Professional courses, whether in law, business, or medicine, involve training participants in problem solving skills. Diagnosis, decision-making, and implementation are the action skills that every practicing professional needs. Wide ranges of professional schools today follow the case method as a way to teach these action skills.
Three professional schools of Harvard University pioneered the case study method:
·Harvard Law School in 1870;
·Harvard Business School in 1920; and,
·Harvard Medical School in 1985.
Business as yet is not an exact science. There is no single, demonstrably right answer to a business problem. There is always a reasonable possibility that the best answer has not yet been found. Cases are the means for studying the complex interactions of principles, demonstrating application of the principles, and practicing analysis of complex situations. Besides, a case serves as a backdrop for enabling participants to discover the specific concepts and skills that the course is designed to teach. Through frequent exposure to case studies, participants learn to (a) recognize the unique aspects of different situations, (b) define problems, (c) suggest further avenues of analysis, and (d) devise and implement action plans.
A case study is best described as a well-orchestrated short story that presents essential information and data on corporate operations. As opposed to, say, a finance or production or marketing case which presents material primarily on one functional area only, a strategic management case takes a wholistic view of corporate operations from the perspective of the firm's board of directors and/or its senior executives.
There are three types of Case Studies:
·The first type is the problem-oriented case study. In these cases, senior management is faced with a set of circumstances that require it to make a series of strategy-oriented decisions. Sometimes the problem to be solved, or the strategy issue to be resolved is obvious.In other cases, one needs to determine what the problem is before looking for a solution. In both instances, the student-analyst is required to make a number of judgements about the actions to be taken, along with a justification for these actions.
·The second type of case study is one which presents overall information on a corporation without, however, presenting a problem or issue that needs to be resolved.As opposed to the problem solving case, these cases are usually designed to give the student a top down view of corporate operations: the businesses that it is in; the markets that it serves; the technologies that it uses; its financial condition; its organizational structure, etcetera, as a way of providing the student with a senior-level perspective on corporate operations. In these cases, the students-analyst is required to show an understanding of how the corporation is organized, how it operates, and provide some rationale explaining why the corporation operates in the manner set out in the case study.
·The third type of case study is one which presents information on the leadership style of the firm's chief executive officer. In these cases, specific information is usually provided on the actions that he may, or already may have taken, to change or otherwise modify the corporate culture; corporate and divisional level organizational changes; and human resource management concepts and practices.Information on training programs within the company, "employee-empowerment" practices, executive selection procedures are very often part and parcel of this type of leadership-oriented cases. As with the second type of case study described above, the student-analyst is required to show an understanding of the rationale for each of these separate strategic policies and actions, and how these contribute to the overall strength of the corporation.
The case method requires the participants to place themselves in the positions of the managers described in the case; and to perform analyses and recommend courses of action without benefit of prior knowledge of outcomes. Most cases require participants to assume the role of the protagonist and to make one or more critical decisions. The participants are expected to develop the capability of sizing up situations and deciding on appropriate action.
Put down the following heads:
§Problems identified in the case
§Theoretical concept that you wish to take up
§What are the firm’s most important external opportunities and threats?
§What are the organization’s major strengths and weaknesses?
§How would you describe the organization’s financial condition?
§What are the firm’s existing strategies and objectives?
§Who are the firm’s competitors, and what are their strategies?
§What objectives and strategies do you recommend for this organization? Explain your reasoning. How does what you recommend compare to what the company plans?
§How could the organization best implement what you recommend? What implementation problems do you envision? How could the firm avoid or solve those problems?
Written Case Study Analysis
Be patient and read the case through once in its entirety before taking notes and trying to make judgements about the material that is set out in the case. After you have done that, see if the case fits into one of the three categories noted above. By doing this, you will get a better handle on the case, and be better prepared to discuss the strategy-oriented material set out before you.Asking yourself a series of questions will also help. For example:
1Does the case present a problem or series of problems to be solved?
1Does the case present an overview of the role of the CEO in bringing about change?
1Does the case present a more generalized view of the scope and content of the businesses and markets that the firm is in?
Once you have come to a reasonable conclusion here, you can more readily absorb the material in front of you and maximize the learning process that is the basic goal of any case study.
There are a number of methodologies useful in the analysis of strategy-oriented cases that are normally incorporated into strategic management texts.Having read the case through once, make a quick check through your textbook to see if the information at hand fits into one of these conceptual frameworks. If a methodology fits the facts as they are presented in the case, use it!
If the case write-up is problem-oriented, and you are being asked to solve the problem, avoid the "boss is dumb syndrome". Most senior executives know what they are doing, and why they are doing it. More often than not, they choose a reasonable course of action for the company based on the facts (and economic and market conditions) as they then know them. Don't try to second guess them. Rather build on what they have done as a way of enhancing your own background and skills.
If the case write-up is more general in its scope and content, prepare a summary outline of the case using, where relevant, headings such as: leadership style; human resource policies; markets and marketing policies; technological issues; globalization trends; mission statements; etcetera. If there is no "problem" to be solved, the best approach here is to do an analysis of the contents of the case.
When writing a strategic-management report or case analysis, avoid using jargon, vague or redundant words, acronyms, abbreviations, sexist language, and ethnic or racial slurs, and watch your spelling. Use short sentences and paragraphs and simple words and phrases. Use quite a few subheadings. Arrange issues and ideas from the most important to the least important. Arrange recommendations from the least controversial to the most controversial. Use the active voice rather than the passive voice for all verbs; for example, say, “Our team recommends that the company diversify,” rather than, “It is recommended by our team to diversify.” Use many examples to add specificity and clarity.
Tables, figures, pie charts, bar charts, time lines, and other kinds of exhibits help communicate important points and ideas. Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words.
There is no such thing as a complete case, and no case ever gives you all the information you need to conduct analyses and make recommendations. Likewise, in the business world, strategists never have all the information they need to make decisions: information may be unavailable or too costly to obtain, or it may take too much time to obtain. So in preparing business policy cases, do what strategists do every day—make reasonable assumptions about unknowns, state assumptions clearly, perform appropriate analyses, and make decisions. Be practical. For example, in performing a Performa financial analysis, make reasonable assumptions, state them appropriately, and proceed to show what impact your recommendations are expected to have on the organization’s financial position. Avoid saying, “I don’t have enough information.” You can always supplement the information provided in a case with Internet and library research. Except as you are required to do some additional research on the company or industry featured in the case study at hand, make every effort to live with the material presented in the case.
A word of explanation is essential here. When presented with a case study, whether it be a strategy, manufacturing, marketing, finance or other type of case, many students try to make judgements on matters for which no information or data has been provided! The best way to avoid this error is to review what you have written (or the notes that you have made on the case) and ask yourself a very basic question; what information is in the case that supports the judgements or conclusions that I have made?Very often, the answer will be "very little", that is to say, you were being intuitive as opposed to objective in your approach to the project at hand!A good case analysis is an objective one in which you don't reach for solutions or judgements for which there is no basis in the material with which you have to work.
The most important part of analyzing cases is not what strategies you recommend, but rather how you support your decisions and how you propose that they be implemented. There is no single best solution or one right answer to a case, so give ample justification for your recommendations. This is important. In the business world, strategists usually do not know if their decisions are right until resources have been allocated and consumed. Then it is often too late to reverse a decision. This cold fact accents the need for careful integration of intuition and analysis in preparing business policy case analyses.
Avoid recommending a course of action beyond an organization’s means. Be realistic. No organization can possibly pursue all the strategies that could potentially benefit the firm. Estimate how much capital will be required to implement what you recommended. Determine whether debt, stock, or a combination of debt and stock could be used to obtain the capital. Make sure your recommendations are feasible. Do not prepare a case analysis that omits all arguments and information not supportive of your recommendations. Rather, present the major advantages and disadvantages of several feasible alternatives. Try not to exaggerate, stereotype, prejudge, or over dramatize. Strive to demonstrate that your interpretation of the evidence is reasonable and objective.
Do not make broad generalizations such as “The Company should pursue a market penetration strategy.” Be specific by telling what, why, when, how, where, and who. Failure to use specifics is the single major shortcoming of most oral and written case analyses. For example, in an internal audit say, “The firm’s current ratio fell from 2.2 in 2002 to 1.3 in 2003, and this is considered to be a major weakness,” instead of, “The firm’s financial condition is bad.” Rather than concluding from an analysis that a firm should be defensive, be more specific, saying, “The firm should consider closing three plants, laying off 280 employees, and divesting itself of its chemical division, for a net savings of Rs. 20.2 crores in 2009.” Use ratios, percentages, numbers, and rupee estimates. Businesspeople dislike generalities and vagueness.
Do not necessarily recommend the course of action that the firm plans to take or actually undertook, even if those actions resulted in improved revenues and earnings. The aim of case analysis is for you to consider all the facts and information relevant to the organization at the time, to generate feasible alternative strategies, to choose among those alternatives, and to defend your recommendations. Put yourself back in time to the point when strategic decisions were being made by the firm’s strategists. Based on the information available then, what would you have done? Support your position with charts, graphs, ratios, analyses, and the like—not a revelation from the library. You can become a good strategist by thinking through situations, making management assessments, and proposing plans yourself. Be original. Compare and contrast what you recommend versus what the company plans to do or did.
Case Study Presentations by students:
Individual Case Analysis by the Participants
Each participant thoroughly studies the case so as to digest the "facts" of the case; identifies the problems and key issues, thoroughly analyzes the situation; examines the contributing causes; identifies the information that supports his analysis of the issues involved, and decides the approach he would take for addressing those issues; considers alternative courses of action. Finally, each participant should be able to arrive at a set of recommendations. Each participant also needs to develop a strategy of his own to ensure that he would have an opportunity to make a meaningful contribution during the class presentation.
Informal Group Meetings as a Prelude to the Class Presentation
Participants are expected to meet in small groups before class and discuss their findings, consider options, and prepare to contribute to the formal presentation. These informal and rather unstructured discussions seldom generate answers. Instead, participants jointly develop a "learning agenda" that can guide their independent study over the next couple of days. Together, the participants list the topics they feel they need to know to fully understand the issues involved in the case. These are the gaps they need to fulfill through self-study. Participants also learn how to tackle a problem strategically and technically before they encounter detailed, structured, analytical assignments. Members of a strategic-management team, in class or in the business world, differ on their aversion to risk, their concern for short-run versus long-run benefits, their attitudes toward social responsibility, and their views concerning globalization. There are no perfect people, so there are no perfect strategies. Be open-minded to others’ views. Be a good listener and a good contributor.
1.First the student should give the case a very general reading. Without trying to find out where is the problem or to which concept it relates.
2.In the second reading the student should mark the important case facts and try to relate the assignment questions and theoretical framework with the case provided.
3.He should take notes and organize his points and thoughts in some form of notes that will help him in group-discussions.
4.Until now the student was performing the task alone, now they form a syndicate of three to four and present their views and arrive at a consensus and recommendations.
5.Finally they draw out the action plan that needs to be followed.
This entire exercise stimulates thinking process at an individual and group level and by the time the students come to the class they have worked on the same for at least 8-9 hours collectively.
Organizing the Presentation
Begin your presentation by introducing yourself and giving a clear outline of topics to be covered. If a team is presenting, specify the sequence of speakers and the areas each person will address (time permitting; otherwise, a slide can cover the same). At the beginning of an oral presentation, try to capture your audience’s interest and attention. You could do this by displaying some products made by the company, telling an interesting short story about the company, or sharing an experience you had that is related to the company, its products, or its services. A light or humorous introduction can be effective at the beginning of a presentation.
Controlling Your Voice
An effective rate of speaking ranges from 100 to 125 words per minute. Practice your presentation out loud to determine if you are going too fast. Individuals commonly speak too fast when nervous. Breathe deeply before and during the presentation to help you slow down. Have a cup of water available; pausing to take a drink will wet your throat, give you time to collect your thoughts, control your nervousness, slow you down, and signal to the audience a change in topic.
Avoid a monotone by placing emphasis on different words or sentences. Speak loudly and clearly, but don’t shout. Silence can be used effectively to break a monotone voice. Stop at the end of each sentence, rather than running sentences together with and or ub.
Managing Body Language
Be sure not to fold your arms, lean on the podium, put your hands in your pockets, or put your hands behind you. Keep a straight posture, with one foot slightly in front of the other. Do not turn your back to the audience; doing so is not only rude, but it also prevents your voice from projecting well. Avoid using too many hand gestures. On occasion, Speaking from Notes be sure not to read to your audience, because reading puts people to sleep. Perhaps worse than reading is memorizing! Do not try to memorize anything. Rather, practice using notes unobtrusively. Make sure your notes are written clearly so you will not flounder when trying to read your own writing. Include only main ideas on your note cards. Keep note cards on a podium or table if possible so that you won’t drop them or get them out of order; walking with note cards tends to be distracting.
Constructing Visual Aids
Make sure your visual aids are legible to individuals in the back of the room. Use color to highlight special items. Avoid putting complete sentences on visual aids; rather, use short phrases and then elaborate on issues orally as you make your presentation. Generally, there should be no more than four to six lines of text on each visual aid. Use clear headings and subheadings. Be careful about spelling and grammar; use a consistent style of lettering.
Given all of the above, it is safe to assume that there is no one right answer to a case analysis. At best, there are answers or solutions that are reasonable given the data and information at hand.But they are only reasonable if there is information and data that can be used to back up your conclusions. This means, parenthetically, that you need to do a reality check on yourself and your work from time to time.Compare the facts as presented in the material in the case with your completed analysis. Do the facts support your conclusions? Are you sure?
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