Review: Business Strategy Specialization by University of Virgina
True business strategy techniques used to be gate-kept by MBAs, but Darden at UVA is having none of that. This Business Strategy Specialization Program is offered by the prestigious University of Virginia as an intro to complex business concepts. The program is hosted on Coursera, and consists of 4 courses and a project with a recommended ~4 weeks of work each. This nets a total of 20-24 weeks, or 5-6 months for program completion.
The five courses to complete the specialization are:
- Foundations of Business Strategy
- Advanced Business Strategy
- Business Growth Strategy
- Strategic Planning and Execution
- Business Strategy in Practice (Capstone Project)
The material is taught by real industry professionals, including the incredibly impressive Michael Lenox, and covers both the high-level and practical aspects of growing and executing a successful business strategy. This program is designed to equip you with the knowledge and skills to analyze the business environment, evaluate strategic options, and implement successful strategies that drive growth and impact. We especially loved how many hands-on applications there were, especially in the advanced and growth strategy courses (2 & 3). Each course's curriculum is meant to be consumed over a 4-8 week period, but they can also be completed at your own pace (with the exception of peer-reviewed assignments).
The program is targeted at individuals who already have some work experience, though anyone can audit or sign up for the class. At our time of posting, more than 50,000 people had completed the curriculum. We’d tag it as a mid-level class– if you feel lost by any of the nitty-gritty principles, they’re a quick google search away.
We’ve recapped the learning objectives from each week to set your expectations for program material. The great part about this specialization is that you can jump to any course, and any section if it’s particularly interesting to you. For example, if you’re an established strategist only looking for growth strategies, jump to course 3. However, you only can get the certificate if you complete all 24 weeks of content.
To audit an individual week-- find the exact course (we've linked them individually here) and click "audit" to save it to your profile. Then open the desired week on the side panel.
Learning Objectives from Week 1: Introduction to Strategic Analysis
- Discuss the meaning and importance of business strategy for competitive advantages over opponents.
- Learn about the most popular strategic analysis tools, including SWOT, competitor and environmental analysis methods.
Learning Objectives from Week 2: Analyzing Industry Structure
- Explore how to conduct an industry assessment and showcase the impacts of competitive dynamics on company profitability.
- Learn Porter's five forces model, which is widely used by experts. If you're curious, the five industry forces are Competition Landscape, New Entry Potential, Supplier Power, Customer Power, and Threat of Product Substitutions.
- Conduct qualitative interviews, takeaways and best practices.
Learning Objectives from Week 3: Analyzing Firm Capabilities
- Examine tangible and intangible assets that form a company's business strength.
- Learn and practice creating a capabilities analysis to guide decision making.
Learning Objectives from Week 4: Determining Competitive Position
- Learn the pros and cons of the four generic business strategies: Cost Leadership Strategy, Differentiation Strategy, Cost Focus, and Differentiation Focus.
- Utilize strategy maps to visually communicate a firm's positioning.
Learning Objectives from Week 1: Dynamic Strategy
- Learn how company's can respond to ever-changing innovation.
- Practice completing a competitive lifecycle analysis.
Learning Objectives from Week 2: International Strategy
- Explore the rise of globalization in industries and companies and the strategic questions behind their moves (where and how).
- Learn the pros/cons to entering foreign markets.
- Practice completing an internationalization analysis.
Learning Objectives from Week 3: Diversification Strategy
- Learn the aspects in diversification in corporate strategy.
- Explore the reasons why firms expand and diversify, including financial, operational and strategic reasons.
- Balance firm theory and scope.
- Practice completing a diversification matrix.
Learning Objectives from Week 4: Stakeholder Strategy
- Consider the impact of a firm's decisions and actions on various stakeholders, including primary and secondary stakeholders.
- Practice completing a stakeholder analysis, and learn how to use it to guide strategic company decisions.
Learning Objectives from Week 1: Growth through Scaling
- Understand the importance of intentional, proactive, and purpose-driven company growth.
- Explore the concepts of economies of scale, and the accompanying operational complexities of implementation.
- Practice working with a Scenario Planning tool to map out opportunities for growth and scale for a fictional company.
Learning Objectives from Week 2: Growth through Entry
- Learn the difference between growth through new products vs. growth through new markets.
- Explore game theory and its relation to competitor analysis in the new growth context.
- Practice completing an exercise with a payoff matrix tool to determine optimal company growth.
Learning Objectives from Week 3: Growth through Acquisition
- Study high-level concepts surrounding mergers and acquisitions (M&A) strategy as a means of business growth.
- Explore the pros and cons of using M&A vs. other methods.
- Practice using the Acquisitions Analysis tool to create an assessment of an acquisition and observe common pitfalls.
Learning Objectives from Week 4: Growth through Innovation
- Learn the market strategy of disruption through introduction of new ideas, processes and products.
- Explore the key elements of innovation, which include building innovative capability, appropriating value from innovation, and determining an innovation strategy.
- Utilize the Real Options Analysis tool and good practices for doing so. Develop practical skills by applying course concepts to a real-world scenario through the Intel Corporate Venturing case.
Learning Objectives from Week 1: Strategy Analysis
- Learn how to connect the concepts of strategic analysis and execution by using questions from the strategist's toolkit.
- Utilize the Hypothesis Testing tool to evaluate key assumptions in strategy decisions.
Learning Objectives from Week 2: Strategy Formulation
- Learn how to set up and implement a chosen strategy in an organization.
- Compare and contrast the four different approaches to strategy formulation (Intuition Approach, Gap Analysis, Portfolio Approach, Key-Factors Approach).
- Understand the role of governance in effective strategy formulation and execution.
Learning Objectives from Week 3: Strategy Implementation
- Learn from a guest prof/global specialist in strategy execution, Professor Scott Snell, about his 4A Model for effective strategy execution.
- Understand the importance of alignment, ability, agility, and architecture in ensuring the human and organizational resources needed for effective strategy execution.
Learning Objectives from Week 4: Practical Perspectives
- Enhance the strategist's toolkit by learning practical tips from guest speakers like Scott Beardley (McKinsey).
- Utilize the things you've learned in your toolkit for a portfolio-ready project.
- This project covers most of the things learned in the previous 4 courses, including competitor analysis, strategy choice + defense, and executive summary creation.
- Weeks 3, 5 and 8 are "buffer" weeks for peer reviews.
Cost and Auditing
The program is only $79/month, and comes with a completion certificate on behalf of Darden at UVA-- in fact, they even send an email to encourage you to put it on your resume and Linkedin! If you complete the curriculum on the proposed timeline, it should take about 6 months and $480. While that seems steep, compared to an MBA / business course ($2k/credit) or bootcamp ($5-15k), this micro-certification is a steal!
If you can afford it and know in your heart that business strategy is for you– we absolutely recommend completing the program and getting the shareable certificate. This will help make your Linkedin more searchable to recruiters who may be looking for specific keywords and programs. Here’s the real kicker though– to audit the program and simply learn the material, this program is completely free! We recommend auditing the first course (Fundamentals) for those who might be unsure of the product management career path and are curious about the high-level concepts.
To audit, simply click "Enroll for Free" and click "Audit" on the bottom of the second step. Voila, you're in!
The specialization is a little bit older, with the first reviews dating back to 2016. Luckily business strategy concepts age better than most tech-trades. Regardless, this program is very highly reviewed by real and aspiring strategists alike– each course averages above a 4.7 star rating with thousands of reviews.
Some of our favorite positive review points:
- This specialization is very enlightening especially for non business professionals who intend to venture into business. I have gained knowledge of analyzing every business move strategically before implementing it since one wrong move could lead to huge losses. -Emily S.
- This highly effectual MOOC course from University of Virginia covers most of the prominent aspects of Business Strategy from the way to use the Porter's Five Forces impact, SWOT, competitor, and environmental analysis tools to complete capabilities analysis leading to proper decision making. In the peer-graded assignment, I had to assess an industry's structure [I selected CBC Tiles & banglalink for my assignments] and how the competitive dynamics in an industry affect profitability. I also analyzed the advantages and disadvantages of four generic competitive positions based on what I have taught in the course. Thanks to the instructors for offering their time and skills. -M.D.
Aggregations of negative review points:
- Peers sucked at reviewing things (a common problem with Coursera courses- it's how they keep it cheap. To hack this, just resubmit if you get an inconsiderate graders)
- High-level concepts mixed in with the practical ones was sometimes confusing to users.
... and our favorite overall review:
I had completed by full-time MBA 18 years back but thanks to this course, now I realize how beautifully tools like SWOT, Competitor, Environmental, Five Forces, and Capabilities Analyses, as well as Strategy Maps come together to help us analyze the competitive environment for an organization, think strategically and understand (and recommend) firm positioning and value creation. Thank you!
Google sponsors a data analytics certificate program through Coursera. This is one of the more coveted certificates in the industry for Google Analytics. It's free to audit, but if you want the certificate to show off (recommended), it's $49 a month to complete at your own pace.
UVA Sponsors a prestigious specialization program through Coursera. This program focuses on test and learn strategies, identifying and acting on customer insights, and running an effective product program. Read our full writeup here. It's free to audit, but if you want the certificate (recommended), it's $79 a month to complete at your own pace.
Other Relevant Specializations
If you're looking to break into tech, we recommend some other great certifications that may be more relevant to the space. Strategists in business often run parallel to product managers in tech. If you have a propensity towards business but want to do tech, check these out instead:
Both Duke and UVA are incredibly prestigious organizations working to increase public knowledge of product management. This is a mid-level course-- so have some basic knowledge under your belt first-- focused on product management in the realm of artificial intelligence. Read our full writeup here. It's also free to audit, but if you want the certificate (recommended), it's $79 a month to complete at your own pace.
UVA's Business Specialization is a fun intro to MBA concepts and a great way to sharpen your strategic skillset without breaking the bank with an additional college degree or bootcamp. If you're looking to break into the tech world though, we recommend turning your focus to a product management specialization to learn more applicable concepts.
Here at Bridged we are huge fans of stacking micro-certifications to achieve desired career results. This program could be one notch in your arsenal to really kick your technical expertise into gear!