In September 2022, after a two-year break caused by Covid-19, another cohort of students from QUT’s Executive MBA had the opportunity to visit four organisations in Europe and engage with project complexity at different levels and scales. A distinctive feature of the QUT program since 2008, the International Study Tour is undertaken as the capstone unit in the student’s specialisation in Complex Project Leadership (CPL).
The objective of the two-week International Study Tour is to provide an immersive learning experience that creates the opportunity for students to engage at a senior level and be exposed to how organisations manage the diversity of challenges found in large and complex programs.
Each visit focuses on leadership, strategy, culture, and stakeholder engagement, as a complement to the process, engineering, and operational aspects of project and program management.
Engagement typically occurs over a two-day period and features a range of tailored presentations by senior leaders. The first day concludes with what is called a Red Team Challenge, where the client outlines a problem or issue to which a designated student group responds the following day. The second day usually commences with a site or facility tour before lunch and concludes with the Red Team presentation prepared by the students overnight. The Red Team Challenge has proven valuable to both clients and students. Although demanding in terms of scope and timeframe, it provides students with the opportunity to integrate insight from their engagement with their learning from the program and their aggregate experience and expertise. For clients, the opportunity of an informed outsider’s perspective on a selected topic can provide unique strategic and/or operational value.
This year’s Study Tour commenced in Abingdon England, with a visit to Reaction Engines, and was followed by visits to BAE Naval Ships in Glasgow, Rheinmetall Defence in Unterlüß Germany, and Swiss Federal Rail at the Gotthard Base Tunnel in Bellinzona Switzerland.
Although different every year, the intensity and demanding nature of the Study Tour creates a unique opportunity for real-world insight and experiential learning. This year excluding their long-haul travel, students spent about 70 hours in client engagement and more than 30 hours transiting on coaches, trains, and planes. Host organisations of previous Study Tours have included Her Majesty’s Court and Tribunal Service (HMCTS) at the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) in London; Boeing in Seattle; Huntington Ingalls in Virginia; Airbus Helicopters in Donauwörth Germany; Pilatus Aircraft in Stans Switzerland and Airbus Space in Toulouse France.
Reaction Engines (Abingdon, England)
Reaction Engines is based at the Culham Science Centre in Abingdon England and is a British aerospace company founded in 1989 by ex-Rolls Royce propulsion engineers. Over the years, they have achieved a number of outstanding milestones including the world’s first Mach 5.0 demonstration.
Driven to solve some of the most complex technical problems relating to space and hypersonic flight, they are developing a range of applied technologies with the vision of contributing to net zero emissions.
Across multiple sectors, realising the company motto of “making beyond possible” is sewn into the fabric of the organisational culture.
Hosted by Retired Rear Admiral Simon Henley, the students engaged with a range of business function leads and heard about Reaction Engine’s novel cooler, heat exchange, and thermal management technology, and they were introduced to many of the applied technology solutions under development. Notably, the Mercedes Formula One team is using the cooler technology in a water based precooler to reduce engine heat and improve driving performance.
Another innovation in thermal management comes in the form of Isothermal Foils designed for EV batteries that deliver a tenfold reduction in cell temperature, thereby reducing charge times and increasing battery life. Overall, with teams of engineers working on a range of technology projects related to space and high-speed flight, Reaction Engines are developing applied technologies to meet a broad range of thermal management and emission reduction needs for an array of industry sectors.
Engaging with Reaction Engines provided the students with valuable insight into the processes and challenges of innovation and commercialisation, as well as the complexity of stakeholder and cross-industry engagement in a high-technology development domain.
The Red Team presentation focussed on some of the strategic challenges to executing the business strategy across different lines of business.
BAE Naval Ships (Glasgow, Scotland)
After departing Oxfordshire, the group flew north to Glasgow, the home of BAE naval shipbuilding. Based on the River Clyde, where more than 25 thousand ships have been built since 1712, Glasgow has a long and rich heritage of shipbuilding. BAE is currently building the Type 26 Global Combat Ship, which as the next generation of naval surface combatants is the world’s most advanced anti-submarine frigate. The Australian Navy is procuring nine of these ships under the Sea 5000 program, which as the largest shipbuilding project in Australian history, is the centrepiece of the continuous National Naval Shipbuilding Enterprise.
The group was very fortunate to tour the first-inclass HMS Glasgow that was subsequently launched to sea on December 3rd.
Hosted by Engineering and Academy Director Paul Feeley, the students were provided with a range of presentations covering commercial, strategic, and operational project matters relating to the Type 26 and the broader BAE business. Key insights were provided into the automation processes that support the project and, in addition to the rich discussion around the war on talent and the management of human capital, there was a strong focus on the importance of sustainability and supply chain management, especially in terms of managing sovereign requirements.
A highlight was a presentation from CEO Sir Simon Lister who provided deep and candid insight into organisational culture and the challenges of complex project leadership. Being in Glasgow at this time was unexpectedly more significant with the death of Queen Elizabeth II occurring on the evening prior to our departure for Rheinmetall via London.
The study tour continued on to Germany and Switzerland, see The 13th QUT Executive MBA International Study Tour : Part 2 to follow the journey.
This article was originally published in the quarterly Connect Magazine from the
International Centre for Complex Project Management (ICCPM) in February, 2023.