Case Study Development Methodology

Case studies in business management

Case studies in business management are characterized by their relevance to the theories and practices of businesses across the world. While there could be cultural differentiation, the need is to align with the basic purpose of business ventures. Men, machines and materials form the basic resources of a business, and customers at the relevant marketplace create the necessary turnover of these resources. Every business or entrepreneurial venture is preceded by the necessity of there being means for survival and creation of wealth by the stakeholders. It is in a way a mixture of needs, actions and results in a perpetual series and cycle of events, which consume and recreate themselves for the continuity of life on this planet perhaps.

The case studies in business management depend very much on the ‘virtual’ nature of their contents, and the actual and real-life demonstration of business situations that they bring to the classroom in business schools help in letting the students correlate the theoretical and practical aspects of business management. Case studies should generate interest in the minds of students and awake in them a curiosity to understand the contents of a case study and an urge to involve oneself in the case analysis and resolution process. Then only can case studies be called effective tools that translate real-life business scenarios to classroom discussion topics. The case studies in business management are characterized by features as follows:

  • Fact-based contents and narrations rather than fantasies and fiction.
  • Necessity of an appropriate ‘hook effect’ in case contents and the chronological presentation of a case.
  • Presence of just enough ambiguity and vagueness in the deliberations of the case.
  • Providing clues and not exact solutions to case issues.
  • Providing specificity in the comparison and correlation of case contents to topics of studies in business management.

CASE STUDY BASED ON FACTS

In order to make a case study present a real-life situation, it should necessarily be based on the facts of a business situation, either a past situation or a concurrent happening in the domestic or international business environment. However, in order to protect an individual’s or an organization’s business interests, one may, to the maximum extent possible, camouflage the names of individuals, organizations or the exact product and process nomenclatures, besides duly respecting the copyrights of the owners of the references made, if any, in the case contents. The students of business management definitely desire to feel involved when they have to study, analyse and resolve business case studies; hence, any distortion in the facts, details not confirming to regular business transactions or issues not commonly visualized during the course of their studies tend to deflect their focus and create a sense of artificiality or disinterest in their approach to the case study methodology like the project management profession for example. In fact, this is one of the most important reasons why case studies based on industrial situations abroad are of lesser interest to the students, since they do not depict real business scenarios in the business environment and are deprived of the cultural relevance so essential to many students. It is also observed that in many a case study, an attempt is made by the authors of the case study to dramatize the narration to such an extent that the seriousness of the topic in relation to business management studies is completely disregarded. And such case studies are remembered by the students for their fun content rather than facts of business life. This has an implied risk in that students may totally miss the objective of the case study methodology of business management studies and consider case studies as irrelevant to business studies’ requirements.

A good case study, therefore, should necessarily draw the attention of students to the events and facts normally reported in the business magazines or based on reports appearing in the newspapers, a journals, such that the students’ natural interests are aroused to know more about the issues involved through case analysis and discussions. Students who are aware of the happenings in the business world around them will be happy to clarify their understanding of the theoretical aspects of their course of management studies by making the best use of case study methodology.

HOOK EFFECT IN CASE STUDIES

For a film to be entertaining and interesting till the last scene, it must capture the imagination of the audience and make them feel as though they are a part of the environment created by the film; similarly, it is necessary that business case studies create a feeling in the students that they are a part of the case study from the beginning to the final resolution. This is the essential hook effect that every case study in the product or business management should strive to achieve. Mind well that this does not mean the authors should resort to fantasizing the narration of case contents; the purpose of films is pure entertainment, whereas the purpose of business case studies is to develop a strong sense of attachment of the student towards case contents, as is relevant to their course of studies; it is in their own interests to understand the analysis and resolution process of a particular case study that looks so similar to real-life business situations about which they have some knowledge. Case studies in business management should provide enough opportunities for conflicts and disagreements, lively discussions and competitive team spirit among the students. The case studies should also generate an interest in the students to look out for additional data from sources such as the Internet and business magazines, balance sheets of companies, etc., to gather further information to help them understand management concepts and prepare them to provide effective analysis and resolutions to the questions raised by the case writer. Every business executive necessarily suffers much anxiety and related stressful situations in the resolution of day-to-day problems at the workplace. The purpose of business case studies is to simulate an environment that is as real as possible using the case content and analysis and resolution process.

NECESSITY OF AMBIGUITY AND VAGUENESS IN BUSINESS CASE STUDIES

A professional manager often comes across ambiguous and vague situations including discontinuous changes in their day-to-day activities. In fact, these situations incite creative and innovative responses from the managers, leading to ensuring sustainability amidst volatile market forces. If every step is based on logic and must be preplanned or doctored, then perhaps life will not be worth living it. In the parlance of strategic management, we often talk of change management and of ‘discontinuous changes’, which defy logic and sense of sequencing of events. The real capability factors for effective business management are the ones that can manage business uncertainties like never before in globalized competitive environments. It is these uncertainties, which are the real ambiguities and vagueness in business management, that the case studies are supposed to imbibe while the students are on the lookout for logical steps in analysis and issue resolution. Case studies should induce the students to think outside the box for the resolution of issues for a given situation. A case study should not be a drab story from cradle to grave or a reincarnation of business practices, which kills the creative capabilities of students and oversimplifies the challenges faced in effective business management. See Examples of business value The case studies should deflect logic-based thinking to change management areas wherein the students are required to play different roles in providing long-term solutions to the issues mentioned in the case studies. Questions such as why, when, how, how much, who, etc., should naturally surface while analyzing and resolving case issues.

CLUES FOR CASE STUDY ANALYSIS AND RESOLUTION

Providing clues and soft hints along the sequence of events in case study analysis and resolution will enable students to direct their analyses towards the objectives of the case study. It is often the experience that students lose their focus on important aspects of the case study and start drifting towards issues on less critical points. This is also quite often the case in real-life industry situations wherein the major focus in important discussions gets deflected to trivial issues, resulting in wastage of valuable time, conflicts of interests and escalation of the problem rather than arriving at any resolution. Business case studies should make special attempts to keep the focus of the analysis and resolution methodology oriented on major issues. This can be done by proper sequencing of events in the case study such that the readers of the case are provided with links to the theme of the case as frequently as required by providing clues to the root causes for the issues and hints to the likely solution or answers to the questions asked by the case writer. For example, if the case writer wants the students to compare the case issues with ‘competitive strategy’ situations, then the mention of ‘competitive environment’ as an often-repeated data or issue in the case study would keep the students focused in their analysis and discussions on, say, the ‘competitive advantage matrix’, as enumerated by Michel Porter on strategic business management topics.

Similarly, case studies in human resources (HR) should provide clues on HR-related issues, rather than constantly talking about competition and product-related issues. Check Roles in Human Resources. Of course, in the case of case studies in overall operations management including mergers and acquisitions, it would be prudent to provide related clues on each functional area and the respective topics in classroom studies. Nevertheless, should the clues attempt to mislead the participants, the very belief and credibility of the case study methodology of studies would be destroyed. It is also equally important to note that the clues should only be indicative and not directive in their purpose.

CORRELATIVE EFFECT OF CASE STUDIES AND TEACHING NOTES FOR CASE STUDIES

As is evident from the very purpose of the case study methodology of teaching business management topics, every case study should have a definite correlation to the topics of studies for students. And it is also necessary for the case to focus on specific sub-topics such as process management, quality management, talent management, industrial relations issues, etc.

Since in a real-life business environment, there is seldom a single issue involved and most of the issues have their root causes elsewhere and not in the scene of the event, the case studies need to generate typical business environment–like issue presentation and at the same time draw the analysis and resolution discussions to the main topic of the case study with appropriate clues. For questions given by the case writer, answers can be given by correlating the case contents and clues.

CASE STUDY TEACHING NOTES

Case study teaching notes are primarily for the case instructor or the faculty who use the case study methodology for teaching business management topics to students. Following are some of the important aspects of case teaching notes (these are not exclusive in their coverage; the concerned faculty could add, delete or modify the same to make their case teaching process as effective as possible):

Every case presenter should provide students with a brief summary of the case in order to generate initial awareness and prepare the students to study the case as a cursory note or a preamble of their expectations from the analysis and resolution efforts required for the case study.
A list of the main topic and sub-topics intended to be taught through the particular case study needs to be prepared and discussed beforehand by the faculty with the students, in order to ensure there is enough clarity of understanding and expectations from a particular case study.
Reference to important theories such as Maslow’s theory, Herz Berg’s theory, Michel Porter’s model on business competitive and market forces, GE 9 cell model for investment decisions, etc., in any other specialization area of business management studies should be made in a separate ‘Focus of Studies’ part of the teaching notes and should be shared with the students in advance of case study discussions to enable the students to consolidate their understanding and applicability of a particular theory during the analysis and resolution process of case study discussions.
The teaching notes should also contain corollary topics and references to other aspects of the course of studies, which may not have been covered in the main case content. Additional information about a product, process or business unit or comparisons with similar real-life situations and relevant market situations, if available with the faculty, is shared with the concerned students; this will help the students to correlate their knowledge with this additional information, which refers to an actual situation.
Every faculty should necessarily collect feedback from the groups or individuals who have studied the case and their comments on the utility of the case study towards their course of business management studies must be noted. This feedback will help the faculty to make necessary improvements in leading the case study by answering certain observations made by the participants.
Every faculty should prepare an assignment case study to be completed by the students, to encourage students to experience the work-life through exercises in case study resolutions.

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