Careful, precise and comprehensive planning is the key to success. Having known the importance of planning, I carefully planned my project with a step by step approach.
The first step at this stage was the analysis of my strengths and weaknesses in order to decide the topic of my research project. I have always been interested in stock markets and business analysis of companies. This interest helped me learn more about business and financial analysis of companies and the different ways by which their financial performance and position can be analysed.
The next important step was the formulation of a strategy as to how I would carry out the task in hand i.e. How to conduct the research? When to start? And most importantly whom should I choose as a mentor?
In regards to the selection of a suitable mentor the article titled “Making the most of your Mentor” by Pippa Riley (11th August, 2005) published on ACCA website proved to be a life saver. I gave it a deep thought and after carefully considering all my options I chose my mentor to be my tutor Mr Muhammad Yasser Naqvi Syed, who is a Member of ACCA. A person who has helped me a great deal since the day I joined ACCA and has been a role model for me over the years.
After concluding my decision I approached my mentor and I was extremely delighted when he accepted to be my mentor and guide me through the project.
2. Meetings with Mentor
The role of Project Mentor is of great significance in the success of a research project.
I had my first meeting with my chosen mentor on 5th January 2010, just after December 2009 ACCA examinations. In that meeting I introduced my mentor to the topic I had chosen and the reason behind my selection. I told him about my strategy and the means and methods I intended to use. I was confident that I had properly communicated the reasons and objectives of the topic I chose and my mentor seemed to be satisfied with my choice and strategy. Furthermore, I sought his advice on the matters such as research methods and we had a fruitful discussion.
All in all, the first meeting was highly successful and cemented my ideas showing me a clear path to my objective. After my first meeting I was much more confident as I had a clear direction towards preparing the project.
Our second meeting was scheduled for 12th March 2009. Before the meeting I reviewed my project at every stage and tried to make sure that there are no spellings or grammatical mistakes and after that I sent the completed part to my mentor for reviewing the progress. I also noted all the feed back from my mentor and tried to improve the quality of my work. In the meeting I demonstrated all the information I had gathered from different sources and asked my mentor’s advice on some unresolved issues.
Before the 3rd meeting I sent a draft copy of the project to my mentor and noted his feed back and then I prepared slides in Microsoft PowerPoint along with extra slides showing charts and share prices.
We held our third and final meeting on 14th April 2009. I was very confident of the work I had done and prepared for the presentation beforehand. I had a clear set of mind of what I had done and how I wanted to express that work in the presentation. My mentor was satisfied and equally amazed at my effort and congratulated me on my work.
As stated in the guidelines, I had 15 minutes for the presentation; therefore I planned for my presentation well in advance and made sure that I included all the relevant information.
Before I started my presentation, I handed out printed copies of my presentation to my mentor and my colleagues. I started my presentation by introducing J Sainsbury and giving a brief history of the company. After that I explained the various analyses and comparisons I had performed in order to analyze the financial position of J Sainsbury and to reach at a conclusion. I also explained the potential opportunities and the threats faced by the company. I used Microsoft Power Point to convey my message more efficiently and used graphical analysis to help my cause.
My presentation was indeed a success and I felt all my hard work and dedication paid off. My mentor was pleasantly surprised and gave me a pat on my back. My strengths included a thorough understanding of the topic, detailed research work and good presentation skills while my weaknesses included taking a few more minutes outside my allowed quota.
This experience was a massive confidence booster for me and it proved to me that I am very well capable of delivering top class professional presentations.
3. Self Assessment / Critical Evaluation
As part of the skills and learning statement, I would now try to critically evaluate my performance and the skills I learned during the preparation of my project.
One of the ways of evaluating the success of a project is to analyse whether it has answered all the relevant research questions satisfactorily or not.
In formulating the strategy of my research project, I identified a few research questions which were critical to the overall success of my project. I focused my energies to finding the answers of these questions.
Although I think I managed to answer most of the research questions in a satisfactory manner, there were a few areas where I could have done more research and allocated more time and resources.
The feedback I got back from my mentor suggested that I have been able to achieve the objectives of my research project successfully.
This being the first extensive research project carried out by me made the task a little bit daunting in the beginning and made me a little apprehensive about my abilities of carrying out the task with perfection. But as the project progressed, things started becoming clearer and my confidence levels were boosted.
I chose to assess the business and financial performance of J Sainsbury plc over the last three years. J Sainsbury’s plc is a United Kingdom-based company principally engaged in grocery and related retailing, and financial services.
Financial ratios were used to asses the financial performance of the company over a three year period and then I tried to explain the reasons for variations in the ratios.
I kept sending my draft incomplete project to my mentor and requested him to assess my performance under the guidelines of Oxford Brookes University so I could judge the quality of my work done so far. For this purpose I sent several emails to my mentor and made notes of every feed back.
I carefully assessed the external position by looking at the macro environment by using Porter’s Five Forces Model. I tried to do well on this analysis by giving a detailed overview and try to look at the wider side of the picture.
I highlighted critical strengths and weaknesses and the resulting opportunities and threats faced by the company by using a technique called SWOT analysis. This exercise was very beneficial to get a thorough understanding of the company and also helped me to come up with some recommendations to capitalise on the strengths of the company and eliminate or neutralize its weaknesses.
4. Interpersonal and Communication Skills
The term interpersonal skill is very often used to measure the personal ability to operate within the business organization through social communication and interaction. And the Communication skills are the skills which enable people to communicate effectively with each other. It also includes the ability to speak in public, meetings, presentations and writing letters. In my RAP it relates to the communication skills which I demonstrated during the meetings with my mentor and customers.
The meetings with my mentor helped me to assess my interpersonal and communication skills and identify the areas which needed improvement.
Questioning is one of the most important utensil in communication in order to derive answers and achieve confirmation. Since it is a fundamental tool in seeking information it is was imperative to get direct answers during the initial stages of the project as I required direction from my mentor. However I realised that getting direct information was not easy as the response is directly dependent on the style of question.
During the project I used both closed questions where I needed a confirmation of what I knew and open questions where the intention was to get as much information as possible. Towards the end of the project, when I had passed the data gathering stage I was seeking specific answers, this also entailed asking probing questions in order to clarify many areas. Restating information in a form of a question enabled me to understand difficult factors.
Effective communication also entails speaking and listening. I used both gestures and a variety of verbal and non verbal means for instance, nodding my head, making notes of important points, and basic words of confirmation to express a form of acknowledgement seen as a verification or feedback that is identified as active or reflective listening, as I would continuously be seeking to understand what my mentor was stating. This was reinforced with the use of eye contact to show that I understood and was interested in what was being communicated to me by my mentor.
Prior to meetings I would make sure that my mobile phone was switched off, to reduce disturbance that was in my control.
These activities helped me to improve my interpersonal and communication skills and also made me more confident in my approach.
5. How RAP Helped In Studies / Employment
The preparation of RAP has helped me to gain certain invaluable and precious skills which have helped me both in my studies and my working life.
I learned a lot of new skills and techniques which has given me an edge over my competitors in the job market.
The preparation of RAP helped me immensely in better understanding of professional subjects of ACCA such as P3 (Business Analysis) and P2 (Corporate Reporting). As a part of my RAP I used different financial and non financial techniques described in these subjects to asses the business and financial performance of JS Sainsbury.
It was a great exercise for me and gave me a chance to apply all my knowledge gained from ACCA qualification in to a practical company scenario.
RAP also improved my skills in Microsoft Office. I learned a lot of new features of MS Word, MS Excel and MS Power Point. These skills are still helping me in my current job and have increased my work efficiency. I have also had a pay rise from my employer since preparing my RAP, underlining the improvement I have made.
RAP has also helped me polishing my interactive skills as I improved this skill by collecting financial and non financial information about the company from different sources. These interactive skills have helped me a lot in my current job and as a result I am much more confident while interacting with clients during audits and client visits.
The project helped me develop my IT skills. I added not only to my accounting knowledge, but also learned different aspects of planning, organising, time management, writing, and public speaking. These skills will be of use to me in all aspects of my life.