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Written by Robert D. Austin and Robert L. Kelley. For private circulation only

Introduction to Case Analysis

Types of Cases

The "case method" is an approach to learning that encourages students to extract useful lessons from the experiences of others ("cases"). Students study accounts of specific events in order to discover general principles that they can apply in other situations. Cases tend to fall into one of three categories that sometimes overlap:

Decision Cases describe a decision faced by the case protagonist. The student ultimately must choose among a finite set of distinct decision alternatives.

Problem Cases require a student to diagnose a problem in a business case and to formulate possible solutions.

Evaluation Cases illustrate a business success or failure. The student analyzes the underlying reasons for that success or failure to arrive at management lessons.

What might you be expected to do with a case?

Discuss it. Harvard professor David Garvin, an expert case teacher and writer, sometimes says, "A case is a literary form intended to be discussed." A case does not fully achieve its purpose until students talk about it, just as the script of a play realizes its purpose when performed on stage. You should come to class prepared to discuss a case-specifically, to say what you think the decision should be, to articulate how the problem ought to be solved, and to defend your solution thoroughly, insightfully, and persuasively using data from the case.

Write a report or essay about it. The process of arriving at your recommendations for an exam or a paper is similar to how you prepare to discuss a case in class. However, you have the additional challenge of explaining your logic in written form, often within a limited number of pages or words. This limitation is especially pertinent on an exam.

Create a presentation. The analysis you'll do for a presentation will be similar to how you prepare for a discussion, exam, or paper on a case. The difference is the need to create presentation materials to help you explain your analysis and recommendations to a live audience. In short, you are the leader not merely a participant.

Learning from Case Analysis

From the events of a case, students can derive general principles, ideas, and theories. Sometimes these are famous frameworks, such as Porter's theory of generic strategies, Williamson's transaction cost theory, or the general principles of revenue recognition. Deriving or discovering a framework inductively from a real case helps you remember it and apply it to other business situations. That's because you've seen why it's needed, how to use it, and what its limits are. The role of the instructor in a case-based class is to guide students through this discovery process, to ask penetrating questions that refine and improve students' understanding, and to clarify the applicability of general concepts to other business settings.

Assignment Questions

Assignment questions are a good place to begin a case analysis. Usually your instructor will supply these, but occasionally they are included within a case, typically at the end. Some professors provide many detailed assignment questions; others offer relatively few or less-detailed ones. Assignment questions and questions that come up in a class discussion usually don't match up precisely. In general, assignment questions require a deeper exploration of the nuances of a case to be answered effectively, but they might merely prompt your thinking about key issues. Whatever your professor's approach to assignment questions, the basic challenge remains the same: identifying the important issues at the heart of the case, addressing those through analysis, and identifying what lessons from the case can be applied more broadly. Examples from the Komatsu LTD. and Project G case will be examined throughout this tutorial. To optimize your learning experience follow the suggestions in the "Try It" notes so that you will become familiar with the examples provided.

the e x a m p l e s p r o v i d e

One Approach to Case Analysis

The figure to the left describes the general approach to case analysis used in this tutorial. It's by no means the only approach that exists, but it's a worthwhile one to try as you get started.

Getting Oriented

Identifying Problems

Performing Analysis

Action Planning

Getting Oriented

Getting Oriented It's useful to think of a case analysis as digging deeper and deeper into

It's useful to think of a case analysis as digging deeper and deeper into the layers of a case.

1. You start at the surface, Getting

Oriented and examining the overall case landscape.

2. Then you begin to

dig, Identifying Problems, as well as possible alternative solutions.

3. Digging deeper, Performing

Analyses you identify information that exposes the issues, gather data, perform calculations that might provide


4. Finally, you begin Action

Planning to outline short-, medium-, and long-term well-defined steps. Typically, you'll need to repeat this process multiple times, and as you do, you'll discover new analytical directions, evolving your assessment of the case and conclusion.

Case Analysis Overview

Analyzing a case is not just about digging. It's also about climbing back out to examine what you've unearthed, deciding what it means, determining what to analyze next, and digging some more. Illustrated here:

to analyze next, and digging some more. Illustrated here: Often your examination of information about a

Often your examination of information about a problem will change your idea of what the real problem is-and about what to analyze next. The process is similar to when a detective investigating a crime shifts his or her opinion about the most likely suspect as more clues come to light.

Gather your materials and tools. These include the case itself, the assignment questions, and any other materials your instructor might provide (e.g., a spreadsheet or supplementary reading). Be prepared to take notes in the margins and to highlight important numbers or passages. This Case Analysis Worksheet can also be helpful as you organize information to use in your analysis.

helpful as you organize information to use in your analysis. Your First Pass Quickly read the

Your First Pass

Quickly read the opening section. In roughly a page, this important part of the case typically identifies the place and time setting, reveals the type of case this is, and signals what problem or issue might be the starting point for analysis. Along with the assignment questions, this section provides the most-reliable clues for beginning to solve the mystery of the case.

Flip through the pages, look at the section headings and exhibit titles, and skim parts of the body text that immediately catch your eye. Also glance through the exhibits, which usually appear at the end.

Read and re-read the assignment questions, and compare them with the section headings and exhibits. Try to gain an initial impression of where you might find answers to the questions (under which headings, in which exhibits, and how the exhibits relate to relevant sections of the case).

Defining the Problem

Based on your first pass, take a preliminary stab at writing a sentence or two that summarizes:

the type of case it appears to be (Decision, Problem, or Evaluation)

your impression of the main problem(s) or issue(s) that might be the appropriate focus of your analysis Bear in mind that your initial impressions of the problem statement might change. Nevertheless, trying to define the problem early will help focus your thinking as you read the case in more detail.

Identifying Problems

Identifying Problems After you are generally oriented to the case, it's time to dig deeper to

After you are generally oriented to the case, it's time to dig deeper to test your initial assumptions. The digging process often begins with trying to find the answer to an assignment question or to a question that occurred to you during your first pass. Your opening questions lead you to sub-questions and sometimes to new questions altogether. Patterns will begin to emerge, as will major themes, problems, and issues that unify your questions and that ultimately elucidate the major pedagogical purpose of the case.

Reading the Case Carefully

Return to the beginning of the case, read it carefully, and add to your original notes and highlights. Pause to think about certain passages; then re- read them. Ask yourself: What's happening? What does this mean for the company? Will it succeed? What problems can I see coming? You may have gut feelings about some of the information that suggests particular significance, perhaps numbers or other facts. Circle or highlight those. You'll be wrong about some of them because some may be intentionally false leads ("red herrings") inserted by the case writer. Nevertheless, most cases will require that you synthesize numbers or facts from different sections to conduct important analyses. As you analyze more cases, you'll get better at spotting potentially important bits of information.

Don't worry if not everything becomes clear immediately. That's just the way this works.

Bringing Outside Concepts Into Your Analysis

As you read carefully, you might begin to see connections to principles, frameworks, and theories with which you are already familiar from this or another class. To help identify appropriate frameworks, ask questions such as these:

"What kind of course is this?" A marketing course, for example, will typically employ marketing frameworks.

"What clues did the instructor provide?" Assignment questions, the title of the module, or the syllabus might signal the specific focus of the case.

"What are the assigned readings?" Supplemental readings (e.g., an Industry Note, article, or chapter) often provide the theoretical framework used as a starting point for the analysis of a new case.

"Where you are in the course?" Early in a course an instructor will choose cases that are pretty straightforward, but later in the term there's often a twist or a sophisticated refinement that you need to look for.

Revisiting Your Problem Statement

Now that you've read the case carefully, return to your initial statement of the problem or issue at the heart of the case. Do you need to revise it after your careful reading? Always remain open to the fact that the meaning of a case may shift as you discover new evidence, just as a detective investigating a crime must be open to new evidence. Take a moment to list the key concerns, decisions, problems, or challenges that affect the case protagonist. Then use your judgment to prioritize the items in your list. What do you most need to understand first? What factors do other answers and action plans depend on?

Performing Analyses

Performing Analyses "Analysis" describes the varied and crucial things you do with information in the case,

"Analysis" describes the varied and crucial things you do with information in the case, to shed light on the problems and issues you've identified. That might mean calculating and comparing cumulative growth rates for different periods from the year-by-year financials in a case's exhibits. Or it might mean pulling together seemingly unrelated facts from two different sections of the case, and combining them logically to arrive at an important conclusion or conjecture.

Applying Judgement

Analysis usually doesn't provide definitive answers. But as you do more of it, a clearer picture often starts to emerge, or the preponderance of evidence begins to point to one interpretation rather than others. Don't expect a case analysis to yield a "final answer." If you're accustomed to doing analysis that ends with a right answer, coming up with a possible solution that simply reflects your best judgment might frustrate you. But remember that cases, much like real-world business experiences, rarely reveal an absolutely correct answer, no matter how deeply you analyze them.

Analysis Types: Qualitative

Typically, you'll do qualitative analysis based on your reading and interpretation of the case. Ask yourself: What is fact and what is opinion? Which facts are contributing to the problem? Which are the causes? Qualitative factors should be prioritized and fully developed to support your argument. Make notes about your evolving interpretations, always being careful to list the evidence or reasons that support them. Qualitative information in a case can be a mix of objective and subjective information. For example, you may need to assess the validity of quotations from company executives, each of whom has a subjective opinion. Reports from external industry analysts or descriptions of what other companies in

the industry have done might seem more objective; no one in the case has a vested interest in this information. A company's internal PowerPoint presentation should be considered separately and differently from a newspaper article about the company. Cases mix firsthand quotations and opinions with third-person narratives, so you need to consider the reliability of sources. As in real life, you shouldn't take all case information at face value.

Analysis Types: Quantitative

Quantitative datasuch as amounts of materials, money, time, and so on- might be embedded in the text or provided in tabular form in the exhibits (often both). It can be difficult to know which calculations to do, what formulas to apply, and how to interpret the results. Don't sweat this. Try a few simple calculations such as ratios and growth rates over time. If some of those provide insight, great; if not, nothing is lost but a little time. Use simple calculations to determine what other things you might want to assess quantitatively. Quantitatively rich cases may seem intimidating; some people don't enjoy calculating or relying on math to reach conclusions. You might need to calculate, say, a net present value in a finance case, or the capacity of a production system to locate the bottleneck in an operations case. Don't be fooled into thinking that just applying those standard analyses is the point of a case. Be prepared if the professor asks, "How is that number relevant to this situation?" or "How would you incorporate it into your decision in favor of one approach over another?" or "Is that number even relevant in this situation?"

Identifying Useful Data

To maintain your analysis priorities, first identify what data you have and what data you need. Note where in the case you might find the data you require. For each of your top priorities, list the sources of data that look most promising. A common misconception is that crunching numbers leads to one solution that is beyond debate. Numbers often provide useful insights, but they usually also give an incomplete picture. The vast majority of cases won't hinge on a vital calculation that yields a single right answer. You'll have to interpret the numbers you crunch, just as you interpret what you read in the text. In short, focus on what the numbers actually mean. Davis Maister's article, "How to Avoid Getting Lost in the Numbers" outlines a process for doing just that.

Identifying Useful Data

It's important to read between the lines because no case describes the full complexity of every event and because case writers aim to maintain a neutral voice. For each factual statement or description in the case, ask what might be missing, why it's not there, and what implications its absence has. To organize your facts, you can draw a cause-and-effect diagram, a timeline, or some other kind of visual organizer. You might also prioritize facts in different ways. Issues of strategic importance to a firm are not always urgent; nor are urgent issues necessarily strategic.

Matching Frameworks to Data


As conclusions or evidence in favor or against certain alternatives begin to emerge, you might spot connections to principles, frameworks, and theories that you've already covered in class. It's often worthwhile to try applying what seems like a relevant framework to the raw data or to data that have been transformed in some way by your analysis. Once you've begun interpreting your analyses in the context of a framework, you'll often start to see more opportunities for analysis, suggested by the framework itself. It's usually a good idea to follow these paths, although not all will prove to be fruitful.

Revisiting, Refining, and Reflecting

Sometime near the midpoint of your analysisuse your judgment to decide whentake a few minutes to revisit the layers of the case again. At times the results from a case analysis disorient you, and you realize you had something wrong earlier.

Your analysis process might go something like this

Layer 0 - Getting Oriented

Layer 1 - Identifying Problems

Layer 2 - Performing Analyses Reflection


Layer 3 - Action Planning

During the reflection phase consider these questions:

Do you need to refine your original problem statement?

Has your sense of what the real problem is evolved?

Do you see any new directions for analysis that weren't obvious before? Then take some time for reflection to identify general lessons that might apply to other cases. Odds are there are several such lessons.

Knowing When to Stop

How do you know when to stop analyzing? A well-written case will almost always cough up one more relevant fact or interpretation that's tempting to consider. But as a practical matter, you need to use good judgment to determine how to end the process at some point. A bit of trial-and-error is perfectly normal. Some of the things you decide to analyze might provide little insight, and that's okay. Other things don't yield much at first but turn out to be more valuable later, after you've investigated further. So don't throw anything away or set anything aside too quickly. One approach is to stop analyzing when you're not learning very much anymore. If when revisiting your problem statement and recommendations, you find that you're not changing them very much, you're getting close to being finished. Of course, it could be that you're not learning more simply because you're not digging very deeply into the case. In that situation, the clue would be that your analysis so far doesn't seem very substantial. If this happens, try putting the case aside for a few minutes and then coming back to it or talking it over with someone else. Approach the case in a different way- perhaps read it from back to front. In short, try to jolt loose an insight that will help you move forward.

Action Planning

Action Planning Recommended action plans should state what would be objectively best for the case company

Recommended action plans should state what would be objectively best for the case company given its goals, resources, and situation. But they should also outline possible implementation objectives and hurdles. Action plans should include short-, medium-, and long-term steps that will concretely carry out recommendations like these. Real-life situations often have hidden agendas and nuances that can affect how an action plan is crafted. These elements are also relevant in the analysis of a full case, except perhaps for cases that are purely or primarily

quantitative. At some point, you might need to develop your favored case action plan in a degree of detail that exceeds that of alternative plans. If you're operating with space constraints (on a word-limited case exam, for instance), you may need to explore just one alternative in full detail, rather than developing all alternatives at the same level of detail.

An Approach for Action Planning

Step 1: Identify Tasks Brainstorm all of the tasks that you need to accomplish your objective. It's helpful to start this process at the very beginning. What's the very first action you'll need to take? What comes next? Should any steps be prioritized to meet specific deadlines, or because of limits on other people's availability? Step 2: Analyze and Delegate Tasks Now that you can see the entire project from beginning to end, look at each task in greater detail. Are there any steps you could drop without compromising your objective? Which tasks could you delegate to someone else on your team or to a freelancer? Are there deadlines for specific steps? Do you need to arrange additional resources? Step 3: Double-Check with SCHEMES Use the SCHEMES mnemonic to check that your plan is comprehensive. SCHEMES stands for:








An Approach for Action Planning

You may not need to think about all of the SCHEME components to complete your project. For a small internal project to streamline the format of your team's reports, for instance, you might need to think only about Helpers/People, Expertise, and Systems. An action plan is a list of tasks that you need to do to complete a simple project or objective. To draw up an action plan, simply list the tasks in the order that you need to complete them. As you finalize the process, keep in mind the short-, medium-, and long- term horizons for the project. Action plans are useful for small projects, as their deadlines are not especially tough to meet and the need for coordinating other people is not high. As your projects grow, however, you'll need to develop more-formal project management skills, particularly if you're responsible for scheduling other people's time or you need to complete projects to tight deadlines. [adapted, in part, from]

Decision Alternatives

At this point, stop to list a few possible recommendations for the case and think about possible action plans. These deliverables are, after all, the ultimate objectives of your analysis. Try not to restrict yourself to one solution. Let your conclusion emerge from the evidence; don't force the evidence to fit your conclusion. Remain open-minded as you proceed to the next step. List possible recommendations or actions based on your analysis of the case.

Firming Up Recommendations

When you finish your case analysis, you still must articulate your recommendations and your action plan. You also must assemble the arguments and evidence needed to defend those proposals. The format of your case analysis will depend on what you're being asked to do. You might take one approach if you're preparing for an in-class "cold call" or a class discussion, but another approach if you're writing a paper or preparing for a team presentation, or still another if you're taking an exam.

Revisiting, Refining and Reflecting

In most case discussions, the professor will ask for general lessons learned (although sometimes students might be expected to develop those on their own outside of class). To prepare for this part of a case discussion, take a few minutes at the end of your analysis to think about lessons that you might apply to other cases. List four or five major takeaways that you think your case analysis has revealed.

Other Cases and Case Analyses

The approach to analysis we've outlined in this tutorial is sound, as it has been tested in real classrooms. Nonetheless, given the wide variety of case types and topics, the approach may sometimes lead you to a dead end when you come to a new case. After all, each case is unique.

When that happens, don't give up. Use your judgment to try something a different way. If moving to more analysis seems like a problem (because you don't know what to do next), try going up in layers. You also might revisit the context, the problem definition, or your past ideas about action plans.

Like a detective solving a crime, sometimes you'll get stuck. But as you work on more and more cases, you'll get stuck less often, and you'll have more ideas about how to proceed.

We've started you down the road toward developing expertise in case analysis, but this is only a beginning. Real expertise comes from doing it again and again.

Good luck!

Case Analysis Worksheet

Case Analysis Worksheet

This form can be used to organize your thoughts about a case. As you perform your analysis remain open to the fact that your interpretation of the facts may change and therefore you should constantly revisit your answers.

Define the Problem: Describe the type of case and what problem(s) or issue(s) should be the focus for your analysis.

or issue(s) should be the focus for your analysis. List any outside concepts that can be

List any outside concepts that can be applied: Write down any principles, frameworks or theories that can be applied to this case.

frameworks or theories that can be applied to this case. Li st relevant qualitative data: evidence

List relevant qualitative data: evidence related to or based on the quality or character of something.

to or based on the quality or character of something. List relevant quantitative data: evidence related

List relevant quantitative data: evidence related to or based on the amount or number of something.

related to or based on the amount or number of something. Describe the results of your

Describe the results of your analysis: What evidence have you accumulated that supports one interpretation over another.

accumulated that supports one interpretation over another. Describe alternative actions: List and prioritize possible

Describe alternative actions: List and prioritize possible recommendations or actions that come out of your analysis.

recommendations or actions that come out of your analysis. Describe your preferred action plan: Write a

Describe your preferred action plan:Write a clear statement of what you would recommend including short, medium and long-term steps to be carried out.

short, medium and long-term steps to be carried out. Copyright © 2011 Harvard Business School Publishing

Copyright © 2011 Harvard Business School Publishing This document is for use only with the Harvard Business Publishing 'Case Analysis Coach'.