Harvard University

Case Methods In Management Education

Case Methods In Management Education

What is a Case ?

A case is a written account of real or simulated managerial problems, dilemmas, and situations calling for Solutions. Analysis of cases is an exercise in critical understanding of concepts and causes of problems and events.

The case method of teaching was introduced by Langdell in 1871 as an alternative to the lecture method of legal education. Later when Harvard University set up its business school in 1908, it was adopted by them in their classes.

 Types of Case

A case can be           a) Theoretical          or         b) Factual.

 Theoretical Cases

Case studies which are meant for reading and clarifying theoretical concepts of a discipline, such as management, involving the study of marketing, human realtions, communication, and so on are academic case studies. They are used as examples to concretise the abstract concepts of a discipline.

 The interplay of ideas is presented in the form of action, interaction, and conflict among persons involved in a life-like situation described by the case.

 It uses the principle of oral, non-verbal and written communication to demonstrate the dynamics of effective communication.

 Factual Cases

Case studies which describe and illustrate an organisation’s experience and efforts to overcome different problems and situations are real cases. These cases are based on the facts.

 They present the critical management issues with full details of facts and figures.

Their analysis requires a systematic approach to identification of the main problem, alternative solutions, and finally the best solution.

 Such factual case studies project corporate problems belonging to any functional area of  management, such as marketing, production or human relations.

 A significant aspect of a factual case study is that it presents a problem or event in its entirety, resulting from several reasons.

 Requirements for a Case Analysis

  1. Through knowledge of the concerned subject
  2. Ability to be analytical – Go deeper into the case and search and seek answers for questions.
  3. Ability to do critical thinking – The ability to think critically is to go beyond the obvious and look for the truth underlying the conflicts, and statements that meet our eyes. It is an attitude of mind to question and accept things only after examining the basis of our belief in them.
  4. Ability to evaluate – It is a part of critical thinking. When we exercise judgment to establish the correctness or incorrectness of our view of things, we are being evaluative.
  5. Ability to infer – You should be able to finally view the whole program from a certain perspective.

Management case study method primarily involves decision making because to solve the problem or a case the manager has to choose from the available alternatives which one is more appropriate having close association with the problem or which one is more valid in a given situation.

Objectives of case study method

The major objectives of the case methods are as under :

  1. It develops and enhances confidence among the managers to solve problems effectively.
  2. It trains the managers in decision making by developing required skill and talent on their part. They learn how to identify a problem, analyse it, develop alternative solution and finally how to solve the problem.
  3. The managers learn how to handle and use data and information available on various aspects of the problem for solving it. It encourages managers in factual decision making.
  4. It provides systematic and scientific training to the managers for translating theoretical and conceptual knowledge of management into concrete decisions and actions. They become familiar with real life situations.
  5. The main objective is to broaden the horizon of knowledge of the managers by getting them exposed to wide ranging situations made of separate set of variables.

The process of writing case analysis involves three major elements :

  1. Identification of problem situation
  2. Analysis and evaluating of problem situation
  3. Making recommendations for solving problem.

According to the  Harvard system, the following five steps are involved in case analysis :

  1. Defining central issue involved in the case
  2. Selecting relevant areas of consideration
  3. Analysing relevant areas of consideration and ascertaining their relative significance.
  4. Surveying other possibilities
  5. Drawing final conclusions

Two Scholars namely Schnelle and Raymond T. J have contributed for writing case analysis.

Process of Analysing a case

Firstly, the case analysis requires you to understand the case and its context. It involves comprehensive study of all those factors at the organisational level, which may be responsible for affecting the working conditions and performance level. The first thing is, therefore, to know the goals, objectives and the structure of the organisation.

Steps :

  1. Study the case – Understand and note  down important issues, facts, and ideas.
  2. Identify the problem – Now the most important thing is your ability to identify the main problem and discover the relationships between the problems and factors responsible for it.
  3. Define the problem –  Formulate the problem in precise words.
  4. Identify the cause of the problem – State relevant facts and establish logical links between them. Also go for statement of assumptions if any.
  5. Develop alternatives – Suggest alternative answers / solutions to the problem or questions raised in the case.
  6. Evaluate alternatives – Evaluate each solution in terms of its relevance to the objective and the decision to be taken. Compare the results and decide on the best course of action recommended by you.
  7. Develop plan of action – Work out a plan of implementation.

Writing a Case Analysis – The Structure

Main parts of the written analysis

  1. Title of the case – Reflects the objective/ central problem.
  2. Statement of the problem – States the objective of the case study and what is to be achieved through the proposed solution.
  3. The case – A very brief narration of the entire situation / problem to provide a context for the various issues to be investigated.
  4. Scope of the analysis – Define clearly the limits of your analytical study of the case. Tell what aspects of the case are being analysed in your study.
  5. Alternative solutions and their evaluation – Each suggested answer / solution should be fully considered in relation to the company’s objectives and goals.
  6. The best solution – Mention the recommended solution. Justify your answer with all those principles of management or concerned area relevant to the case under consideration that direct you to select the solution.
  7. Conclusion – In industry based case studies, an action plan to overcome the problem / situation is worked out for implementation. The recommended action is fully analysed in terms of its viability, feasibility cost, and benefit to the company. Any other inherent limitation or weakness in implementing the plan should be clearly discussed and indicated as a point for caution and further consideration.
  8. Executive Summary – Mention the following – The Problem, The possible solutions, The best solution, Recommended plan of action, Benefits to the company

The executive summary is for helping the decision makers know the problem and its solution without going through the entire case analysis. It is placed at the beginning of the written analysis.

Characteristics of a good case study

A good case study should put a problem centered around a critical management issue rather than around personal dilemmas.

It should use an ordinary and familiar environment to present extraordinary problems. The problems must be narrated in an interesting manner and by avoiding a cut and dry approach.

The case narrative must contain a good mixture of relevant and not so important facts so as to give the participants a chance to sieve and evaluate the information.

A good case should provide solutions to problems.

Headings for writing the case study solution

  1. The Problem – This should describe what needs to be achieved through the proposed solution. A heading any suggested if not given in the narrative.
  2. The case – This should contain the key words/ phrases in the narrative.
  3. Boundary limits – The boundary limits under which the case is proposed to be solved should be specified.
  4. Possible solutions and their evaluations :

Solution 1,                              Merits                                     Demerits        etc  . 

    5. Selection of the best solution

    6. Management Principles Applied – Briefly enunciate the theoretical principles used for obtaining the solutions  / the best solution.

    7. Implementation plan – Convert the selected best solution into a logical plan of action.

   8. Feedback : Plan to get a feedback at well defined stages and if possible, consider a contingency plan / alternatives in case the monitored results during the feedback show variation form the results expected in the implementation plan.

  9. Conclusions – Summarise by comparing what the problem was and how the action plan based on the best solution has solved it.

10. Executive Summary – Write the objectives of the case, the possible solutions, the best solution and its implementation as the last step and place it in the beginning of the report.

Advantages of Case Study Methods

  • Comprehension                     
  • Objectives                  
  • Relevant Information 
  • Evaluate Facts                       
  • Making Assumptions
  • Rigorous analytical skills
  • Decision making Abilities
  • Managerial Concepts
  • Generates Creativity
  • Extends experience of role playing
  • Understanding Managerial Problems
  • Slow speed Zero risk activity
  • Differing situations
  • Not applicable to management alone
  • More interesting
  • Teaches team spirit
  • Enhances competence
  • Improvement of communication skills
  • Time management
  • Inculcates the habit of reading.
  • learning becomes interesting and challenging.

Limitations of case Method

  1. In an actual situation, a person must live with the problem, but the same does not pertain to case method.
  2. Case method has a realism, but it is no way a live reality.
  3. A lot of time and thought is often required to develop a case study.
  4. Trained faculty members are not always available to lead the cases and help the students to inculcate the skills of analyzing the cases.
  5. A case is designed to focus on certain category of problems e.g financial, behavioural, marketing etc.., hence it may overlook other issues present in the organization.
  6. It lacks realism in one final aspect, i.e implementation of the decision.
  7. One should not forget that decision making is easier said than done.
  8. The participants using the case study method as a pedagogical tool wish to know the right answer to the case.
  9. Many a time, students without putting in any effort, copy from previous analysis of the case and take an unearned benefit.

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