You clutch your course handout of a subject in your hand and wonder about the various titles written in the last column of it. These titles are the quintessential of your disciplines in practical world and are known as case studies. Ranging from a single page to a whopping figure of thirty or forty, case studies give you a new perspective to your book concepts. Written by Harvard’s as well as IBS’s professors, they appraise the practical scenario in which the application of the book concepts has been witnessed.
Basically, there are three broad categories in which every case-study can be divided into. First, there is the introduction part which gives you a brief history of the organization and outlines the main dilemma and problem points of the case-study. The second part consist the facts and information which could be crucial for solving the case and the last part focuses on a specific problem which the organization, mentioned in the case, wants you to solve to come to a decision and hence terminate the conundrum.
Of course, there are exceptions to the above mentioned ‘three parts of a case’ rule. Cases in the discipline of Economics, for instance, are mostly jotted down in a chronological manner. Throwing light on major economic crisis of the world, the students are encouraged to discuss on a “What-If” basis rather than asking them to solve a problem.
Again, there are three ways of solving any case study. Read the chapter first, read the case and the final step is to match the concepts of the chapter with the case. Since the first two steps are self-explanatory we would not go into the details but focus on the third and the trickiest step as it is of paramount importance when it comes to solving a case.
The golden rule of approaching any case-study is – “Stop getting scared of the size of the case and the number of pages, words etc.” On the contrary, the lengthier the case is, the better it is for approaching a conclusion. When it comes to subjects such as Quantitative Techniques, Accounting for Managers, Operation Management and other disciplines, lengthier cases aid you with more and more information and hence solving them becomes a walk in the park.
Initially, adopt the habit of reading the case completely. Try not to omit any part of initial cases from every subject. They are written very precisely in the start and this practice of yours might give you a clue as to what areas you can skip when it comes to further lengthier cases.
Though there is an incorrect notion among students that the focus on case studies should be kept until the last minute. In fact, it should be quite the opposite way. Overcome this procrastination and don’t take case studies down to the wire where it is just a tool to earn grade in class participation. A lot of thought goes into designing a case-study and the same is expected from the students while grasping the concepts from it.
‘Ask questions to yourself’ is the next rule to follow. Try to find the crux of every paragraph or at least every page and narrow it down in the form of a few questions. This exercise would help you in two ways. Firstly, you would be able to summarize the entire case and secondly, it would help you in the class participation too. However, you need to have an experience of three to four sessions to execute it perfectly. You need to know the areas where the professor emphasizes on while discussing the cases and once you grasp that, you will be able to form questions in accordance with that of your professor’s.
Note down the names of critical decision makers (they are mostly the top management of the organization mentioned) from the case and jot down their point of view regarding the dilemma mentioned. Sometimes it so happens that either the language of the case perplexes us or it is the diverse viewpoints of the decision-makers that add to the confusion. Hence, it is better to scribble the final stand of every decision-maker on the dilemma.
Not every case can be solved by a thorough reading. Sometimes, you have to look beyond the horizon for the answers. What lies behind the veil are the “Appendix” which has the balance sheet, growth chart of the firm since its birth and other significant numerical hints. Let’s say the dilemma of a firm lies in whether or not to foray into a new market. Just by reading the company’s history and other facts you cannot resolve this issue. This is where the appendix trumps all other facts and information. All you have to do is compare the preceding year’s profits and other important figures to help you reach the verdict. Try to give logical solutions backed by numbers rather than shooting in the dark without any evidence.
Now once you follow all the above rules and tag yourself a perfectionist in solving the issues of various cases, you can advance to a part called ‘Skipping’ some areas of cases. This would surely save a lot of time and make you to concentrate on more vital areas of the case-studies. Now, you might wonder which areas to skip without affecting the decision-making process. This would vary from subject to subject.
In Accounting, Quantitative, Marketing Research and other financial subjects you can skip the history and introduction of the firm and scan for numbers instead. While in subjects such as principles of Marketing, Service Marketing, Integrated Marketing Communication, Business to Business Marketing etc. try to look for the four (or seven) P’s first and then the STP (Segmentation, Target market and Positioning) of the firm. When it comes to micro (and macro) economics, try to represent the problem of the case with the help of a diagram (a graph) and then understand it on a broader scale. Solve the IT related subjects’ cases such as ISM directly over your computer. Make sure you input the data in your computer as and when it appears in the case.
What if a professor of a financial subject asks you about the history of the firm? The answer is ‘Trade off’. Diversify the risk in such a manner that even if you miss the intro and history of the case, you still have the middle and last part (which is the solution) to discuss at the time of case discussion in the lecture.
Lastly, never ever put a cart before a horse. Read the chapters first before even touching the cases. Regardless of the subject whose case you are studying, always keep in mind the industry in which the firm belongs, the target group and definitely the dilemma that you need to focus on. Just in case none of the above rules work for you, remember that the professors are always there as a last resort. All you have to do is to approach them and clarify your doubts with them.
All the best!
Contributed by Hasan Ali Gumani ( Class of 2012-2014, IBS HYDERABAD )