Organizational Behavior

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S C H O O L P R E SS

How to Analyze a Case

The Case Study Handbook: How to Read, Discuss, and Write Persuasively About Cases By

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Harvard Business School Press Boston, Massachusetts

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Exc e r p t e d fro m

William Ellet

This document is authorized for use only by Imtiaz Ahmed until October 2010. Copying or posting is an infringement of copyright. Permissions@hbsp.harvard.edu or 617.783.7860.

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ISBN-13: 978-1-4221-2449-9

HAR VA R D B U S I N E SS

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Copyright 2007 Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation All rights reserved Printed in the United States of America

This chapter was originally published as chapter 3 of The Case Study Handbook: How to Read, Discuss, and Write Persuasively About Cases, copyright 2007 Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior permission of the publisher. Requests for permission should be directed to permissions@hbsp.harvard.edu, or mailed to Permissions, Harvard Business School Publishing, 60 Harvard Way, Boston, Massachusetts 02163. You can purchase Harvard Business School Press books at booksellers worldwide. You can order Harvard Business School Press books and book chapters online at www.HBSPress.org, or by calling 888-500-1016 or, outside the U.S. and Canada, 617-783-7410.

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This document is authorized for use only by Imtiaz Ahmed until October 2010. Copying or posting is an infringement of copyright. Permissions@hbsp.harvard.edu or 617.783.7860.

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CHAPTER 3

HO W TO A NA LYZE A C A SE

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The case method is heuristic—a term for self-guided learning that employs analysis to help draw conclusions about a situation. Analysis is derived from a Greek word meaning, “a dissolving.” In English, analysis has two closely related definitions: to break something up into its constituent parts; and to study the relationships of the parts to the whole. To analyze a case, you therefore need ways of identifying and understanding important aspects of a situation and what they mean in relation to the overall situation. Each business discipline has its own theories, frameworks, processes and practices, and quantitative tools.All of them are adapted to help understand specific types of situations. Michael Porter’s concepts are productive when investigating competitive advantage—but they aren’t very helpful for deciding whether to launch a product at a particular price or choosing the best method to finance the growth of a business. Porter’s five forces can describe and explain the industry context in which a firm operates.1 No one would expect Porter’s framework to guide a product launch decision. Specialized methods are fruitful because they’re tailored to fit well-defined purposes. They’re often complex, though, and hard to apply, especially for people who are just learning how to use them. 1

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This document is authorized for use only by Imtiaz Ahmed until October 2010. Copying or posting is an infringement of copyright. Permissions@hbsp.harvard.edu or 617.783.7860.

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STARTING POINT FOR UNDERSTANDING

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case is a text that refuses to explain itself. How do you construct a meaning for it? Start by recognizing some contextual factors that help limit and narrow the analysis. Cases are usually studied in a course.A marketing case requires you to think as a marketer, not a strategist or manufacturing manager. Courses are often divided into different modules or themes defined by certain types of situations and, often, concepts, theories, and practices appropriate for these situations.You can expect to encounter the themes in the cases that are part of the modules and opportunities to put to work the analytical tools and best practices you have learned. Past...
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