Friday, November 28, 2014

Case Analysis: Thinking 360 Degrees

Your life as an MBA student at the Asian Institute of Management (AIM) will revolve around cases. When you graduate at AIM, you will have read 800 plus cases.
So now, how do you tackle a case?
In this writing, I will share with you some tips on analyzing a case.
A case in itself if not a short story, though it tells a story. Therefore, it does not intend to entertain you the way short stories do. Some of the cases may have entertaining stories and some are just sobering.
A case is written with a learning objective in mind. Therefore a case is a learning tool. The length of cases can vary from as short as two (2) pages and as long as twenty (20) to thirty (30) plus pages. Usually, cases are ten (10) to twelve (12) pages long. The case with at least eight (8) pages will contain exhibits.
In some instances, management research write-ups can be used in case discussions and its length can be more than a hundred pages. 
Prof. William Ellet of Harvard Business School classified in his book the types of cases. These general types are; 
  • Problem Cases: These cases present problems being encountered by the protagonist or his/her organization. 
  • Decision Cases: These cases present various options from which the protagonist has to choose the course of actions.
  • Evaluation Cases: These cases delve on evaluating the value of an undertaking. 
Prof. Ellet, provided specific insights on how to analyze each of these types of cases and I will not repeat his statements in this post because his book is worth reading.
Anyhow here are my tips for a good case analysis.
1. As emphasized by Prof. Horacio Borromeo of AIM,  the first thing to do in case analysis is to define the issue. In defining the issue, you will know the type of case you will analyze. In such a case, you will know the Ellet framework to use, be it the framework for tackling problem cases, decision cases or evaluation cases. In our written analysis of case (which we call WAC), you will screw-up if you will not define the issue. In addition to that, it is quite sensible to define the issues first because it will guide you in the right direction for case analysis. 
2. A case can be used in different subjects. Sometimes the same case is used in Marketing Management Subject and Strategic Management Subject. So when you tackle a case given in Marketing Management Subject, your focus should be on marketing management not strategic management.
3. The intent of case analysis is to bring a participant's level of thinking to a higher level across Bloom's taxonomy. This means that you should exhibit deep thinking in your case analysis. You should not just become passive receiver of case information but you have to exhibit that you can make sense of it. As such, you will need to break down (analysis) the case into its parts and take a look at each. Thereafter you have to put it back together (synthesis). After this analysis-synthesis activity, you should be able to show your evaluation of the case. In that way, you exhibit higher level of thinking.       
4. Your case analysis should be laser-sharp in focus. Guard against being all over the place.  
5. In reading the case, it is also good to do a mind-map or model. This will help you through in identifying gaps and valuable insights.

6. As you read the case, be on the look-out for frameworks (Porter's, Value Chain, etc.) to apply. This particularly applies for Strategic Management cases.
7. Look through the case for insights. You may ask, "What is this case all about?"

8. Prof. Thomas Alexander, a former professor at AIM and now professor at Babson College enjoined us to encircle the numbers seen in the case. As I applied it, it was really helpful because when I needed some quantitative insights, it was easier to find the numbers when encircled.

9. Allow your creativity to flow. Don't stick to traditional methods. Think of something crazy but practical and doable. Like in consulting, companies don't just bring-in consultants to solve business problems but to provide fresh ideas.

10. This may not be the nicest advice you will receive but I heard it from my professor who is a Harvard MBA graduate. In your can group or learning team, choose the shorter cases to read, then leave the longer ones to other group mates. In this case, you will have ample time to analyze the cases without spending too much time on reading. But this will depend if your other group mates will agree.

As you frequently hear at AIM or even from alumni, you have to analyze the case 360 degrees. To a certain extent, that statement can be taken out of context. The caution here is that, a 360 degree analysis should not lead to "analysis paralysis." Don't over analyze because you are given limited time. If you feel you have done enough, then you may stop because the economic theory of diminishing return will get into play.

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