MBA students make three mistakes with business case method. These errors make their classroom experience less than optimal. As a result, they leave money on the table when exiting from the classroom. By making small changes in your approach to business cases, you can increase your learning manifold.
Business Case Method
If you are reading this, you already know that business case method is the dominant method of teaching in business schools. The method offers several advantages over a lecture method. It is particularly suited for an environment where the knowledge is neither linear nor a closed system of information.
Non-Linear Knowledge in Cases
Business problems are often multi-functional whereas teaching is often functional. For example, teaching often focuses on marketing, finance, strategy or other functions but a business situation involves many functional areas at the same time. As a result, you may be learning an operational effectiveness case in a strategy class but find many linkages with finance. In such cases, the instructor can take a detour and explore these ties if needed. This non-linear method allows a better grasp of linkages between concepts that is at the heart of learning.
Lack of Information Boundaries in Cases
Business knowledge is not a closed system because an organization is a part of something bigger. The industry and the country you work in has an impact on your business. Many stakeholders also have an impact on your business. As a result, a class may have one topic of discussion but allow you to peel the onion layer after layer. It gives a sense of inexhaustibility of knowledge in any situation. In this scenario, most business teaching is not useful when using a lecture method. At the same time, I have found that students benefit a lot when a lecturette compliments a case well. Complementing lecturettes that package conceptual knowledge in a linear and bounded form with cases enable students to learn better.
I have learned a lot by teaching a wide variety of students and managers across USA, Europe, and Asia. I use case study method across MBAs, Executive MBAs, bachelor classes and with administrators. Although the quality of discussion may vary from one group to another, people make some common mistakes across the board.
The Three Mistakes People Make With Business Case Method
Here are three key mistakes people make. By avoiding them, you can get a much higher bang for your buck and have a much better learning experience
1. Not knowing the core issue:
Every business situation has one core issue that is more important than all others. Find it, and you master the situation. The same holds for any case. I have discussed this at length in my podcast on finding the core issue in a business situation. For a case, it is often easier to locate the core issue.
Any case shares a rich contextual information that unfolds many problems. But many clues in the reading or your environment can point you to the core issue. It helps you build skills in identifying the big issue in a situation. This is a critical skill for any manager. One benefit of a case is that it helps you articulate a critical or a core issue much easier then in real life.
There are a few cues you can use to know the core issue:
- Which subject matter are you studying? If you are in a marketing class, the core issue will be a marketing problem.
- What is the theme of the class? Each class has a teaching goal. It offers clues on what the core issue is. Look at the syllabus, program guide or preparation questions associated with the case. They will point you to what the core issue is in the case.
- Use my 4 step method to articulate a ‘core issue’ in your case
By making a habit of articulating the core issue for any case, you will also learn this critical skill over time.
2. Not Analyzing the case
Sometimes, students look at a long case and get discouraged by the time it would take them to read it. Some students often skim through a case, hoping to piggyback on the class discussions for extra information. In doing so, they do not analyze the case to understand the situation. So they enter the class with a superficial knowledge of the situation and take part in the discussion at a surface level.
How do you analyze a case? You can start by answering the case related questions that you are assigned. If there are no questions, you can start with the issue above and explain why the problem exists and what is driving it. Go into details to understand what else case data shows you.
At the minimum, you need to analyze what drives the problem of the protagonist in the case. You need to know what will happen if there is no action taken and how dire will the situation become.
3. Not Having a Solution
Every case you read is searching for the solutions to the core issue there. If you have not spent time on articulating the problem and analyzing it, you have not thought of a solution either. If you have a solution, it may be a surface solution with little analytical backup.
In such a situation, you will be flying blind in the class and ride over a series of discussions and get a small number of insights only.
If you design a solution with logical and data-based arguments, you will benefit in the class. You will add to the quality of the discussion. Moreover, you will be able to compare your analysis with that of your peers and the instructor. This exercise will help you build analysis skills over time.
In short, people make three mistakes with case method in business school settings. First, they don’t know the core issue. Second, they do not analyze the reading enough. Third, they do not enter the class with a solution.
By taking the time to do these three things, you will take away a lot more from every case based situation.