Preparing a Case Analysis
Conducting case analyses will assist you in digesting the
MBA curriculum in several ways. Because the cases assigned to you
will typically include both positive and negative examples of managerial
decisions, you will gain a great understanding of what managers should and
should not do in order to steer their organizations toward success.
You will develop the ability to evaluate your organization's strengths and
weaknesses, particularly with respect to the condition of your industry
and of your competitors. You will acquire some experience in
analyzing strategic issues, generating and evaluating alternative
strategies, and creating action plans. You will learn to rely on
your own judgment in unfamiliar business territory. And you will be
exposed to some new industries, which may pay off in your long-term career
planning. This section of the orientation will introduce you to
recommended process for analyzing a case.
- Read the case twice. During the first reading, you are
not looking for details--you're just trying to get a sense of the
situation and issues involved. If the case includes any study or
discussion questions, read these carefully. Then read the case a
second time, paying more attention to the actual facts of the case.
You may find it useful to answer any study or discussions questions
provided at this point, or simply write yourself a summary of the
situation the case describes.
- If the case includes exhibits, look at them carefully.
When you are first preparing cases, you may be tempted to skim over
exhibits that relate to business disciplines where you believe you are
weaker--for instance, putting aside financial statements because you're
not sure you understand them. Resist temptation and make sure you
understand the information which each exhibit is intended to convey.
- Make a preliminary diagnosis. Decide what the real
issues of the case are. You won't be able to conduct an effective
analysis of the case until you understand all of the issues it raises.
- Crunch the numbers. If the case includes numeric
information, such as financial statements, growth rates, etc., take the
time early in your analysis to calculate financial ratios, profit margins,
cost per unit, or any other statistics which the available data will
allow. Some of the calculations you perform may turn out to be
unnecessary to your analysis, but doing a quantitative analysis of the
case up front will prevent you from missing hidden information and will
also give you a sense of progress on the case if you've having trouble
determining where to start.
- Check your analysis arsenal. The point of a case
assignment is to give you experience using the tools that you are picking
up in your MBA courses. Whenever you approach a new case, consider
which tools you've been given most recently and start there.
However, never lose sight of the fact that your MBA program uses a
building-block approach, and that tools you have picked up in previous
coursework may be critical to conducting an effective analysis of the case
- Form your own opinions. Often, the cases you analyze
will include the opinions of one or several people, and often you'll be
given conflicting perspectives on the issue. Examine the data,
consider the reliability of your sources, and make an informed judgment
about which perspectives are valid and which are questionable.
- Answer the question "Why?" Go back and review
the analysis you've conducted up to this point, and make sure that you
could offer a defense of your diagnosis and judgments if you were called
upon to do so.
- Form a plan. As a manager, you would not be able to stop
with correctly summarizing your organization's issues and identifying a
problem--you would need to develop and implement a solution. Use
what you've learned to propose an appropriate course of action to correct
the problems you've identified.
- Prepare to lead class discussion of your case. You won't
always be leading the discussion of the case you've analyzed, but it is
always good practice to be prepared to do so. In a case discussion,
the instructor will typically be lead questioner or devil's advocate, but
the majority of the discussion will be among your classmates. Be
prepared to answer the question "Why?" for any conclusions
you've drawn or recommendations you've made. Don't be surprised if
someone disagrees with you or challenges your viewpoint, and don't be
alarmed if you find that your own views on the case are changing as a
result of the feedback you are receiving from classmates or the questions
that you are fielding from your instructor. A good case discussion
will hone your analysis skills and make the next case analysis you conduct
a better one.
- Prepare a written case. By the time you are ready to
write a case analysis, the hardest part of your work is over. Your
written case analysis will typically consist of three sections.
In the first section, you will offer your diagnosis of the
issues and problems in the case based on the information available.
This section should include an overview of the organization's current
circumstances, the steps it has taken previously relevant to your case
analysis, and the problem that management needs to solve. Resist the
urge to reiterate every piece of information offered in the case
itself--you are now an expert on this case and know which details are
relevant and which can safely be excluded.
In the second section, evaluate the steps the organization has
already taken, and the direction management is leading it in.
Include any relevant calculations you performed, and provide visual aids
(charts, tables, graphs) where necessary to communicate the information
effectively. Make sure that your evaluation is composed of logical
arguments supported by evidence. If you find yourself writing
statements that could easily begin with, "Everybody knows that . .
.," delete them--your evaluation should not assume that everyone
knows anything that is useful in managerial decision-making. Try
taking a sentence from your evaluation and tacking the word
"because" on the end, and see if you can finish the
clause. If you can't, you haven't completed your evaluation.
Finally, make sure that your evaluation is reasonable and objective.
Reaching a conclusion that someone else might not have because your
knowledge and experiences are unique is good, but doing so because you
already had a strong opinion about the organization or industry before you
read the case is not.
The final section should address your action plan. You
should evaluate your own recommendations in light of three issues.
First, you should be relatively confident that your recommendations would
succeed. Risk-taking is often called for in management, but unless
an organization is in such dire straits that options are extremely
limited, betting the farm is generally not the best management
style. Second, your recommendations should offer enough detail that
a manager who sought your advice would understand exactly how to implement
your plan. Finally, your action plan should be one that you would be
willing to implement yourself if it were your job on the line.
- Edit the written case. Refer to the Writing Papers
section of this orientation for advice on reviewing and editing your own
work, and/or ask the Academic Center staff for assistance in making sure
your case analysis is well-organized and free from grammatical errors.