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How to Read a Case Study

What is a case?
Along with group work, experiential learning and traditional lectures, case studies are an important component of the academic experience in Kellogg executive education. A case is a description of a situation faced by an organization. It typically includes information regarding the organization’s history, management team and production process as well as the competitive environment, labor market and financial data.

Why are cases used in the classroom?
Analyzing a case provides practice both in diagnosing an organization’s situation and in formulating action plans to improve that situation. Case studies allow program participants to follow along as a real-life company problem unfolds. Using the same information the profiled company’s managers had at each stage, participants learn to diagnose (and solve) problems quickly, to identify new opportunities, and to develop several possible courses of action simultaneously. Then, as a group, the class evaluates everyone’s plans, discussing the potential risks and rewards of each.

Part of what makes case analysis somewhat frustrating and difficult is also what makes it so valuable:

  1. The issue is not stated in the case. It is up to the reader to determine what the issue is.
  2. Cases have no unique answer. They usually have more than one good solution.
  3. Information is incomplete, misleading, or extraneous. The reader must ascertain what information is of value.

In other words, case studies mirror real life. Analyzing a case gives the reader a chance to practice making sound business decisions and solving complicated problems when there is no obviously right answer.

Working through a case study, participants hone the same strategic thinking skills they use to tackle difficult problems in their own workplaces. Under the guidance of Kellogg faculty — and with the real-world insights of their peers — they develop new strategies to apply at their own companies as soon as they return to work.

How should a case be analyzed?

1. Read the case quickly. Try to get a sense of the big picture rather than focusing on details. You should be able to diagnose the problem area, be it marketing, manufacturing, human resources or perhaps a combination of areas.
2. Read the case again, this time focusing on specific, relevant facts that support your diagnosis of the problem area. Make use of both qualitative and quantitative information, particularly information that is included in the exhibits.
3. State the problem in clear, concise terms. Be careful not to confuse symptoms of the problem with the actual problem.
4. Generate solutions to the problem as you have stated it. Some solutions may be included in the case write-up. Other solutions may be based on your own previous experiences. Still other solutions may incorporate principles you learned during class.
5. Evaluate the possible solutions in terms of how well they achieve a resolution to the organization’s problem as you have defined it. Select the best solution.
6. Consider the implementation of your solution and the possible problems it may cause. Think of steps you can take to ensure a trouble-free implementation.
7. Prepare to defend your solution and its implementation as the best possible choice.

Remember: Case analysis is more an art than a science. There are no prescribed solutions.

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