Introduction to the Case Study

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Introduction to the Case-Study Method rev. 2012

(Adapted from: Seperich, G.J, M.J. Woolverton, J. G. Beierlein and D. E. Hahn, eds., Cases in Business Management, Gorsuch Scarisbrick, Publishers, Scottsdale, AZ 1996) The case-study method may be new to you. Experience has shown that case studies bring interesting, real-world situations into the classroom study of business marketing, finance and management. As you discuss cases with your fellow students, you will learn that decision making is often a confrontational activity involving people with different points of view. Most important, you will learn how to work toward consensus while tolerating legitimate differences of opinion. Decision making is what managers do. The decisions of managers directly influence revenues, costs, and profits of an business firm. If you are to be successful in a business career, you must learn to be a good decision maker. You must develop the ability to apply classroom training in business and economics to operations problem solving so that you can learn how to (1) make decision making easier, (2) improve the analytical quality of decisions, (3) reduce the time required to make decisions, and (4) increase the frequency of correct decisions. After completing a few case studies, you should find them an interesting and rewarding way to learn. You will soon discover, however, that case studies require an approach that is different from normal homework assignments. Each case can have more than one right answer depending on how the problem is defined and which assumptions are made. Students commonly spend several hours preparing the solution for a case assigned for classroom discussion. The time you spend working on case studies will be well spent because it will prepare you to confidently take on a position in business in which decision-making challenges face you each day. Success in your career will be the real reward for the work you do in preparing case studies. ATTACKING THE CASE

Your first reaction upon reading a case will probably be to feel over whelmed by all the information. Upon closer reading, you may feel that the case is missing some information that is vital to your decision. Don't despair. Case writers do this on purpose to make the cases represent as closely as possible the typical situations faced by business managers. In this age of computers, managers often have to sift through an excessive amount of information to glean the facts needed to make a decision. In other situations, there is too little information and too little time or money to collect all the information desired. One definition of management is "the art of using scanty information to make terribly important, semi-permanent decisions under time pressure." One reason for using the case-study method is for you to learn how to function effectively in that type of decision-making environment. When assigned a case that does not contain all the information you need, you can do two things: First, seek additional information. Library research or a few telephone calls may provide the necessary facts. Second, you can make assumptions when key facts or data are not available. Your assumptions should be reasonable and consistent with the situation because the "correctness" of your solution may depend upon the assumptions you make. This is one reason that a case can have more than one right solution. In fact, your teacher may be more interested in the analysis and process you used to arrive at the decision than in its absolute correctness. In some cases, the case writer(s) have provided questions to guide your analysis; in other cases it is up to you, the case analyst, to decide which questions are relevant in defining the problem. This too is by design. In an actual business situation you will have to decide which questions to ask, and certainly no one will give you a list of multiple-choice answers. This is why it is suggested that you not limit your analysis to the...
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