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A Student’s Guide to Case Studies


1. Introduction  …………..  2. The Case Study  …………..  3. Working On Cases  ……

4. Initial Analysis  …………..  5. A Suggested Approach  …………..

6. Using Cases In Class  …………..  7. Preparing A Report  …………..  8. A Practical Case  …………..  9. Conclusions  …………..

10. References  …………..

Appendices …………


The aim of this brief document is to help you get the best from the case studies that you will use on your

Degree or Masters programme. It covers: –

The role of the case study in management programmes

Individual analysis of cases  

Group case discussions

Writing up case studies

This document should not be regarded as prescriptive since there is no one best way of analysing a case. Interspersed within the document are boxed checklists drawn from several sources (see references on page 13) on different aspects of case work. These provide some summaries or additional perspectives on the points made in the document.


The case study or case is an important learning vehicle on all Business programmes.  It provides the basis for the identification of issues, the analysis of problems, the development of solutions to these problems and for the consideration of the difficulties in implementing these solutions.

Skills development by the case method  





Social skills


We learn through cases in two main ways.  First, through our individual analysis of the case and, second, through the subsequent discussion of the issues raised by the case and fellow students.

Within your course some cases are studied on an individual basis as activities within a course and for assignments and examinations.  There are also opportunities to discuss cases with fellow students and your tutor during classes.

Action skills reinforced by case studies:

Thinking clearly in complex, ambiguous situations (there may be many valid perspectives).

  Devising reasonable, consistent, creative action plans (suitable, feasible, and acceptable to those concerned).

Applying quantitative tools.

Recognizing the significance of information (what is vital, useful, insignificant, irrelevant?).

Determining vital missing information.

Communicating orally in groups ( incorporating the views of others).

Writing clear, forceful, convincing report


Case Study analysis

Most people find it helpful to tackle a case study by first reading it through quickly to gain an overall understanding of the situation described.  This is followed by a detailed examination of the case issues during which notes should be taken.

Case studies vary considerably. They may contain very little detail or a seemingly baffling amount.  They may cover a broad range of issues or alternatively focus on specific management problems.  Sometimes the problem for analysis is obvious, sometimes it is not.

A case study rarely contains all the information one would like.  However, as managers you will be frequently expected to deal with situations in which you have incomplete information. Where information appears to be lacking, you have to make assumptions, taking care that these are reasonably justified. Numerical information, where provided, should always be used.

Case studies rarely have right or wrong answers. Answers may be good or bad but this depends to a great extent on the supporting arguments and the use made of available information.  The lack of right or wrong answers can lead some students to feel frustrated.  Remember, there are very few clear cut, right and wrong answers to Business problems in the real world.

Some problems students find with case learning:

Cases have no unique answer

Information is ambiguous and contradictory

The issues are not stated ( the task may be to identify the issues)

Information is redundant and irrelevant

Tutor does not solve the case

Case teaching is inefficient

Note taking is difficult

Tutor is not directive in discussions

(he/she may want to teach self reliance)

Learning how to cope with complex and ambiguous situations

You may feel that case studies are a rather cumbersome way of learning. Whilst less factual knowledge may be gained from analysing a case study than can be acquired from reading a text book or listening to a lecture, this is not the main purpose of a case study. Its key role is to provide a simulated business situation within which course concepts and approaches can be applied, their practicability assessed, and greater insights into business issues developed.


In essence, the first thing that you are attempting to do in case study analysis is to identify, as far as is possible, what the position of the company is at that time (and, if necessary, for the time scale of the case).

There may be a specific focus depending on which aspects of the course are being explored, but the initial analysis should always take into account the following, if at all possible:-

 You should seek to understand the relationship between the subject organisation and the environment in which it operates.  This will include both the short term (competitive environment) and the longer term (Sociological, Technological, Economic and Political environments;  STEP factors).

 You will need to assess the organisation’s capabilities – the integration of human, physical and financial resources.

 You will need to examine how effective these capabilities are being utilised and whether they are being developed to meet expected future conditions.

You will be interested in the organisation’s recent performance, present position and future prospects.

 You will need to address the specific tasks contained within the case study brief, whether this be for assignments, class discussion or examination.


Framework for case analysis

COMPREHEND  1. Read case quickly to understand the situation.
CASE SITUATION  2. Read case again, making notes, highlighting etc.
DIAGNOSE PROBLEM   3. Identify problem areas.
OR SITUATION   4. List facts about the problem from notes taken.
STATE PROBLEM  5. State major problems.
OR SITUATION   6. State minor problems.
GENERATE   7. List solutions to major problems.
ALTERNATIVES  8. List solutions to minor problems.
EVALUATE ALTERNATIVES  9. List advantages and disadvantages of alternative solutions
10. Evaluate advantages and disadvantages and select the best alternative.
DEFEND IMPLEMENTATION 11. List questions about the workability of solutions.
12. Develop a defence for each question listed.
PREPARE REPORT  13. See section on writing reports.

In essence, case analysis has three stages.

  1. Overview.
  2. Analysis.
  3. Synthesis.

You should start with a broad look at the situation overall, break it down into component parts for detailed examination and, finally, move to synthesis, the combining of separate elements into a coherent whole, of which you should by then have a better understanding.


Discussing cases with other students, managers and/or tutors adds valuable additional dimensions to working with case studies.  Most important of these, perhaps, is exposure to a range of different ideas on case issues that colleagues can bring to the discussion.

If the potential for group discussion is going to be realised, it is clearly important that all participants have thoroughly analyzed the case material in advance.

The Dos and Don’ts for case discussion

Dos: Prepare before class

Push your ideas

Listen to others

Keep an open mind

Relate past experience

Relate to past cases  Be provocative

Bring in outside research

Prepare special items  (handouts etc)

Recognise the flow of the discussion

Prepare the lead off questions

Be Constructive  Be brief

Take the offensive

Evaluate your own participation

Don’ts: Don’t make sudden changes of topic

Don’t repeat yourself

Don’t repeat what others say

Don’t use unfair hindsight

The structure of case discussions:

Case discussions can be structured in a number of ways.  The following are common and may be combined in successive stages.

Small groups discuss the case situation, with or without tutors questions

Students or groups present an analysis or recommended course of action to the class for discussion.

The tutor leads the discussion on the case, drawing out certain points relevant to the course.

Tutors vary in the way they run case discussions.  Some will adopt a “hands off” approach, leaving the direction and scope of the discussion up to the students, intervening only to facilitate discussion.  Others may wish to guide the group more actively in order to achieve specific learning objectives.

Some questions tutors ask about cases:

Question Focus

What do you regard as the main issues in this case    Issue identification

What did you notice about … Attention drawing

What other examples are there of … Generalise  

from the particular

What action would you recommend … Problem solving

What resources are required Feasibility studies

What difficulties might there Suitability,  be in implementing your    acceptability and

recommendations potential problem


What other options are there Generate alternatives

How do you feel about Attitudes, opinions

What is happening in Drawing attention the group right now   group processes

Group Discussions, important points:

In order to get the best from group discussion of cases the following points should be kept in mind:

During discussions expect and tolerate challenges to your opinion.

Be prepared to put your conclusions up for scrutiny and rejection.

State your views without fear of disapproval.

Overcome your hesitation to speak.

Remember that good communication is essential in persuading.

Remember that the group’s views are not always correct.  In management there is always room for individuality, originality, unorthodoxy.

Always try to contribute, not just talk or listen.

Always prepare the facts beforehand.

 Don’t be afraid of making decisions on the available information, but do be willing to justify assumptions that you have made.

Students’ responsibilities in case learning and discussion:

  1. Experience case studies.
  2. Enjoy the case discussion.
  3. Help manage the case discussion.
  4. Master the facts before the discussion.
  5. Analyze the case before the session.
  6. Tolerate the tutor (tutors’ approaches to cases differ).
  7. Respect your colleagues.


The final structure of the report will depend on the nature of the task, eg Marketing, Financial, Strategic etc, and will, of course, depend on your tutor’s requirements.  Below is a report outline which you may find helpful (but not prescriptive).

    1. This should show:
      1. The Title
      1. Your name
      1. An explanation of who the report is for, eg “A Report for (tutor’s name/ name of manager)”.
      1. The date.
    1. This should show:
      1. the full list of sections within the report (including any appendices, references or bibliographic lists; etc.)
      1. the page number on which each section begins.
    1. A one page summary which outlines, in no more than three short paragraphs (and preferably just one), what the report says.
    1. You should write this last.
    1. It should be in the third person and present tense, eg “The report considers the arguments in favour of Quality Circles and makes recommendations about their adoption.”
    1. This should give a succinct explanation of the aims/context of the report and should include brief details of any information necessary for the reader to understand it, eg. company size; main activities; etc.
    1. This is where you present your main account of the problem or issue you are writing about.
      1. It should be based on analysis, not on intuition, eg avoid writing “I feel…..”
      1. You should back up what you write with evidence and/or argument. This means:
        1. you must substantiate each assertion you make with evidence, eg extracts from an annual report, a staff survey, recent appraisals, etc.
        1. you must support opinions with specific examples/evidence (eg. from a consultant’s report), or by building a logical argument based on

previously cited examples/evidence.

  • You should make a clear distinction between objective facts and personal opinions.
    • Ideally this section should be divided into numbered paragraphs which, like this briefing sheet, show which section the paragraph belongs to.
    • Headings for each sub-section, underlined or in bold (as used here) are a good idea.
    • Consider presenting material in the form of diagrams, charts etc., wherever appropriate. These are not only easier to grasp, but reduce the word count.
    • This is where you sum up the general conclusion/s you have reached, such as “The very low morale is a result of an autocratic management style”.
    • Don’t confuse conclusions (where you draw together the threads of the preceding discussion to make some overall point/s) with recommendations (where you say what should be done about the conclusions you have reached).
    • It is sometimes a good idea to present your conclusions in the form of a bullet list, like this:

Conclusion 1

Conclusion 2 etc.

    • This is where you list the actions which your conclusions lead you to believe are necessary,

e.g. “The team leader should attend a course in modern approaches to management”.

  • The recommendations must be based on the analysis and conclusions.
    • Wherever possible you should include a clear indication of:

the priorities

the timescale/deadline for completion

who is to be responsible for taking and/or monitoring the recommended action  to whom any action should be reported  from whom authorization must be sought  the financial budget or source of funds  other cost/resource implications  etc.

  • The List of References
    • This is the list of sources referred to directly in your report. If you have mentioned a writer or a book (even a course book) you must give full details here of

the title

the writer/s or editor/s  the publisher  the date of publication

  • The Bibliography (if any)
    • The bibliography is where you list details of any books or other sources you have consulted in preparing your report which you think would be useful for your reader to know about or be able to consult. You should give the details outlined in the section on references above.
  • The Appendices (if any)
    • This is where you place any information whose inclusion is not central to the main body of the report but which explains, amplifies or puts in context the arguments and evidence you have presented there.
    • Its main purpose is to allow you to include important information which, if it were included in the main body of the report, would interrupt the flow of the argument you are developing there.
    • Any material in an appendix does not normally count towards the marks except in certain specific cases e.g. finance.
    • Examples of material suitable for an appendix include:

sets of complex figures or statistics  supporting documents, e.g. extracts from company reports etc.


Read the following case study and jot down those issues which you think are important. Notice how many issues cross functional boundaries.

Oxford Machinery plc

Last May, Mike Craven, Managing Director of Oxford Machinery plc, called a meeting of his senior managers to discuss an important product improvement recently introduced by an overseas competitor, Toho Inc.

Oxford Machinery’s products were specialised filling and sealing machines which were manufactured and sold to the worldwide chemical and food industries. Total sales were about £50m per year. The key closure elements in the machines were manufactured of a special, unique steel alloy which Oxford Machinery purchased under an exclusive contract. The company’s advertising and sales promotion had consistently stressed the high quality and long life which these alloy parts gave to its machines. Company executives stated that the use of the special steel gave Oxford Machinery’s products a strong competitive advantage. So far no competitor had been able to match the characteristics of the special steel and Oxford Machinery held about 40% of the world market for the type of machine it sold to the chemical industry and 30% for the type of machine for the food industry.

Earlier, Toho Inc. had launched a line of competitive filling and sealing machines for the chemical industry which substituted a new, high-impact composite material for the crucial steel elements. Toho claimed improved quality, faster speeds and longer life for its machines than for the comparative Oxford machines. Moreover, Toho’s machines were priced at nearly 20% less than Oxford’s.

Mike Craven obtained one of the new Toho machines and had it thoroughly tested by the quality control department. The tests indicated that the composite parts of the Toho machine produced fewer rejects than the comparable Oxford machine. In addition, the composite parts enabled the Toho machine to run efficiently at 150% of the rate of the Oxford machine without jamming. Moreover, the composite parts did not break down until 50 million operations, compared with an average of 30 million for the Oxford steel units.

The Sales Manager insisted that Oxford Machinery should duplicate the performance of the Toho machine by developing similar composite parts.

The Director of Engineering indicated that she could produce the necessary substitute parts within two months, and estimated the cost of the composite parts would be about 40% of the existing steel component. She estimated it would take another two months to get into full production.

Craven was not convinced that Oxford Machinery should merely copy the Toho parts and substitute them in their present machines. He suggested that perhaps Oxford Machinery should re-design its entire chemical line, incorporating composite parts, but also including other improvements. The Director of Engineering suggested that it might also be possible to utilize the new composite material in the other machines.

The Sales Manager urged that a full-scale new product development programme be undertaken but that, in the meantime, the existing line should incorporate elements similar to Toho’s as soon as possible.

Oxford Machinery had a stock of 96 of the special steel units for the chemical industry which cost £192,000, and a stock of the special alloy raw material, which would make another 180 units and cost £288,000. All of this would be of no value if the company shifted completely to composite elements. Oxford Machinery sold about eight machines a week to the chemical industry, at an average price of £50,000, and a similar number of machines to the food industry. The cost of the special steel elements in either of these machines was approximately £2000.

The costs of a typical Oxford machine for either the chemical or food industry were as follows.

Materials and parts 12,000
Direct labour 10,000
Other manufacturing costs  10,000
Average selling price 50,000

Selling and administration expenses on these machines were established at £10,000 per unit.

Oxford Machinery had more than 4000 machines in use by the chemical industry and 5000 in use by the food industry. Replacement part sales amounted to 20% of total business and carried a 100% mark-up on manufacturing cost.

After the meeting, Mike Craven had a telephone call from the Chairman directing him to do everything possible to prevent Toho from reducing Oxford Machinery’s share of the market for filling and sealing machines in the chemical industry. But Mike knew that he had to operate in the real world and that, if he simply pursued market share at the expense of everything else, the Chairman would be on the phone next month asking why Oxford’s monthly accounting reports showed massive negative variances!


It is hoped that this brief document will be useful to Business students  It is not intended to state categorically how to use case studies; but it does attempt to provide a framework that you might wish to use either as individuals or in groups.  Your tutor may want to take a very different approach to case study analysis and that can always be justified by the fact that he/she has particular objectives to achieve.


Easton, G., Learning from Case Studies, Prentice-Hall, 1982

Edge, A.G. & Coleman, D.R.,The Guide to Case Analysis and

Reporting, 3rd edition, Systems Logistics Inc, Honolulu, 1986.

John Heath, Onpen University, Milton Keynes England,  1993.


OXFORD MACHINERY PLC,  A worked example.