CASE STUDY: A structured approach to successful solutions
A business case is a document that imitates or simulates a real situation. Cases are written representations of reality that may the reader in the role of a participant of the situation. Cases often illustrate a business or policy situation to be solved and includes information for classroom discussion and other study. The situation does not have an obvious solution. The case provides an adequate fact base to stimulate an educated conversation concerning possible outcomes. Each case has one central decision point, dilemma, or angle. The nature of the situation is clearly apparent within the first two paragraphs. In summary, as an analog of reality, a case must have three characteristics:
· A significant business issue or issues. Without an issue the case has no educational value
· Sufficient information on which to base conclusions
· No stated conclusions
The writing in a case is precise and nuanced, yet always clear and concise. It is neither colloquial nor stuffily formal. It is also engaging and interesting to the reader. It is imperative for a case writer to always be objective—a case is not a marketing pamphlet for the featured organization, though the writer may portray biases that the protagonist may have.
ATTACKING THE CASE
Your first reaction upon reading a case will probably be to feel over whelmed by all the information. Upon closer reading, you may feel that the case is missing some information that is vital to your decision. Don’t despair. Case writers do this on purpose to make the cases represent as closely as possible the typical situations faced by agribusiness managers. In this age of computers, managers often have to sift through an excessive amount of information to glean the facts needed to make a decision. In other situations, there is too little information and too little time or money to collect all the information desired. One definition of management is “the art of using scanty information to make terribly important, semi-permanent decisions under time pressure.” One reason for using the case-study method is for you to learn how to function effectively in that type of decision-making environment.
When assigned a case that does not contain all the information you need, you can do two things: First, seek additional information. Library research, a few telephone calls or first person “field trips” may provide the necessary facts. Second, you can make assumptions when key facts or data are not available. Your assumptions should be reasonable and consistent with the situation because the “correctness” of your solution may depend upon the assumptions you make. This is one reason that a case can have more than one right solution. In fact, your teacher may be more interested in the analysis and process you used to arrive at the decision than in its absolute correctness.
In some cases, the case writer(s) have provided questions to guide your analysis; in other cases it is up to you, the case analyst, to decide which questions are relevant in defining the problem. This too is by design. In an actual agribusiness situation you will have to decide which questions to ask, and certainly no one will give you a list of multiple-choice answers. This is why it is suggested that you not limit your analysis to the questions at the end of a case.
The Seven Steps of Problem Analysis
Using an organized seven-stem approach in analyzing a case will make the entire process easier and can increase your learning benefits.
1. Read the case thoroughly. To understand fully what is happening in a case, it is necessary to read the case carefully and thoroughly. You may want to read the case rather quickly the first time to get an overview of the industry, the company, the people, and the situation. Read the case again more slowly, making notes as you go.
2. Define the central issue. Many cases will involve several issues or problems. Identify the most important problems and separate them from the more trivial issues. After identifying what appears to be a major underlying issue, examine related problems in the functional areas (for example, marketing, finance, personnel, and so on). Functional area problems may help you identify deep-rooted problems that are the responsibility of top management.
1. First important question: What business are we in?
2. Second important question: What is happening within the industry?
3. Third: What is the culture like in the firm, what is happening with the character?
4. Fourth: Place yourself inside the main character – empathy.
3. Define the firm’s goals. Inconsistencies between a firm’s goals and its performance may further highlight the problems discovered in step 2. At the very least, identifying the firm’s goals will provide a guide for the remaining analysis.
4. Identify the constraints to the problem. The constraints may limit the solutions available to the firm. Typical constraints include limited finances, lack of additional production capacity, personnel limitations, strong competitors, relationships with suppliers and customers, and so on. Constraints have to be considered when suggesting a solution.
5. Identify all the relevant alternatives. The list should all the relevant alternatives that could solve the problem(s) that were identified in step 2. Use your creativity in coming up with alternative solutions. Even when solutions are suggested in the case, you may be able to suggest better solutions.
6. Select the best alternative. Evaluate each alternative in light of the available information. If you have carefully taken the proceeding five steps, a good solution to the case should be apparent. Resist the temptation to jump to this step early in the case analysis. You will probably miss important facts, misunderstand the problem, or skip what may be the best alternative solution. You will also need to explain the logic you used to choose one alternative and reject the others.
7. Develop an implementation plan. The final step in the analysis is to develop a plan for effective implementation of your decision. Lack of an implementation plan even for a very good decision can lead to disaster for a firm and for you. Don’t overlook this step. Your teacher will surely ask you or someone in the class to explain how to implement the decision.