Business Case Studies And Management Education

The usage of case studies in business-school (B-school) teaching was initiated by the Harvard Business School, Boston, Massachusetts, way back in the early days of the Industrial Revolution. In many areas of studies such as medicine, geology and agriculture, samples of dead bodies, soil and water samples could be brought inside the classrooms to compare and establish the correlation between theoretical studies and physical samples. However, one cannot create an industry factual situation inside a classroom, and students cannot be expected to visit industries frequently to get a real-life view of the topics taught in the classrooms. Specific laboratory experiments could, however, be conducted by management theorists to confirm their concepts on human behavior and attitudes. The popular experiments conducted at Hawthorne (known as the Hawthorne studies) and General Electric could only support the theorists’ concepts to be studied by B-school students.

Over a period of time, the issues of the corporate world became so complex and multi-dimensional that one was not able to confirm the concepts of management education topics by conducting similar experiments in industries. The areas of education also got enlarged in terms of specialized aspects such as marketing management, finance management, project planning and execution and business process reengineering, where it was physically difficult to base explanations on various aspects through experimentation.

Perhaps the only alternative available at that time was to rely on business games and role-play techniques, which were developed and used in classrooms to simulate industry situations in classrooms. Initially, it was more of an empirical theatre-like exposition for the students to watch, with some experts from industries helping in making the students understand specific topics of their studies through role-play–type group discussions.

Harward Business Institute (USA) was the first institute to attempt the development of the case study methodology based on simulation of real-life situations, occurrences, trends, etc., in the industry using well-written episodes through the analysis of which theoretical topics in the syllabus could be compared and resolutions of the issues of such case studies made, which enabled students to understand the resolution of similar issues arising in the industrial environment. This also enabled the students to experience role-play techniques and group dynamics of industrial life. In this manner, the concept of case study methodology of teaching in B-school education evolved.

The interaction between industry and educational institutions in Western countries has been quite intensive since the time of the Industrial Revolution and the development of professional and scientific management techniques. Educational institutions in the West provide all laboratory evaluations of industrial issues and the industries, in turn, share their major issues in management with the institutes enabling institutes to involve their students in the industry-related projects. The industries also support the institutes financially and through consultancy assignments on the research activities of the institutes. Therefore, the development of case studies based on real industry situations in such an interactive environment between industry and institutes is rendered easy and possible.

Many B-schools outside India have adopted the case study methodology for teaching almost all branches of management studies. This trend has been seen in India also, wherein a majority of the Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) have implemented case study–based methodology as an important pedagogical tool in business management education. The major issue in India is, however, the inadequate interaction between B-schools and industries. The fault lies with both B-schools and the industry. The B-schools in a majority of cases cannot provide research-based solutions to industry problems due to a lack of necessary infrastructure and facilities. And the industries in the absence of any direct benefit from the institutes are not inclined to waste their time and funds on B-school education.

Hence, there is a severe shortage in Indian case studies through which the B-schools can provide industry insight to its students. The majority of the case studies studied at IIMs and other A-grade B-schools are imported from abroad. These case studies are from situations in industries in foreign countries and have very little or no relevance to Indian students who have to necessarily study the situations in Indian industries. Besides, the objectives and purposes for which case studies are developed abroad are much different from the level and course of studies in Indian B-schools. Therefore, the dependence on foreign case studies for Indian students does not provide any real situational insight on Indian business. Although the syllabus for management studies requires taking the students through case study methodology, unfortunately, there are not many Indian case studies that can be discussed with the students. Thus, it is a Catch-22 situation. Unless institutes have the capability and the required infrastructure to cater to industry-related issues, they cannot expect any interactive support from the industries; unless institutes get adequate data from industries, their teaching content and quality continue to be much less than the expectations of the industry from students who pass out from such institutes.


The main objectives of using case-based teaching as a major pedagogical tool in B-schools are as follows:

To facilitate students’ concept development capabilities through exposure to real-life problems in industries
To enable students to correlate theoretical topics with the techniques used in analyzing complex issues in business situations
To develop skills using which students can develop an application matrix for the theoretical topics for real-life problem analysis and resolution techniques
Help the students of B-schools to develop an orientation towards the important attributes and attitudinal requirements for effective handling of complex situations at the workplace
To develop a clear understanding of the techniques used for problem analysis, situation analysis and decision analysis and appropriate understanding of the difference between problems and situations in project management
To develop the group-based approaches to solving problems and challenges at the workplace by appropriate coordination of and collaboration with all related aspects of a situation
To develop a reference manual for recording the problems tackled and the essential lessons learned from past incidences for use in future eventualities of recurrence of issues
To develop the preventive steps that must be initiated to ensure the problems resolved once do not recur in the immediate future


The entire gamut of business case studies can be classified as follows:

  • Evaluative case studies
  • Task- or action-oriented case studies (including project-based case studies)
  • Research-oriented case studies

Evaluative case studies are basically oriented towards developing the evaluative and analytical skills of students towards industry situations. Such case studies draw the attention of participants of the case resolution methodology on the in-depth correlative evaluation of the issues in the case study with the various related topics that the students have to study about in their classrooms. These case studies could be on issues related to human resources, industrial relations, product and process, marketing and finance management areas in business management. Such case studies help the students mainly to examine their understanding of evaluative steps such as evaluation of the financial situation of a company or the quality aspects of its products and services, etc.

The task- or action-oriented case studies dwell on business issues that call for appropriate decision-making capabilities of executives. By involving students of management studies in the resolution activity of such case studies, the skills learned by them through the theoretical studies can experiment in the resolution exercises. The students can be motivated to apply their decision-making skills along with their risk management ability to make business decisions. Developing a plan of actions oriented towards the resolution of the case issues calls for effective role-play techniques as also presentation skills from the part of students; they are normally required to defend their plan of approach and decisions in front of other students and the faculty, which helps them improve their capabilities to sustain questions and criticisms, normal features in business management.

Research-based case studies, as the name suggests, involve students in research initiatives to establish a hypothesis or to disprove a common belief, which influences the progress and sustenance of business ideologies or even scientific or technical aspects of business dynamics. These case studies normally call for prerequisites such as thorough business knowledge and enough exposure to both the theoretical and practical aspects of the issues presented in the case studies. Issues of corporate governance and social welfare functions, which have both obligatory and voluntary elements attached to them, are pursued in research studies to establish the utility purposes of such aspects, which range from free will to a compelled activity. Market-survey case studies help students to differentiate between facts and fantasies of customer behavior and understand the competitive forces at play in the marketplace. Business environmental analysis and the study of business options and strategic choices are recommended areas for case studies calling for research.

However, the real problem today for B-schools is the non-availability of good case studies on Indian business. Recently, it was reported that IIMs (IIM Bangalore) are resorting to appointing consultants to develop case studies on Indian enterprises since the usage of imported case studies from foreign businesses is fast losing its relevance to the Indian business scenario, which in itself has unique features among the global economies. India, which is rated as the world’s fourth-largest economy, definitely needs specific and separate approaches to the case study methodology as a pedagogical tool for B-school studies. This also calls for intensifying the industry-institute interactions at least at the B-school level of education. Both sides need to shed their shy or protective nature to facilitate effective and purposeful interactions. Even the government, and specifically the department of higher education, need to emphasize the absolute need for closer contacts between the higher educational institutes and the business houses in all segments of the economy. Only then can the studies at higher level be compatible to the needs of businesses and the educational degrees or qualifications be worthy of any application in the real economic progress of India, based on domestic skills as relevant to business needs.

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