×




Building Watson: Not So Elementary, My Dear! (Abridged) Net Present Value (NPV) / MBA Resources

Introduction to Net Present Value (NPV) - What is Net Present Value (NPV) ? How it impacts financial decisions regarding project management?

NPV solution for Building Watson: Not So Elementary, My Dear! (Abridged) case study


At Oak Spring University, we provide corporate level professional Net Present Value (NPV) case study solution. Building Watson: Not So Elementary, My Dear! (Abridged) case study is a Harvard Business School (HBR) case study written by Willy Shih. The Building Watson: Not So Elementary, My Dear! (Abridged) (referred as “Watson Jeopardy” from here on) case study provides evaluation & decision scenario in field of Technology & Operations. It also touches upon business topics such as - Value proposition, IT, Operations management, Product development, Strategy.

The net present value (NPV) of an investment proposal is the present value of the proposal’s net cash flows less the proposal’s initial cash outflow. If a project’s NPV is greater than or equal to zero, the project should be accepted.

NPV = Present Value of Future Cash Flows LESS Project’s Initial Investment




Case Description of Building Watson: Not So Elementary, My Dear! (Abridged) Case Study


This case is set inside IBM Research's efforts to build a computer that can successfully take on human challengers playing the game show Jeopardy! It opens with the machine named Watson offering the incorrect answer ""Toronto"" to a seemingly simple question during the championship match. Was the answer a reflection of a strategic weakness, or was it actually consistent with design principles established by the development team? The case seeks to expand students' view of the product development process. Traditional software development projects begin with the gathering of requirements and analysis of the problem, and the writing of a detailed specification. The Jeopardy! problem is different-it requires a probabilistic approach where there is no closed form solution. Instead statistical patterns in the data are important and there is no obvious mapping to the way queries are expressed. Such problems are increasingly common in data mining, optimization problems, or Internet applications where the goal is to find an acceptably good solution in a short amount of time, when a deterministic approach might be less fruitful or impractical. We aspire for students to recognize that product development can take many forms, and that these are enabled by creativity and the right organizational flexibility and mindset. This abridged version of the case focuses on the choice of Jeopardy! as the development target, and the approach taken by the development team. The original case is HBS No. 612-017, and has much more detail on the design strategy for the Watson system. This abridged version of the case focuses on the choice of Jeoprady! as the development target, and the approach taken by the development team. The original case is HBS No. 612-017, and has much more detail on the design strategy for the Watson system.


Case Authors : Willy Shih

Topic : Technology & Operations

Related Areas : IT, Operations management, Product development, Strategy




Calculating Net Present Value (NPV) at 6% for Building Watson: Not So Elementary, My Dear! (Abridged) Case Study


Years              Cash Flow     Net Cash Flow     Cumulative    
Cash Flow
Discount Rate
@ 6 %
Discounted
Cash Flows
Year 0 (10025843) -10025843 - -
Year 1 3451589 -6574254 3451589 0.9434 3256216
Year 2 3962829 -2611425 7414418 0.89 3526904
Year 3 3954339 1342914 11368757 0.8396 3320139
Year 4 3225639 4568553 14594396 0.7921 2555008
TOTAL 14594396 12658267


The Net Present Value at 6% discount rate is 2632424

In isolation the NPV number doesn't mean much but put in right context then it is one of the best method to evaluate project returns. In this article we will cover -

Different methods of capital budgeting


What is NPV & Formula of NPV,
How it is calculated,
How to use NPV number for project evaluation, and
Scenario Planning given risks and management priorities.




Capital Budgeting Approaches

Methods of Capital Budgeting


There are four types of capital budgeting techniques that are widely used in the corporate world –

1. Profitability Index
2. Internal Rate of Return
3. Payback Period
4. Net Present Value

Apart from the Payback period method which is an additive method, rest of the methods are based on Discounted Cash Flow technique. Even though cash flow can be calculated based on the nature of the project, for the simplicity of the article we are assuming that all the expected cash flows are realized at the end of the year.

Discounted Cash Flow approaches provide a more objective basis for evaluating and selecting investment projects. They take into consideration both –

1. Magnitude of both incoming and outgoing cash flows – Projects can be capital intensive, time intensive, or both. Watson Jeopardy shareholders have preference for diversified projects investment rather than prospective high income from a single capital intensive project.
2. Timing of the expected cash flows – stockholders of Watson Jeopardy have higher preference for cash returns over 4-5 years rather than 10-15 years given the nature of the volatility in the industry.




Formula and Steps to Calculate Net Present Value (NPV) of Building Watson: Not So Elementary, My Dear! (Abridged)

NPV = Net Cash In Flowt1 / (1+r)t1 + Net Cash In Flowt2 / (1+r)t2 + … Net Cash In Flowtn / (1+r)tn
Less Net Cash Out Flowt0 / (1+r)t0

Where t = time period, in this case year 1, year 2 and so on.
r = discount rate or return that could be earned using other safe proposition such as fixed deposit or treasury bond rate. Net Cash In Flow – What the firm will get each year.
Net Cash Out Flow – What the firm needs to invest initially in the project.

Step 1 – Understand the nature of the project and calculate cash flow for each year.
Step 2 – Discount those cash flow based on the discount rate.
Step 3 – Add all the discounted cash flow.
Step 4 – Selection of the project

Why Technology & Operations Managers need to know Financial Tools such as Net Present Value (NPV)?

In our daily workplace we often come across people and colleagues who are just focused on their core competency and targets they have to deliver. For example marketing managers at Watson Jeopardy often design programs whose objective is to drive brand awareness and customer reach. But how that 30 point increase in brand awareness or 10 point increase in customer touch points will result into shareholders’ value is not specified.

To overcome such scenarios managers at Watson Jeopardy needs to not only know the financial aspect of project management but also needs to have tools to integrate them into part of the project development and monitoring plan.

Calculating Net Present Value (NPV) at 15%

After working through various assumptions we reached a conclusion that risk is far higher than 6%. In a reasonably stable industry with weak competition - 15% discount rate can be a good benchmark.

Years              Cash Flow     Net Cash Flow     Cumulative    
Cash Flow
Discount Rate
@ 15 %
Discounted
Cash Flows
Year 0 (10025843) -10025843 - -
Year 1 3451589 -6574254 3451589 0.8696 3001382
Year 2 3962829 -2611425 7414418 0.7561 2996468
Year 3 3954339 1342914 11368757 0.6575 2600042
Year 4 3225639 4568553 14594396 0.5718 1844270
TOTAL 10442161


The Net NPV after 4 years is 416318

(10442161 - 10025843 )






Calculating Net Present Value (NPV) at 20%


If the risk component is high in the industry then we should go for a higher hurdle rate / discount rate of 20%.

Years              Cash Flow     Net Cash Flow     Cumulative    
Cash Flow
Discount Rate
@ 20 %
Discounted
Cash Flows
Year 0 (10025843) -10025843 - -
Year 1 3451589 -6574254 3451589 0.8333 2876324
Year 2 3962829 -2611425 7414418 0.6944 2751965
Year 3 3954339 1342914 11368757 0.5787 2288391
Year 4 3225639 4568553 14594396 0.4823 1555574
TOTAL 9472254


The Net NPV after 4 years is -553589

At 20% discount rate the NPV is negative (9472254 - 10025843 ) so ideally we can't select the project if macro and micro factors don't allow financial managers of Watson Jeopardy to discount cash flow at lower discount rates such as 15%.



Acceptance Criteria of a Project based on NPV

Simplest Approach – If the investment project of Watson Jeopardy has a NPV value higher than Zero then finance managers at Watson Jeopardy can ACCEPT the project, otherwise they can reject the project. This means that project will deliver higher returns over the period of time than any alternate investment strategy.

In theory if the required rate of return or discount rate is chosen correctly by finance managers at Watson Jeopardy, then the stock price of the Watson Jeopardy should change by same amount of the NPV. In real world we know that share price also reflects various other factors that can be related to both macro and micro environment.

In the same vein – accepting the project with zero NPV should result in stagnant share price. Finance managers use discount rates as a measure of risk components in the project execution process.

Sensitivity Analysis

Project selection is often a far more complex decision than just choosing it based on the NPV number. Finance managers at Watson Jeopardy should conduct a sensitivity analysis to better understand not only the inherent risk of the projects but also how those risks can be either factored in or mitigated during the project execution. Sensitivity analysis helps in –

Understanding of risks involved in the project.

What will be a multi year spillover effect of various taxation regulations.

What are the uncertainties surrounding the project Initial Cash Outlay (ICO’s). ICO’s often have several different components such as land, machinery, building, and other equipment.

What can impact the cash flow of the project.

What are the key aspects of the projects that need to be monitored, refined, and retuned for continuous delivery of projected cash flows.

Some of the assumptions while using the Discounted Cash Flow Methods –

Projects are assumed to be Mutually Exclusive – This is seldom the came in modern day giant organizations where projects are often inter-related and rejecting a project solely based on NPV can result in sunk cost from a related project.

Independent projects have independent cash flows – As explained in the marketing project – though the project may look independent but in reality it is not as the brand awareness project can be closely associated with the spending on sales promotions and product specific advertising.




References & Further Readings

Willy Shih (2018), "Building Watson: Not So Elementary, My Dear! (Abridged) Harvard Business Review Case Study. Published by HBR Publications.