Florida Gulf Coast University

Case Analysis Guidelines

"Scientific reasoning and everyday reasoning both require evidence-based justification of beliefs, or the coordination of theory and evidence."
- Thomas Kuhn, 1993

"The straight path of reason is narrow, the tempting byways are many and easier of access."
- Joseph Jastrow

Introduction

Practice in case analysis helps to develop disciplined thought processes enabling managers to better confront issues on both familiar and unfamiliar ground - defining the problem, breaking it down, identifying areas of analysis, marshaling relevant facts, drawing conclusions, formulating recommendations. Skills in problem analysis are especially valuable as the manager takes on new assignments and/or moves to higher levels of responsibility. Thus, case method learning goes beyond acquiring necessary content and useful knowledge concepts; arguably its most important benefit is developing modes of rigorous analytical thinking. Adapted from The Use of Cases in Management Education, (c) 1976 by The President and Fellows of Harvard College.

 

"Given a thimbleful of facts, we rush to make generalizations as large as a bathtub."
- Gordon Allport, 1954

 

Some thoughts on case analysis

A summary of facts is not an analysis. An effective analyst asks "Why" and upon divining the answer, asks "Why" again, and perhaps again and again - not unlike a persistent, curious child. The analyst wants to understand why past events occurred, why these events led to the current situation, why certain criteria are relevant to testing alternative courses of action (and why others are not), why a recommended course can be expected to produce the desired results, what steps management can take to ensure success, and how management can measure its success. To adequately analyze a case is to really understand the personal, competitive, financial, and technical forces at work in the case, and to design a solution which marshals these forces effectively.

Case analysis is analytical thinking: analytical thinking is critical thinking (if you followed these "if-then" statements you just engaged in critical thinking!) Thinking is always a process. Quick, snap answers to complex problems is not thinking -- it is belief prejudice in action. You will become better at analysis with practice and thus develop the ability to analyze situation a more rapidly, but the focus in learning critical thinking is on the processes. Answers are the inevitable product of the process.

This process requires you to:

  1. Succinctly define the problem
  2. Draw upon a base of content knowledge (theory) that will provide a useful framework for you to develop a deeper understanding of the problem
  3. Apply this framework to the problem and to ask how this particular use of the theory deviates from the standard use for the theory. Never expect the theory to fit perfectly, theories are valued for two aspects: first, their ability to explain or predict; and second, their generalizability or the breadth of their applicability.
  4. Apply the theory as modified by step three to the problem.
  5. Make a decision/recommendation for the problem.

     

    "They will try to tell you to prove that you are right; I tell them to prove that you are wrong."
    - Louis Pasteur, 1822-1895

 

How to prepare a case

1. Go through the case quickly, asking yourself, "What broadly is the case about and what types of information am I being given?" In particular, look at the first few and last few paragraphs and glance over the exhibits.
2. Read the case very carefully underlining what seem to be the key facts as you go. Try to put yourself in the position of the manager and to develop a sense of involvement in his or her problem.
3. Define what you believe to be the basic issues in the case, and look for material relevant to the questions given you with the case assignment.
4. Identify the areas for analyzing these issues and questions. Prepare an outline of your analysis, with headings on separate sheets of paper.
5. Go back through the case jotting down on your work sheets the facts that bear on each of your areas of analysis.
6. Focus on the exhibits. What data is relevant to your analysis? What does it tell you?
7. Study the factual information as you have sorted it out, weighing both the qualitative and quantitative evidence carefully. Note your conclusions for each analytical area.
8. Formulate a set of recommendations directed at the issues you've identified. Expand on your implementation plan, including a consideration of the metrics or other tools you would use to measure the success of your course of action. Adapted from The Use of Cases in Management Education, (c) 1976 by The President and Fellows of Harvard College.

At this point you are ready for a team meeting to discuss the case and compare notes. If you are preparing for an in-class discussion, your teammates will be a good sounding board for sharpening your arguments. Of course, this is also true if you are preparing a written analysis of the case, but if the written assignment is an individual one the composition and production of your paper are expected to be your work alone. Guidelines for preparing written or team presentations of cases may be distributed separately by an individual professor.

We do not recommend that you assign subsets of the case (e.g., the given questions) to individual team members in advance. In other words, each student is expected to be thoroughly prepared in all aspects of the case. The process aspects of case analysis cannot be developed at the individual level within a team framework. The team approach is extremely helpful in learning -- you have the opportunity to see what others see that you did not and you have the opportunity to subject your thought processes to critical reflection in a supportive environment. However, the goals are to develop your capacity to think critically and to have the confidence to challenge those in your decision environment who are not. Thus, any and all statements, assumptions, and arguments must be supported.

If the case is not disguised, and unless you are instructed otherwise, you are encouraged to research the company and its industry via the internet, the library, and other means. Be prepared to cite your sources, including your class text(s).

 

"Neither a closed mind nor an empty one is likely to produce much that would qualify as effective reasoning."
- R.S. Nickerson, 1986

 

Class discussion expectations

Each of your instructors will have a different style, but the following are some general characteristics of an effective case discussion:

 

"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more or less."

"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many things."

"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master -- that is all."

- Lewis Carroll (Through the Looking Glass, 1872)

 

Authors: Jim Vail and Brad Hobbs
Last Updated: June 11, 2009
email - Dr. Bradley K. Hobbs
 

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Disclaimer: The schedules and procedures in this course are subject to change in the event of extenuating circumstances.