Every executive who applies to the HBS Advanced Management Program (AMP) is likely facing some business challenges that keep them up at night. Issues on their mind might be anything from a tough strategic decision or distressing financial projections to more personal dilemmas such as a poorly performing team member or a looming career decision.

AMP provides a unique opportunity to address an important issue head-on. All participants choose one significant challenge as the topic of their Personal Case, which they work on throughout AMP. In the process, they can apply the frameworks, content, and learnings of the program to the challenge that is most meaningful to them.

Like all of the business cases studied during the program, a personal case begins with a question or problem. In consultation with their AMP executive coach, their living group, and AMP faculty, executives explore a range of issues and then settle on the one problem they most want to investigate. This could be a challenge their company is facing such as a strategic or financial choice, or it could be a challenge related to their personal leadership. Ideally, executives will select a challenge for which they have formal authority/ownership, so that they can execute on the plan of action created during the Personal Case process.

The next step is to frame the problem as either a Performance Gap (i.e., the organization as a whole or a specific group is underperforming on some dimension) or an Opportunity Gap (i.e., the need to take advantage of one or more new strategic opportunities). In this part of the process, executives crystallize their motivation for closing this gap and define how doing so will impact them and their organization.

Once a topic is selected, the in-depth work begins. Key steps include diagnosing the root causes of the problem or opportunity; determining what information is needed to understand the issue; identifying possible solutions and analyzing their impacts; and developing an action plan that defines the steps needed to eliminate or mitigate the gap.

As AMP progresses, executives work on their Personal Case in collaboration with their AMP peers, who can provide invaluable perspective and feedback at each stage of the project. The HBS faculty and the executive's personal coach also provide input that helps to refine the action plan. As AMP comes to a close, some participants' personal cases are chosen for presentation and discussion with the larger AMP group.

The Personal Case exemplifies one of HBS Executive Education's fundamental goals: actionable learning. The process of creating the action plan not only crystalizes program lessons but also creates a solid foundation for making a significant, concrete impact on the organization and the executive's growth as a leader.

PARTICIPANT PERSPECTIVE

For more insight into the Personal Case, view our short video featuring AMP alumna Yulia Chekunaeva, who focused on her company's climate change strategy for her case. In this video, she discusses how her work during and after AMP enabled her organization to take advantage of a new market opportunity, create a more sustainable business model—and potentially impact the carbon footprint of the entire metals and mining sector.

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About the Author

Vicki Good is the Portfolio Director of the Advanced Management Program for Harvard Business School, Executive Education.