Case Study: Tips and Strategy

A case study, just like a group discussion, is designed to assess certain group performance skills of an individual. The difference stems from the fact that a Case Study tests a larger and slightly different skill set as compared to a normal group discussion. The following is a list of special traits, which the evaluators look for while assessing a candidate:
  • Analytical Skills: The core competence of an MBA is analysis of the situation: breaking down data, formulating it into a pattern that makes sense and deriving an efficient conclusion or recommendation. You should display this skill through targeted and accurate piecing together of the data while simultaneously wrestling the group towards a solution for the case. After self-analysis, you should cogently present the findings and recommendations for the group to discuss further.
  • Quantitative Skills: Some case studies involve working with numbers to reach an effective solution. In such a situation, a quick calculation on rough sheet to present the relevant figures for the group will make you stand in very good light with the evaluator.

  • Flexibility: This refers to the ability of the candidate to consider the opposing point of view in light of the facts/figures presented in the case. There is no single solution to the case and thus a flexible candidate should not leave out good options in his analysis even if they were presented with an opposing point of view.

  • Leadership Skills: Leadership is demonstrated by taking charge of the discussion and trying to achieve a consensus. The consensus does not have to be the best; instead, it should aim to incorporate all viewpoints.
  • Presentation/Communication Skills: Just like group discussion, effective communication forms an integral part of case study too. The skills tested are: articulation in presentation, fluency, body language, eye contact and coherence. Remember, when speaking, it is always better to take a small pause rather than babble!
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  • Behavioral/Personality traits: The personality traits being evaluated during case studies are: attitude, well balanced conduct, patience, team work, cogency and assertiveness.
  • Goal Orientation: This parameter is evaluated through the candidate's willingness to arrive at a solution and intelligent use of other's content.
  • Confidence: Last but not the least, the level of confidence, pro-activeness and action orientation form an important part of a candidate's performance in a case.
Action plan to handle challenges in case studies
Cases are certain illustrative situations depicting the profile and context of any problem. To make sure you are able to handle a case study successfully, it is important to identify and develop a strategy. Case Studies require a more analytical approach than a group discussion. Generally, the questions asked at the end of the case study are a “trap” for the students. The symptoms should not be mistaken for the root problem.

The following action plan should enable you to sail your way past the case study with ease:

  • Situation/Context Analysis: The first step in a case analysis is to go over the case line-by-line and jot down the relevant points, facts and data. The aim of this exercise is to capture the crux of the case in brief. Both the internal as well as the external factors relevant to the case should be elucidated. This analysis provides a shape for things to come in further analysis. The factors external to a case , say, related to an organization would comprise things like level of competition, market share, raw material prices, tight labour market conditions, price-cutting, customer preferences, etc. The factors internal to the organization comprise mainly of its labour policies, dispute-redressal systems, project approval schemes, marketing strategy, capacity expansions, etc.
  • The 'PACER' format for Case Analysis: This standard format is applicable to most of the case studies. Some minor variations might be needed depending on specific situations. It might not always be possible to fit the entire format to a specific case; however, an attempt should be made to incorporate as much as possible. It usually helps to write down the format headings on a sheet of paper and then fill in the details accordingly.
    • P- Problem Definition:
      The problem should ideally be defined in a crisp, single line, incorporating the most important decision issue to be solved in the case. To have a better grasp of the problem, being quantitative at this stage helps. An important thing to remember is not to mistake the symptoms for the root problem. For example, a falling market share or a decline in sales is, invariably, a symptom while the real problem may lie with the nature of the industry or the quality of the product.
    • A- Alternatives Generation:
      The next step is to list down the various alternatives to resolve the problem and achieve the objectives set out in the case study. At this stage, all the alternatives that come to mind should be listed even if an alternative provides only a part solution to the problem at hand. Sometimes, this part solution can be later combined with some other alternative to provide a complete solution.
    • C- Criteria for evaluation of alternatives:
      List down the parameters that are important to the solution of the problem at hand. These parameters can be profitability, growth in market share, image, sales, etc.
    • E- Evaluate the alternatives: 
      This stage uses the criteria to evaluate the various alternatives generated earlier. The positive and negative aspects of each alternative are to be kept in mind while evaluating the alternatives.
    • R- Recommendations: 
      At the end of the analysis, provide recommendations to resolve the situation. Also look at short-term as well as long-term implications of the recommendations in solving the problem.
Popular “Do's” and “Don'ts” in a case study
  • Things to do:
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    • Take time to analyze and think through the case
    • Weigh the pros and cons and various trade-offs between two or more choices
    • Break down the complex problem into small, distinct pieces to enable better articulation
    • Listen attentively, even to conflicting ideas, as they might provide part solution to the problem
    • Summarize the analysis periodically
    • Be consistent, and not monotonous
  • Things NOT to do:
    • Jump to a conclusion at the start
    • Worry about speaking all the time
    • Worry about not having specific industry knowledge
    • Worry if you are not able to completely solve the case. Remember, the structure of thoughts is as important as the final result
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