How to analyze a case study


The purpose of the case study is to let you apply the concepts you’ve

learned when you analyze the issues facing a specific company. To analyze a case study, therefore, you must examine closely the issues with which the company is confronted. Most often you will need to read the case several times – once to grasp the overall picture of what is happening to the company and then several times more to discover and grasp the specific problems.

Generally, detailed analysis of a case study should include seven areas:

1. Comprehending the Case Situation 2. Analyzing the company’s history, development, and growth 3. Defining the Problem 4. Generating Alternative Solutions 5. Identifying Criteria for Evaluating Alternatives 6. Making recommendations 7. Taking Action and Following Up

To analyze a case, you need to apply what you’ve learned to each of these

areas. In what follows, details about each of the above areas will be provided. 1. COMPREHEND THE CASE SITUATION: DATA COLLECTION, IDENTIFY RELEVANT FACTS

Most cases require at least two readings, sometimes more; the first time through should involve familiarizing yourself with the basic situation; you may be given some guide questions to help you and you also might think about why the case was assigned now. There are some standard question that you might keep in mind as you read the case:


• what are the key issues in the case; who is the decision maker in the case; is there a critical decision

• what is the environment in which the key people operate; what are the constraints on their actions; what demands are imposed by the situation

• are solutions doable

• if you had the chance to talk to critical people in the company, what would you want to know

• what are the actual outcomes of the current situation-productivity, satisfaction, etc.; how stable are present conditions

• what are the “ideal” outcomes; what is an ideal “future” condition





• what information is lacking; what are the sources of the available information

Managers and students rarely have complete information and must rely on

inferences. Be prepared to make creative assumptions; good analysis goes beyond identifying the relevant facts in the case. If some facts aren’t given, figure out what you can assume they are.

Rereading: After the first reading, try to formulate several plausible courses of action and explanation for the data in the case. Imagine yourself as various key people in the case and figure out why you (as the person in the case) might have acted as he/she did, or what you would do. Think about the consequences if you are wrong. Using evidence and numbers: One of the most difficult problems in preparing a case is sorting through the mass of information and evidence. Often cases involve considerable background information of varying relevance to the decision at hand. Often cases involve conflict with different actors providing selective information and courses of action to support their claims. As in real life, you must decide what information is important and what isn’t and evaluate apparently conflicting evidence. As in real life, you will be faced with a lot of information but perhaps not exactly the information you need.

It is not uncommon to feel paralyzed by all the available information; it is difficult to identify the key information after the first reading. You should be slightly skeptical about the information presented or the interpretation placed on it by various actors in the case. You won’t have time to question all evidence in the case but if the evidence is critical, you might ask yourself what it really implies and whether it is as compelling as it seems. As you read the case keep in mind:


• remember that all behavior is caused, motivated, and goal-directed; behavior may see strange, or “irrational” but you can assume it makes sense to the actor

• separate fact from opinion; distinguish between what people say vs. do

• it might be possible to get more information about the case (e.g. the industry) but for the most part you will be asked to do your best with the information available

• separate symptoms from underlying causes

• avoid judgments; avoid premature solutions 2. ANALYZE THE COMPANY’S HISTORY, DEVELOPMENT, AND GROWTH





A convenient way to investigate how a company’s past strategy and structure affect it in the present is to chart the critical incidents in its history – that is, the events that were the most unusual or the most essential for its development into the company it is today. Some of the events have to do with its founding, its initial products, how it makes new-product market decisions, and how it developed and chose functional competencies to pursue. Its entry into new businesses and shifts in its main lines of business are also important milestones to consider. Identify the company’s internal strengths and weaknesses. Once the historical profile is completed, you can begin the SWOT analysis. Use all the incidents you have charted to develop an account of the company’s strengths and weaknesses as they have emerged historically. Examine each of the value creation functions of the company, and identify the functions in which the company is currently strong and currently weak. Some companies might be weak in marketing; some might be strong in research and development. Make lists of these strengths and weaknesses. The SWOT checklist gives examples of what might go in these lists.

SWOT Checklist

Potential internal strengths Potential internal weaknesses

Many product lines? Obsolete, narrow product lines?

Broad market coverage? Rising manufacturing costs?

Manufacturing competence? Decline in R&D innovations?

Good marketing skills? Poor marketing skills?

Good materials management systems?

Poor materials management systems?

R&D skills and leadership? Loss of customer good will?

Information system competencies

Inadequate information systems?

Human resource competencies?

Inadequate human resources?

Brand name reputation? Loss of brand name capital?

Portfolio management skills? Growth without direction?

Cost of differentiation advantage?

Bad portfolio management?

New-venture management expertise?

Loss of corporate direction?

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