General information about analyzing case studies
What is a Case Study?
A case study is a description of an actual administrative situation involving a decision to be made or a
problem to be solved. It can be a real situation that actually happened just as described, or portions have
been disguised for reasons of privacy. Most case studies are written in such a way that the reader takes the
place of the manager whose responsibility is to make decisions to help solve the problem. In almost all case
studies, a decision must be made, although that decision might be to leave the situation as it is and do
How to Analyze a Case Study
While there is no one definitive “Case Method” or approach, there are common steps that most
approaches recommend be followed in tackling a case study. It is inevitable that different Instructors will
tell you to do things differently; this is part of life and will also be part of working for others. This variety is
beneficial since it will show you different ways of approaching decision making. What follows is intended to
be a rather general approach.
Preparing a Case Study
It helps to have a system when sitting down to prepare a case study as the amount of information and
issues to be resolved can initially seem quite overwhelming. The following is a good way to start. To start,
quickly read the case. You should then be able to answer the following questions:
 Who is the decision maker in this case, and what is their position and responsibilities?
 What appears to be the issue (of concern, problem, challenge, or opportunity) and its significance
for the organization?
 Why has the issue arisen and why is the decision maker involved now?
 When does the decision maker have to decide, resolve, act or dispose of the issue?
 What is the urgency to the situation?
Next, review the case subtitles in detail to see what areas are covered in more depth. Finally, review the
case questions if they have been provided. This may give you some clues are what the main issues are to be
resolved. You should now be familiar with what the case study is about, and are ready to begin the process
of analyzing it.
Analyzing the case should take the following steps:
 Defining the issue(s)
 Analyzing the case data
 Generating alternatives
 Selecting decision criteria
 Analyzing and evaluating alternatives
 Selecting the preferred alternative
 Developing an action/implementation plan
Defining the Issue(s)/Problem Statement
The problem statement should be a clear, concise statement of exactly what needs to be addressed. This is
not easy to write! The work that you did in the short cycle process answered the basic questions. Now it is
time to decide what the main issues to be addressed are going to be in much more detail. Asking yourself
the following questions may help:
 What appears to be the problem(s) here?
 How do I know that this is a problem? Note that by asking this question, you will be helping to
differentiate the symptoms of the problem from the problem itself. Example: while declining sales
or unhappy employees are a problem to most companies, they are in fact, symptoms of underlying
problems which need to be addressed.
 What are the immediate issues that need to be addressed? This helps to differentiate between
issues that can be resolved within the context of the case, and those that are bigger issues that
needed to addressed at another time.
Differentiate between importance and urgency for the issues identified. Some issues may appear to be
urgent, but upon closer examination are relatively unimportant, while others may be far more important
(relative to solving our problem) than urgent.
You want to deal with important issues in order of urgency to keep focused on your objective. Important
issues are those that have a significant effect on:
 profitability,
 strategic direction of the company,
 source of competitive advantage,
 morale of the company’s employees, and/or
 customer satisfaction.
The problem statement may be framed as a question, e.g.: What should Joe do? or How can Mr. Smith
improve market share? Usually the problem statement has to be re-written several times during the
analysis of a case, as you peel back the layers of symptoms or causation.
Analyzing Case Data
In analyzing the case data, you are trying to answer the following:
 Why or how did these issues arise? You are trying to determine cause and effect for the problems
You cannot solve a problem that you cannot determine the cause of! It may be helpful to think of the
organization in question as consisting of the following components:
resources, such as materials, equipment, or supplies, and
people who transform these resources using
processes, which creates something of greater value.
Now, where are the problems being caused within this framework, and why?
 Who is affected most by this issues? You are trying to identify who are the relevant stakeholders to
the situation, and who will be affected by the decisions to be made.
 What are the constraints and opportunities implicit to this situation? It is very rare that resources
are not a constraint, and allocations must be made on the assumption that not enough will be
available to please everyone.
 What do the numbers tell you? You need to take a look at the numbers given in the case study and
make a judgment as to their relevance to the problem identified. Not all numbers will be
immediately useful or relevant, but you need to be careful not to overlook anything. When deciding
to analyze numbers, keep in mind why you are doing it, and what you intend to do with the result.
Use common sense and comparisons to industry standards when making judgments as to the meaning of
your answers to avoid jumping to conclusions.
Generating Alternatives
This section deals with different ways in which the problem can be resolved. Typically, there are many,
and being creative at this stage helps. Things to remember at this stage are:
 Be realistic! While you might be able to find a dozen alternatives, keep in mind that they should be
realistic and fit within the constraints of the situation. The alternatives should be mutually
exclusive, that is, they cannot happen at the same time.
 Not making a decision pending further investigation is not an acceptable decision for any case study
that you will analyze. A manager can always delay making a decision to gather more information,
which is not managing at all! The whole point to this exercise is to learn how to make good
decisions, and having imperfect information is normal for most business decisions, not the
 Doing nothing as in not changing your strategy can be a viable alternative; provided it is being
recommended for the correct reasons, as will be discussed below.
 Avoid the meat sandwich method of providing only two other clearly undesirable alternatives to
make one reasonable alternative look better by comparison. This will be painfully obvious to the
reader, and just shows laziness on your part in not being able to come up with more than one
decent alternative.
 Keep in mind that any alternative chosen will need to be implemented at some point, and if serious
obstacles exist to successfully doing this, then you are the one who will look bad for suggesting it.
Once the alternatives have been identified, a method of evaluating them and selecting the most
appropriate one needs to be used to arrive at a decision.
Key Decision Criteria
A very important concept to understand, they answer the question of how you are going to decide which
alternative is the best one to choose. Other than choosing randomly, we will always employ some criteria in
making any decision. Think about the last time that you make a purchase decision for an article of clothing.
Why did you choose the article that you did? The criteria that you may have used could have been:
 fit
 price
 fashion
 color
 approval of friend/family
 availability
Note that any one of these criteria could appropriately finish the sentence; the brand/style that I choose to
purchase must…. These criteria are also how you will define or determine that a successful purchase
decision has been made. For a business situation, the key decision criteria are those things that are
important to the organization making the decision, and they will be used to evaluate the suitability of each
alternative recommended.
Key decision criteria should be:
Brief, preferably in point form, such as
 improve (or at least maintain) profitability,
 increase sales, market share, or return on investment,
 maintain customer satisfaction, corporate image,
 be consistent with the corporate mission or strategy,
 within our present (or future) resources and capabilities,
 within acceptable risk parameters,
 ease or speed of implementation,
 employee morale, safety, or turnover,
 retain flexibility, and/or
 minimize environmental impact.
Measurable, at least to the point of comparison, such as alternative A will improve profitability more that
alternative B.
Be related to your problem statement, and alternatives. If you find that you are talking about something
else, that is a sign of a missing alternative or key decision criteria, or a poorly formed problem statement.
Students tend to find the concept of key decision criteria very confusing, so you will probably find that you
re-write them several times as you analyze the case. They are similar to constraints or limitations, but are
used to evaluate alternatives.
Evaluation of Alternatives
If you have done the above properly, this should be straightforward. You measure the alternatives against
each key decision criteria. Often you can set up a simple table with key decision criteria as columns and
alternatives as rows, and write this section based on the table. Each alternative must be compared to each
criteria and its suitability ranked in some way, such as met/not met, or in relation to the other alternatives,
such as better than, or highest. This will be important to selecting an alternative. Another method that can
be used is to list the advantages and disadvantages (pros/cons) of each alternative, and then discussing the
short and long term implications of choosing each. Note that this implies that you have already predicted
the most likely outcome of each of the alternatives. Some students find it helpful to consider three
different levels of outcome, such as best, worst, and most likely, as another way of evaluating alternatives.
You must have one! Business people are decision-makers; this is your opportunity to practice making
decisions. Give a justification for your decision (use the KDC’s).

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