in the text. Otherwise the client will not know how to interpret the table.
The third major section of the paper is the Recommendations. These recommendations should reflect what your group thinks the company can do to improve its competitive position.
This section should have three subsections:
Start this section out by reviewing the critical strategic issues facing the firm. This is where the SWOT analysis comes together since these strategic issues should be based on your previously identified opportunities, threats, strengths and weaknesses at the end of the external and internal analyses.
In order to do this you will create a table in which basically highlights the most important opportunities and threats in the industry analysis and the most important strengths and weaknesses in the company analysis.
Based on the summary table, offer clear and realistic recommendations in order of priority. Explain why you are making the recommendation (for each recommendation: what opportunity, threat, strength or weakness are you trying to address?) and be specific about what you are recommending that the firm do. The recommendation must be tangible not a theoretical idea the firm might want to consider.
Remember that a strategic recommendation must be valuable to the company. It must either generate new revenue or reduce costs. You are working with a real company with real problems. Your recommendations must therefore be practical and realizable and based on a thorough and meaningful analysis. That is, the firm should be able to act on your recommendations to improve its bottom line.
Each recommendation must also be supported by an Action Plan. Prioritize recommendations and address what (specifically) must be done to implement recommendations. This includes:
what are the actual steps needed to implement these recommendations?
who will take these actions?
what is the time frame to implement each recommendation?
what resources (including how much money) will be need to be allocated to the implement the recommended change?
Where possible, include information about names of companies that may help the client implement your recommendations. For example, if you are recommending a new or different web page, include the names of web designers the firm might call and provide cost information.
Conclude this section with a summary of your recommendations. This summary should include an overall time line for implementation of all your recommendations. What should the firm do and when?
Incorporate “hard” data in your analysis where appropriate. General and qualitative statements must be supported by specific data from your research and you must cite the source of your supporting data. The source of your data is not the web site address. In the references you can supply the address but cites should consist of the author and page number (or the title and the page number if no author is available) and should immediately follow the information you referenced. If you prefer to use footnotes or endnotes that is also acceptable but be consistent throughout the paper.
If you do use footnotes or endnotes, you still must include an alphabetical list of references at the end of the paper. Check various style guides, pick one and use it consistently throughout your list of references. In general, references should contain the author, the title of the article, the name of the publication, and the date the article was published. Do not include sources on your reference list if you do not cite them in your paper.
I urge you to be careful with cites. You must cite your sources for ideas that are not your own and are not general knowledge. Also, be careful to give credit where you directly include quotes from other sources but avoid overuse of quotes. Do not use quotes that are 4 or 5 lines long. You should be able to paraphrase and synthesize the opinions and research of others.
Again, in addition to cites throughout the paper, a complete list of references should be included at the end of the text but before the appendix.
Papers must be well organized. This means you should have a general introduction that clearly states what the paper is about and each of the three sections should have an introduction with a well-defined thesis statement that serves to guide the reader through each section.
I strongly urge you to use headings for the three major sections of the paper and headings for the various subsections within the industry and company reports. Use topic sentences within sections to further organize and present your position and don’t be afraid to use paragraphs!
A detailed Table of Contents is also required.
Be concise, specific, and grammatically correct in your statements. Do not forget to read the final report for form and content. Do not just rely on “spell check”. Pay particular attention to:
The thesis statement and a well-organized paper.
Paper format. Following the organization established in the introduction, use headings and paragraph breaks to make the paper easy to follow and read.
Overuse of possessives (its, their). Relate your comments to the company or the top managers.
Subject-verb agreement (they have vs. they has)
If you need help with your writing, I will be happy to provide guidance or I can refer you to the Saunders Writing Center.
The body of the report must be written in narrative form using complete sentences (i.e., not in an outline format). Bullets and other formatting techniques may be used sparingly.
Please number the pages.
Papers must be word-processed and look professional. You are encouraged to use the available database, spreadsheet, and graphics programs in the preparation of the report and exhibits. Drafts of the paper can be stapled together but for the final version (the version to be delivered to the client), please do not bind your project. We will provide leather three-ring binders with brass nameplates for each client.
An unlimited number of appendices are allowed but the exhibits must be your own tables and graphs. Do not photocopy tables from other sources to include in your report or attach articles in the appendix. Exhibits, which should be mostly located in the appendix, must be clearly titled (i.e. “EXHIBIT 1: Company Sales Trends) and reflect the source of the information in the exhibit. You must reference the exhibits in the body of your report. Do not just add information in the appendix that has not been discussed in the text.
A suggested order for the paper: Cover page, Table of Contents, Executive Summary, Text, References, and Appendix. While some charts or tables may be helpful in the text, for the most part, exhibits (tables and graphs) belong in an appendix – not in the text.
Submission policy: Every written assignment must be submitted at the beginning of class on the day that they are due. Late papers are not acceptable. A 10% penalty will be levied for each 24 hour period after the due date.
Your reputation, my reputation, and the reputation of the Sykes College of Business, are influenced by the quality of the products and services that we provide our SAP clients. Your projects must demonstrate expertise in analytical thinking, mastery of content, and be professionally written to ensure a passing grade. Ill-conceived and poorly written projects will not be given to the client and will result in the group members not passing the course. Since these organizations will rely on your work, unprofessional work will not be accepted. The final drafts are due in the next-to-last week of the semester. The paper will be returned the following week for final edits. If the paper does not meet professional requirements, the project will not be released to the client and the team members must repeat the course.
You are free to draw upon a number of data collection methodologies. For example, you may use a list of questions that you would ask the top management team of a company, or you may develop a set of surveys for identifying critical issues, etc.
Our clients exist in a competitive environment. All team members will be required to sign a non-disclosure agreement with the client. That is, you are not allowed to divulge your findings to anyone outside your team, myself, or the business you are assessing. Any disclosure outside these limits without the permission of the client would be an extreme violation of business ethics and may be subject to legal action.
The final draft of the paper will be evaluated on how well you demonstrate the following:
An understanding of the organization’s industry and the key structural factors affecting the organization and its industry as well as trends in those factors.
An understanding of the organization’s internal strengths and weaknesses (including financial analysis).
An ability to identify significant strategic issues: Did your team sort through the data and find the critical issues that needed to be resolved?
The formulation of high quality and useful recommendations: will management be able to take meaningful action based on your short and long term recommendations?
The development of an appropriate and thorough implementation plan: did you provide sufficient details provided, specify a time horizon, and thoughtfully consider available resources and constraints?
Well developed research capabilities: did the team support analysis with research? Was the team resourceful in identifying and gathering of data (e.g., on-line, CD-ROM, library resources, interviews, etc.)?
Insightful analysis (beyond description) that correctly applies/utilizes course concepts and analysis tools.
Mechanics: Organization, grammar, spelling, writing quality, presentation quality (i.e. graphs, charts, overall appearance and creativity) and references.
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