The highlight of any good online MBA program is the capstone project. A capstone project requires MBA students to use the knowledge and research skills they’ve gained over their entire MBA experience thus far to solve a real-world business problem or draft a business plan for an entrepreneurial effort. Depending on the program, these large-scale projects may be completed in the last two semesters of one’s MBA program or spread out over the entire MBA experience.

Types of Capstone Projects

Many capstone projects require students to draft a detailed set of recommendations for how to solve a specific business problem for an organization selected by the student with the approval of a faculty member. In creating these recommendations, students demonstrate their competency in common MBA areas of study, including finance, accounting, marketing, strategic management, and operations. These recommendations are outlined in a roughly 30- to 50-page document, framed by a sophisticated breakdown of the organization’s strengths and weaknesses, potential for growth and threats from competitors.

The Capstone Project Process

Before an online MBA student can begin working on his/her capstone project, the capstone topic must be approved by a faculty mentor. Students must first submit a proposal that describes the project they wish to undertake, explains their rationale for pursuing that topic, outlines the goals they hope to achieve and how they plan to meet them, and displays their initial research into the capstone idea.

Once the capstone proposal is approved, students conduct research and gather data pertaining to the project. If the capstone project involves drafting a business plan for a new business venture, students will need to analyze data on its competitors, identify a target market, and identify potential sources of funding. Along the way, a faculty mentor will critique students’ research activities and evaluate their progress, providing both accountability to keep students on task and advice on how to proceed if they are having difficulty with a portion of the project.

Finally, after students have finished the written portion of the project, they arrange to formally present the final deliverable to their professor. A presentation in front of a panel may be required, and students may be required to answer questions about their work.

Why Do Capstone Projects Matter?

Capstone projects are important to online MBA programs because they teach students how to practically apply the theories they are learning in the MBA curriculum to real-world workplaces. After all, what good is knowing all there is to know about strategic management if you don’t learn how to apply it in the real world? And what good is knowing complex quantitative research skills if you can’t use them to gather data from a real-world organization so you can draw conclusions about staff productivity or an organization’s profitability and make improvements based on that data?

Capstone projects help students learn that applying tried-and-true management, marketing and operations techniques actually benefits the organization they lead or serve as a manager. The capstone project gives students a hands-on opportunity to build leadership and problem-solving skills. By completing his/her own capstone project, the student is essentially creating his/her own case study, resembling the many others that students will be examining throughout their MBA courses.

Most capstone projects are individualized for the student’s line of work and career goals, which helps prepare them for specific management careers. For instance, if a student is pursuing an MBA with a specialization in environmental management, the capstone project will likely center on tackling an environmental problem.

Finally, students learn from their capstone project that they have the tools they need to change their organization for the better through careful planning and strategy, or how to get a new venture off the ground successfully while avoiding the pitfalls of many new businesses experience.