Strategic decision making entails coordinating seemingly unrelated facts so that they provide support for a particular course of action. Cases are learning vehicles employed to bring real world situations into the classroom. Cases provide you with an opportunity to test your understanding of previously developed concepts and to sharpen your analytical ability and judgment.
The cases assigned are intended to give you practice in assembling data to support a decision. As is often the situation in reality, cases may not have all the data you would like. You may have been intentionally provided only such information as was available to the executives at the time. Thus, you should think of yourself as a decision-maker whose information is less than perfect but who must still make decisions on key issues. Hence, it is critical that you develop a reasoned plan of attack on the basis of the data available.
Preparing a Case
In preparing an analysis, read through the case looking for the main problems that you will address. Develop a rationale for your belief that the situations identified are in fact problems. In addition, assemble the factual information presented in the case that addresses the various issues.
Once you have assembled all the information provided, develop a framework for analysis. This framework should
- identify problem areas;
- provide evidence that indicates why the problems are problems and the alternative ways in which they may be resolved;
- lead to a course of action that you feel is based on the soundest assumptions.
By following this strategy you will be able to develop an integrated analysis and you will avoid focusing on issues for which there is little data.
Writing Up a Case
Written cases should consist of both text and appendices, totaling approximately 8 pages excluding the cover page. In the formal write-up the following format should be used.
Statement of Issues. This section should highlight the major issues (problems, economic realities, market factors, etc.) that will be addressed in your analysis and drive your recommended course of action. Any situation will have many contributing ‘issues’. Your task here is to focus on the few (usually 3-5) most critical ones.
Recommendations. Your recommendations should provide a plan of action for the key decision maker. State the manner in which each of the key issues you have identified should be resolved. Only your recommendations should be given here, presented in sentence form as succinctly and clearly as possible. Reasons for the recommendations should appear in the analysis section.
Analysis and Conclusions. This is the heart of your report. It entails marshaling factual data which support your problem identification, and providing the Justification and reasoning behind your recommendations. It is the link between problem identification and plans of action. As part of your arguments, you will want to consider including the following:
- a description of the criteria used to make your decisions and the reasoning underlying your choice of criteria.
- the pros and cons of your recommended course(s) of action. While it may be necessary to briefly discuss alternatives, this discussion should primarily be presented in Appendix 1. Hence, the analysis section should focus on justifying your recommendations.
- The assumptions underlying your choice of criteria and recommendations (e.g., economic conditions, competitive response). This should also include any caveats or warnings you may want to specify.
Use subheadings to clearly detail the component parts of the analysis section.
Appendix 1. Other options considered. This appendix should reflect your analysis of rejected alternatives in outline form. For each, list the pros and cons and give a one sentence statement of why it was rejected.
Other Appendices. As necessary, these might consist of detailed analyses, tables and graphs, or lengthy descriptive paragraphs.
Assume that the reader is familiar with the situation presented in the case. Your analysis should concentrate on pinpointing key issues and on justifying your recommendations and not on descriptions of the protagonist’s company or background of the case.
Depending on the nature of the case, some of the relevant factors you may want to consider in your analysis include:
- The nature of the market: market characteristics, size and potential.
- Product characteristics, the effect of the product on others in the company’s line.
- Buyer habits, demography and perceptions.
- Company ‘culture’ and history, including employee reactions and interactions and managerial techniques.
- Nature of distribution channels and/or outlets.
- Competition (present and potential) and the structure of the industry.
- Assessment of price, promotion and advertising.
- Financial and economic conditions.
- Legal, ethical and moral implications.
Be creative. Don’t be afraid to use your imagination, but be sure that your justification is sound.
Mechanics for Written Papers
Written cases will be graded on form and organization of material as well as on the substance of your arguments.
Reports of approximately 8 pages (excluding the cover page) should be printed on 8.5 x 11 inch paper. The text should be double-spaced throughout; the appendices may be single-spaced.
Use a separate title page. Give the course name and unique number, professor’s name, case title, date, and the names and social security numbers of all group members.
Be professional in your presentation. Correct spelling, grammar and sentence construction is expected.
Common Errors in Case Writing
- Format outlined above is not followed.
- Statement of Issues and Recommendations sections is too long. Generally, no more than half a page is needed for each of these sections. Use outline form and dot points throughout the written report as you deem appropriate. There is no need for complete prose in all cases.
- Analysis focuses on minor issues or issues for which there is little or no data. Let the case facts guide you to the selection of issues.
- Repeating case data. Assume the reader is familiar with the case, and present selected data only when it is needed to support a line of reasoning you are developing.
- Summarizing the case situation as a preamble to your analysis. Present case facts only when you are going to make a particular point with them.
- Non critical evaluation of case data. Before you use evidence presented in the case, ask yourself if it was collected in a sound manner and whether it is relevant to the issues you are addressing. This does not give you a license to ignore all data. Rather, you want to qualify the conclusions you reach by evaluating the quality of the data on which they are based.
- Failure to provide a rationale for eliminating alternatives. It is important to show that the recommended course(s) of action are likely to deal effectively with the problems identified. It is equally important to explain why alternative courses of action were considered but dismissed.
- Failure to present analytical work in an understandable manner. When doing any computations, be sure your presentation (usually in an appendix) is sufficiently detailed so the reader can replicate the analysis. This requires you to indicate where the data came from and show how it was analyzed.