When Coca-Cola Southwest Beverages wanted to use big data to measure the growth potential of their customers, they turned to Tico Han and Sydney Mo (both MBAn ’21) to help them develop an action plan. Through their seven-month Analytics Capstone Project, these recent grads applied what they learned in the classroom to build an innovative model that can generate big impact.
What was your background in analytics before starting the Master of Business Analytics program?
Tico: I graduated from Emory University with a BA in mathematics. Before entering the Master of Business Analytics program, I worked as a business analyst at a startup for two years.
Sydney: I studied statistics at the University of Michigan and minored in business, and then came directly to the MBAn program to combine my skills in data science with business.
How did you two become partners for the Analytics Capstone Project?
Sydney: During the fall semester, we worked together on a project for our Analytics Edge class. Tico brought so much creativity to that project. So when she asked me to be her partner for the Capstone project, it was easy to say yes!
Tico: Sydney had some knowledge I didn’t have, like machine learning, and I thought our skills would complement each other well. We also had the same industry interests, which ended up being important, because we spent so much time together on this project.
How did you learn about the project options and companies?
Tico: During IAP in January, we reviewed the participating companies’ proposals and had an information session where representatives from each company pitched their projects. We were interested in the consumer goods industry, so that helped us narrow our choices to a smaller range of companies.
What did the interview process look like, and how did you get matched with Coca-Cola Southwest Beverages?
Tico: The interview process gave us a taste for what it would be like to interview with different companies in the future. Some companies conducted interviews like consultants, giving us a case study and technical questions. Others were more behavioral, wanting to know how we worked with each other, and some were more focused on the project itself.
Sydney: All of the companies asked us why we were interested in their specific project. We were really interested in Coca-Cola, so we came to the interview with some ideas sketched out for how we might tackle the project.
What challenge did you address in your project with Coca-Cola Southwest Beverages?
Sydney: Coca-Cola wanted to find the sales potential of their customers—retailers like convenience stores and supermarkets. Our goal was to identify the potential room to grow for customers and how much the company could sell at each customer’s maximum level.
Tico: The cool thing for me was how innovative this was. Usually, companies are interested in sales forecasts, but we went beyond the forecast to ask, “What is the future potential?” This allowed our company to adjust its game plan for allocating limited resources based on sales potential.
How did you tackle this question over the course of seven months?
Tico: We had specific milestones to hit throughout the project. In the beginning, we focused on planning and ideation. Our company representatives planned a well-rounded onboarding process that helped us understand their true need and come up with innovative ideas.
In the development phase, we primarily worked with the analytics team, but they also introduced us to other teams in the company. We then finished the coding. The last month, we focused on handover and measuring success.
You had the opportunity to work with the company onsite. How was that experience?
Sydney: We traveled to Dallas twice to meet the team in person. Through our talks with the sales manager, who was the final user of our analysis, we learned more about what the company wanted from us and how we could improve our model and handovers.
Tico: It was so rewarding to put ourselves in Coca-Cola’s shoes. We walked aisle to aisle with the sales reps, touching the cans in the production line and seeing how a Coke is made. Visiting the team made the experience so much more flavorful!
What challenges did you face during the project?
Sydney: The validation of our product was hard. Our goal was to find sales potential, but we couldn’t actually prove the model’s results. So we ended up finding alternative ways to calculate the impact of our project and then ran a simulation to compare the results.
Tico: Another challenge was the complexity of decision-making. This project was much more complex than other class projects I’d done, because we had to factor in so many stakeholders and business considerations.
Each Capstone team works with an MIT faculty advisor throughout the project. Who did you work with?
Tico: Professor Barnett was so supportive and brought fun and humor to the process. He met with us bi-weekly to check on our progress and offer suggestions. When we encountered an obstacle, he advised us on how to approach it. Most importantly, he helped us to consider our stakeholders and communicate effectively in business settings.
Did the project have an impact on your career choices?
Sydney: The Capstone project helped me to transition from school to my current job as a data science consultant at Accenture. I not only learned how to apply data science, but also how to talk with clients and align with people from different areas of the company. This gave me so much confidence.
Tico: I’m currently a data scientist in New York City. The Capstone gave me the chance to conduct a self-initiated project, which inspired me to have bigger ambitions. I also have the important job of being a mom. This experience proved that I can balance my family life and career, and have a whole new mindset in my job.
Any advice for future students embarking on the Analytics Capstone Project?
Sydney: Your company representatives are your mentors throughout the project, so talk to them and learn from them! I really appreciated the opportunity to work with them while still being a student.
Tico: I used to have the perception that everyone expected me to have all the answers, but in fact, they didn’t. My advice is to be brave enough to admit what you don’t know so people can teach you. That is how you will grow.