How to Analyze a Case Study

Photo by Thom Lowther

Most of you who know me well know that I believe passionately in the use of cases studies as a learning tool. Years ago I discovered a excellent tool for analyzing case studies in the "Handbook for Training and Development" published by ASTD. I share below a simplified version of tool. I have used it often - in professional firms, in associations workshops and in college classrooms.

When analyzing a case study, an orderly, step-by-step approach is helpful. It is important to gain an appreciation of the overall situation initially, as well as to learn what information is contained in the case. Therefore, it is suggested that the case study be skimmed first to gain this overall perspective. While or after doing so, jot down the key points and issues that come to mind, as well as your first impression of the problems, issues, and opportunities facing the company. Then read the case in detail, adding to and modifying your initial thoughts. Remember that not everything in the case is vitally important, nor is all the important information necessarily included. The case represents someone's (e.g., management's) description of the company and its situation - it is up to you to probe deeper, sort and shift things out, and acquire additional information. It is your responsibility to analyze and recommend alternatives and approaches to management.

The following guide may be helpful to you in your task:

1. Define the situation. What are the challenges, problems, potential problems, opportunities, and potential opportunities facing the company? Typically, the case will contain various systems you will have to diagnose. To do so, try and isolate the major issues facing the company and their causes. Keep in mind that there are likely to be sub and secondary issues, as well as related and perhaps extraneous issues described in the case. Your task is to assign priorities to the issues, focusing on the critical few.

2. Assemble and analyze the important facts (gleaned from the case) which bear on the situation.

3. Specify important information that is needed but not included in the case. Determine whether or not it is available elsewhere. If available, acquire about it.

4. Make assumptions! For important information that is not available from the case or elsewhere, make logical assumptions as to what it might be. State these assumptions.

5. Draw conclusions Based on your analysis, information, and assumptions.

6. Determine alternatives and their likely outcomes. What are the major alternative actions open to the company, and what is likely to happen if each is adopted? Evaluate each.

7. Make recommendations. Based on your analysis, what do you recommend to management and why? Be prepared to defend your recommendations under critical questioning by the instructor and the class (the types of questions which might be posed by the company's management and other stakeholders).

8. Prepare an implementation plan. How should your recommendation be implemented, by whom? and in what sequence (short-term versus long-term actions). Where will the resources come from?

9. Prepare contingency plans. What do you recommend if your suggestions do not work as anticipated, or if certain external or internal conditions change?