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! 

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