A case study is a concise description of a situation which exists or a series of events which have taken place in an organization. This description may be drawn from actual events in a particular organization or it may be a fabricated description which draws its inspiration from several parts of the author’s experience. Whatever its source, this description (perhaps with organization charts and tables of data included) is the scenario which you will be asked to analyze. Often these scenarios describe a number of things which have gone wrong or indicate things left undone which should have been done and sometimes illustrate effective and sometimes ineffective practice and management.
Usually you will be given questions to answer or a course of action to comment on or you will be invited to make recommendations which have to be supported by argument and analysis.
This method of learning from case studies has long been the core of most business schools teaching. Students learn by ‘participating’ actively in the business case, rather than ‘passively’ studying the theory behind it.
In the conventional business school the treatment of case studies usually falls in several parts:
- The students individually analyze the case and prepare their own comments on the situations they discover, together with some possible solutions.
- They may then discuss the case, formally or informally, as part of a team of students.
- They will then attend a classroom session during which the various ideas developed by the individuals and groups will be tested against each other. The professor’s role in this session will be to ‘chair’ the discussion ensuring that the students fully develop their own ideas.
- At the end of this classroom session the professor will summarize the principal learning points that emerged from the case.
The most important part of this treatment is , the individual analysis. You will gain a lot from this element. Your task will be to identify the relevant principles and concepts from the course and shoe how they are indeed useful in understanding the situation and generating recommendations. To do this, you will not need to know the technicalities of the selected industry or organization. Indeed, if you do have some expert or inside knowledge it will be a disadvantage, unless you can resist the temptation to dwell on technicalities rather than on the central issue(s) involved.
Elements  and  must inevitable be less immediately available since usually ‘participation’ occurs less often than one might imagine. With a typical class size of 50 or so, a few individuals will almost certainly dominate the discussions. Despite the best intentions of the professor, many, if not the majority of the students will be spectators, not active participants.
You will be provided with the full range of opportunities in working on some of the case studies in this course but for some of the case studies that may not be the case. For these, we may provide the professor’s view in the given case study but it is important to note that, like real life, there is no correct solution; there is one opinion among many. The value in each case lies in your developing your own opinions which might, quite justifiably, be totally different.
There are techniques that can make reading and analyzing a case study somewhat easier, and certainly faster. They are, incidentally, techniques that can be applied almost as productively to the textual material that you are required to study in this course but they are particularly applicable to the case studies.
The first technique is to annotate the case study material. The best way is to use a highlighter, or fluorescent marker, to emphasize the words and passages you think are critical, or at least are relevant to the questions being asked. In addition you can use an ordinary ball-point pen, preferable red, to add your comments in the margins. By these means you can most easily, and immediately, see which elements of the case study to concentrate on. The text may contain a few ideas, albeit often unintentional, that can offer insights into how the company really works; in any case it will still be meaningful in providing the overall context for the material critical for the analysis.
This leads to the second technique, which is to top read the case study material several times, with different priorities each time. The first read should be quick ‘skim’, so that you can put the second more detailed reading into perspective. It is often fatal to get too quickly immersed in the details at the beginning of the case study, without knowing what comes later. The later material may give you a totally different perspective. The first ‘skim’ should also allow you to rule out the most obviously irrelevant material, and may already allow you to highlight certain of the key elements. The second read should be more studies, though it will not now cover the irrelevant material, and should attempt to abstract all the key points.
The third, and subsequent, reads can then home-in on those key points to begin the case study analysis proper.
These techniques can be applied to the statistical material just as much as to the textual matter, and it is sometimes worth reworking the key elements of tables into ratios that you find more meaningful. But, once more, beware that this can easily absorb a great deal of time and is not usually necessary.
Finally, conduct your reading and subsequent analysis with regard to the questions you are being asked.