Business School - Use of Case Studies

Use of Case Studies

Some business schools center their teaching around the use of case studies (i.e. the case method). Case studies have been used in graduate and undergraduate business education for nearly one hundred years. Business cases are historical descriptions of actual business situations. Typically, information is presented about a business firm's products, markets, competition, financial structure, sales volumes, management, employees and other factors affecting the firm's success. The length of a business case study may range from two or three pages to 30 pages, or more.

Business schools often obtain case studies published by the Harvard Business School, INSEAD, the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, the Richard Ivey School of Business at The University of Western Ontario, the Darden School at the University of Virginia, IESE, other academic institutions, or case clearing houses (such as European Case Clearing House). Harvard's most popular case studies include Lincoln Electric Co. and Google, Inc.

Students are expected to scrutinize the case study and prepare to discuss strategies and tactics that the firm should employ in the future. Three different methods have been used in business case teaching:

  1. Prepared case-specific questions to be answered by the student. This is used with short cases intended for undergraduate students. The underlying concept is that such students need specific guidance to be able to analyze case studies.
  2. Problem-solving analysis. This second method, initiated by the Harvard Business School is by far the most widely used method in MBA and executive development programs. The underlying concept is that with enough practice (hundreds of case analyses) students develop intuitive skills for analyzing and resolving complex business situations. Successful implementation of this method depends heavily on the skills of the discussion leader.
  3. A generally applicable strategic planning approach. This third method does not require students to analyze hundreds of cases. A strategic planning model is provided and students are instructed to apply the steps of the model to six to a dozen cases during a semester. This is sufficient to develop their ability to analyze a complex situation, generate a variety of possible strategies and to select the best ones. In effect, students learn a generally applicable approach to analyzing cases studies and real situations. This approach does not make any extraordinary demands on the artistic and dramatic talents of the teacher. Consequently most professors are capable of supervising application of this method.

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