Monday, December 29, 2014

A Platform for Further Thinking: Writing a Business Case

The Case Method has become a prevalent mode of instruction in business school classrooms. In some schools particularly at the Asian Institute of Management (AIM), one of the requirements for the completion of an MBA degree is writing a case and lecture notes.

For neophytes, writing a case seems to be a daunting task. One might think that he or she needs to have years of experience as case method professor before he or she can write a good case. Contrary to this belief, case writing can be an easy task if one knows its purpose and characteristics.

Any student who has read a case will say that a case is an open ended story. Well, that is just one of the characteristics of a case. The case really has a story on it but it is not all that.

A case first of all is not a literary piece to amuse one, but it is a learning tool. As such, a case is written with a learning objective in mind. So, this is the first thing that you have put in place before starting to write a case.

You also have to gather facts or conduct interviews for the information you will put in the case. The case of course has a protagonist who might be a manager, a CEO, a leader or an entrepreneur. This person or his or her business is confronted with a problem to solve (a problem case), a decision to make (a decision case), or evaluating courses of action (an evaluation case). Therefore, the case should be written in perspective of the protagonist in alignment with the learning objective.

Usually, the case gives a short background of the protagonist as well as the background of the business or organization he or she is managing or leading. It also describes the status quo of the business.

The case writer should prepare well and choose relevant materials for inclusion in the exhibits. Just to give an idea, some marketing cases show in exhibits pictures of advertising materials or the advertisements itself, sometimes pictures of products or its packaging. Cases on financial management and accounting subjects show the financial statements of the company in the exhibits. Cases on organizational development would show in the exhibit organizational chart. A process flow or supply chain is presented in cases used for operations management subject.

One has to bear in mind that cases are used as platform for further thinking. Meaning, the case that you are writing about should evoke thinking and one way to accomplish this is to provide incomplete information. This is to give some leeway for students to be creative in tackling the case and allows them to make reasonable assumptions. In any real situation, one has to make assumptions, and if the course of action seems not working, that's the time one needs to challenge the assumptions.  

At AIM, as was said by Prof. Horacio Borromeo, the Director for Case Research, even the Management Research Report (AIM's equivalent of a thesis) is also a case. These reports are lengthy reading materials which students hate for a reading assignment.

One last thing to bear in mind which is the usual disclaimer you can see in any Harvard case, "[The case is] prepared as the basis for class discussion rather than to illustrate either effective or ineffective handling of an administrative situation."

With all these in mind, now you are ready to write a business case for a meaningful learning experience! 

Monday, December 15, 2014

Surviving the B-School: My AIM Experience

I would say, experience is the best teacher. But one of your best experiences can be your MBA. 
On a superficial level, studying or having an MBA seems hip. For some, it can be a cool thing to engage in. But when you get to your b-school, there you can find the real challenge!
This is specifically true of AIM MBA. When I was there as a student, it felt like I was fluttering my feet in the strongest way possible to stay afloat.   
So, how then is it to stay "afloat" while working your way for an AIM MBA? Here are a few tips.
  • Upon knowing that you are admitted and you are very sure to enroll, do advance reading in accounting and macro-economics. This will give you an advantage of not getting behind when you are having pre-MBA and in taking the accounting (Language of Business) and economics (macro- and micro-economics) subjects as well. If you have engineering background, all the more it is imperative to do advance reading because many jargons are unfamiliar, though engineering logic still applies.   
  • Never ever cheat or plagiarize. The proctors of the exams are very strict and they are taking a video of the exam. They view the video to see the movements of the students and determine who are cheating. Never ever copy from written sources without attribution for this is a case of plagiarism, though you may get ideas from them. This is especially true for the Written Analysis of Cases (WAC). The Graduate School of Business Dean has a software used to determine if a student's written output is copied from an internet source verbatim or without attribution.  
  • Don't be intimidated by "aggressive" classmates. You also have to assert what's on your mind and at times you have to "outsmart" them. Don't just give-in to their demands. 
  • Choose a thesis (Management Research Report) topic in advance especially if you are aiming for the International Student Exchange Program (ISEP).
  • Listen attentively to case discussions especially in macro-economics because the professor always gives exam.
  • As much as possible, participate in all case discussions because it is the only way your professor will remember you and hence give you a good grade. Your contribution should focus more on quality rather than on quantity.
  • The lesson that I learned was that it is good to partner or find a buddy who knows quite well the dynamics of financial system (maybe an accountant or financial analyst). In this way, you can learn from him or her how to approach the cases on accounting, financial management, management control systems, etc. 
  • Always be creative and "classy" in your presentations.
  • Not all learning teams are "created" equal, though diversity is ensured. Some learning teams are composed of more intelligent individuals and have advantage in terms of social dynamics (they can get along well with each other) and work experience related to business. If you feel, that you belong to an "lesser endowed" learning team, don't despair, you have to work with your teammates anyway. Just make the most of what you can get from them and participate actively in the activities. Your learning team is your self-help group which can help you survive the b-school however "mediocre" it might seem.
  • Appreciate cultural diversity, learn various perspectives but stick to your nationality. Sticking with your compatriots in studying is more effective for there will be no language barrier to overcome.   
  • Get thesis (MRR) advisors who are committed. An indication of a committed MRR advisor is that, he or she gives you frequent feedback on your submitted output. He or she gives you constructive criticisms early on in your research. This will prevent you from cramming to the last minute and worse you may graduate "just-in-time" or graduate with the next cohort. You just know how it feels if you are in this situation.
  • Always observe good public relations. Don't just say anything however honest it may be. This is for your image to be viewed favorably by everyone.
  • Be courageous and confident. Never ever let the heavens crumble over a mess unless it is deadly.     
  • Always be alert for wiser and practical approaches to life's challenges. I am talking here not only about your studies but your life in general. Hard work may be good but it is not the sole element for winning and creating wealth.

With that, I hope to meet you in the future not just as "leaders" or "zillionaires" on Forbes list, but individuals who are touted for having lived life to the full human potential possible.