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Welcome to the

Case Analysis Coach


This tutorial is designed to start you down the road toward becoming an
expert at analyzing business cases. You'll learn how to identify and define the
business concepts raised by a case, as well as to develop analysis-based
solutions, recommendations, and action plans. These skills will prepare you
for class discussions and exams.
You will have access to a complete real case, called Komatsu Ltd. and Project
G., so that you can apply what you learn to a concrete example. You will also
get other helpful resources, such as a Case Analysis Worksheet and samples
of class-discussion notes on the Komatsu case that were prepared by real
students like you. In addition, smaller excerpts from other real cases are
used to illustrate some of the steps in case analysis.

Introduction to Case Analysis


What might you be expected to do with a
case?
Discuss it. Harvard professor David Garvin, an expert case teacher and writer,
sometimes says, "A case is a literary form intended to be discussed." A case does
not fully achieve its purpose until students talk about it, just as the script of a play
realizes its purpose when performed on stage. You should come to class prepared to
discuss a case-specifically, to say what you think the decision should be, to
articulate how the problem ought to be solved, and to defend your solution
thoroughly, insightfully, and persuasively using data from the case.
Write a report or essay about it. The process of arriving at your
recommendations for an exam or a paper is similar to how you prepare to discuss a
case in class. However, you have the additional challenge of explaining your logic in
written form, often within a limited number of pages or words. This limitation is
especially pertinent on an exam.
Create a presentation. The analysis you'll do for a presentation will be similar to
how you prepare for a discussion, exam, or paper on a case. The difference is the
need to create presentation materials to help you explain your analysis and
recommendations to a live audience. In short, you are the leader not merely a
participant.
Learning from Case Analysis

Learning from Case Analysis


From the events of a case, students can derive general principles, ideas,
and theories. Sometimes these are famous frameworks, such as Porter's
theory of generic strategies, Williamson's transaction cost theory, or the
general principles of revenue recognition. Deriving or discovering a
framework inductively from a real case helps you remember it and apply it to
other business situations. That's because you've seen why it's needed, how
to use it, and what its limits are.
The role of the instructor in a case-based class is to guide students
through this discovery process, to ask penetrating questions that refine and
improve students' understanding, and to clarify the applicability of general
concepts to other business settings.
The Harvard approach to cases is inductive. The inductive approach begins with
specifics and moves to the general. This approach may be different from what you
are used to.
Another common approach to cases is deductive. It provides students practice in
applying a general principle or framework they've already been taught. It begins with
a broad structure and asks students to apply it to specific events; moving from
general to specific. Note that this is opposite the inductive approach.
Cases can also be used to illustrate the application of general principles to realistic
contexts, as a way of broadening understanding of those general principles.
There are so many different possible uses of cases that this tutorial cannot, of
course, address all of them.

Assignment Questions

Assignment questions are a good place to begin a case analysis. Usually


your instructor will supply these, but occasionally they are included within a
case, typically at the end.
Some professors provide many detailed assignment questions; others offer
relatively few or less-detailed ones. Assignment questions and questions that
come up in a class discussion usually don't match up precisely. In general,
assignment questions require a deeper exploration of the nuances of a case
to be answered effectively, but they might merely prompt your thinking
about key issues. Whatever your professor's approach to assignment
questions, the basic challenge remains the same: identifying the important

issues at the heart of the case, addressing those through analysis, and
identifying what lessons from the case can be applied more broadly.
One Approach to Case Analysis

The figure to the left describes the general approach to case analysis used
in this tutorial. It's by no means the only approach that exists, but it's a
worthwhile one to try as you get started.

Getting Oriented

Identifying Problems

Performing Analysis

Action Planning

Getting Oriented
Case Analysis Overview
It's useful to think of a case analysis as digging deeper and deeper into the
layers of a case.
1. You start at the surface, Getting Oriented and examining the overall
case landscape.
2. Then you begin to dig, Identifying Problems, as well as possible
alternative solutions.
3. Digging deeper, Performing Analyses you identify information that
exposes the issues, gather data, perform calculations that might
provide insight.
4. Finally, you begin Action Planning to outline short-, medium-, and
long-term well-defined steps.
Typically, you'll need to repeat this process multiple times, and as you do,
you'll discover new analytical directions, evolving your assessment of the
case and conclusion.
Analyzing a case is not just about digging. It's also about climbing back out
to examine what you've unearthed, deciding what it means, determining
what to analyze next, and digging some more. Illustrated here:

Often your examination of information about a problem will change your


idea of what the real problem is-and about what to analyze next. The process
is similar to when a detective investigating a crime shifts his or her opinion
about the most likely suspect as more clues come to light.
Let's see how all this might work for a particular case.
Your First Pass

Gather your materials and tools. These include the case itself, the
assignment questions, and any other materials your instructor might provide
(e.g., a spreadsheet or supplementary reading). Be prepared to take notes in
the margins and to highlight important numbers or passages. This Case
Analysis Worksheet can also be helpful as you organize information to use in
your analysis.
Quickly read the opening section. In roughly a page, this important part
of the case typically identifies the place and time setting, reveals the type of
case this is, and signals what problem or issue might be the starting point for
analysis. Along with the assignment questions, this section provides the
most-reliable clues for beginning to solve the mystery of the case.
Flip through the pages, look at the section headings and exhibit titles, and
skim parts of the body text that immediately catch your eye. Also glance
through the exhibits, which usually appear at the end.
Read and re-read the assignment questions, and compare them with
the section headings and exhibits. Try to gain an initial impression of where
you might find answers to the questions (under which headings, in which
exhibits, and how the exhibits relate to relevant sections of the case).

Using the Komatsu LTD and Project G case complete a "First Pass" now.

Defining the Problem

Based on your first pass, take a preliminary stab at writing a sentence or


two that summarizes:

the type of case it appears to be (Decision, Problem, or Evaluation)

your impression of the main problem(s) or issue(s) that might be the


appropriate focus of your analysis

Bear in mind that your initial impressions of the problem statement might
change. Nevertheless, trying to define the problem early will help focus your
thinking as you read the case in more detail.

Before you view the examples provided, think about or jot down your
first impression of the type of case and preliminary problems or issues
described. You can record your thoughts to this case, or any case, by
using the Case Analysis Worksheet.
Identifying Problems

After you are generally oriented to the case, it's time to dig deeper to
test your initial assumptions.
The digging process often begins with trying to find the answer to an
assignment question or to a question that occurred to you during your first
pass. Your opening questions lead you to sub-questions and sometimes to
new questions altogether. Patterns will begin to emerge, as will major
themes, problems, and issues that unify your questions and that ultimately
elucidate the major pedagogical purpose of the case.
Reading the Case Carefully

Return to the beginning of the case, read it carefully, and add to your
original notes and highlights. Pause to think about certain passages; then reread them. Ask yourself: What's happening? What does this mean for the
company? Will it succeed? What problems can I see coming?
You may have gut feelings about some of the information that suggests
particular significance, perhaps numbers or other facts. Circle or highlight
those. You'll be wrong about some of them because some may be
intentionally false leads ("red herrings") inserted by the case writer.
Nevertheless, most cases will require that you synthesize numbers or facts

from different sections to conduct important analyses. As you analyze more


cases, you'll get better at spotting potentially important bits of information.
Don't worry if not everything becomes clear immediately. That's just the
way this works.
Bringing Outside Concepts Into Your Analysis

As you read carefully, you might begin to see connections to principles,


frameworks, and theories with which you are already familiar from this or
another class.
To help identify appropriate frameworks, ask questions such as these:

"What kind of course is this?" A marketing course, for example, will


typically employ marketing frameworks.

"What clues did the instructor provide?" Assignment questions, the title
of the module, or the syllabus might signal the specific focus of the
case.

"What are the assigned readings?" Supplemental readings (e.g., an


Industry Note, article, or chapter) often provide the theoretical
framework used as a starting point for the analysis of a new case.

"Where you are in the course?" Early in a course an instructor will


choose cases that are pretty straightforward, but later in the term
there's often a twist or a sophisticated refinement that you need to
look for.

Revisiting Your Problem Statement

Now that you've read the case carefully, return to your initial statement of
the problem or issue at the heart of the case. Do you need to revise it after
your careful reading? Always remain open to the fact that the meaning of a
case may shift as you discover new evidence, just as a detective
investigating a crime must be open to new evidence.
Take a moment to list the key concerns, decisions, problems, or challenges
that affect the case protagonist. Then use your judgment to prioritize the
items in your list. What do you most need to understand first? What factors
do other answers and action plans depend on?

Revise your problem statement, if applicable, and list and


prioritize your key concerns.
Performing Analyses

"Analysis" describes the varied and crucial things you do with information
in the case, to shed light on the problems and issues you've identified. That
might mean calculating and comparing cumulative growth rates for different
periods from the year-by-year financials in a case's exhibits. Or it might
mean pulling together seemingly unrelated facts from two different sections
of the case, and combining them logically to arrive at an important
conclusion or conjecture.
Applying Judgement

Analysis usually doesn't provide definitive answers. But as you do


more of it, a clearer picture often starts to emerge, or the preponderance of
evidence begins to point to one interpretation rather than others. Don't
expect a case analysis to yield a "final answer."
If you're accustomed to doing analysis that ends with a right answer,
coming up with a possible solution that simply reflects your best judgment
might frustrate you. But remember that cases, much like real-world business
experiences, rarely reveal an absolutely correct answer, no matter how
deeply you analyze them.
Analysis Types: Qualitative

Typically, you'll do qualitative analysis based on your reading and


interpretation of the case. Ask yourself: What is fact and what is opinion?
Which facts are contributing to the problem? Which are the causes?
Qualitative factors should be prioritized and fully developed to support your
argument. Make notes about your evolving interpretations, always being
careful to list the evidence or reasons that support them.
Qualitative information in a case can be a mix of objective and subjective
information. For example, you may need to assess the validity of quotations
from company executives, each of whom has a subjective opinion. Reports
from external industry analysts or descriptions of what other companies in
the industry have done might seem more objective; no one in the case has a
vested interest in this information. A company's internal PowerPoint

presentation should be considered separately and differently from a


newspaper article about the company.
Cases mix firsthand quotations and opinions with third-person narratives, so
you need to consider the reliability of sources. As in real life, you shouldn't
take all case information at face value.
Analysis Types: Quantitative

Quantitative datasuch as amounts of materials, money, time, and so onmight be embedded in the text or provided in tabular form in the exhibits
(often both). It can be difficult to know which calculations to do, what
formulas to apply, and how to interpret the results. Don't sweat this. Try a
few simple calculations such as ratios and growth rates over time. If some of
those provide insight, great; if not, nothing is lost but a little time. Use simple
calculations to determine what other things you might want to assess
quantitatively.
Quantitatively rich cases may seem intimidating; some people don't enjoy
calculating or relying on math to reach conclusions. You might need to
calculate, say, a net present value in a finance case, or the capacity of a
production system to locate the bottleneck in an operations case. Don't be
fooled into thinking that just applying those standard analyses is the point of
a case.
Be prepared if the professor asks, "How is that number relevant to this
situation?" or "How would you incorporate it into your decision in favor of one
approach over another?" or "Is that number even relevant in this situation?"
Identifying Useful Data

To maintain your analysis priorities, first identify what data you have and
what data you need. Note where in the case you might find the data you
require. For each of your top priorities, list the sources of data that look most
promising.
A common misconception is that crunching numbers leads to one solution
that is beyond debate. Numbers often provide useful insights, but they
usually also give an incomplete picture. The vast majority of cases won't
hinge on a vital calculation that yields a single right answer. You'll have to
interpret the numbers you crunch, just as you interpret what you read in the
text.

In short, focus on what the numbers actually mean. Davis Maister's article,
"How to Avoid Getting Lost in the Numbers" outlines a process for doing just
that.

List both the quantitative and qualitative data that you have
highlighted. Then prioritize them.
It's important to read between the lines because no case describes the
full complexity of every event and because case writers aim to maintain a
neutral voice. For each factual statement or description in the case, ask what
might be missing, why it's not there, and what implications its absence has.
To organize your facts, you can draw a cause-and-effect diagram, a
timeline, or some other kind of visual organizer. You might also prioritize
facts in different ways. Issues of strategic importance to a firm are not
always urgent; nor are urgent issues necessarily strategic.
Matching Frameworks to Data

As conclusions or evidence in favor or against certain alternatives begin


to emerge, you might spot connections to principles, frameworks, and
theories that you've already covered in class. It's often worthwhile to try
applying what seems like a relevant framework to the raw data or to data
that have been transformed in some way by your analysis.
Once you've begun interpreting your analyses in the context of a framework,
you'll often start to see more opportunities for analysis, suggested by the
framework itself. It's usually a good idea to follow these paths, although not
all will prove to be fruitful.
Revisiting, Refining, and Reflecting

Sometime near the midpoint of your analysisuse your judgment to


decide whentake a few minutes to revisit the layers of the case again. At
times the results from a case analysis disorient you, and you realize you had
something wrong earlier.
Your analysis process might go something like this...

Layer 0 - Getting Oriented

Layer 1 - Identifying Problems

Layer 2 - Performing Analyses


o Reflection

Layer 3 - Action Planning

During the reflection phase consider these questions:

Do you need to refine your original problem statement?

Has your sense of what the real problem is evolved?

Do you see any new directions for analysis that weren't obvious
before?

Then take some time for reflection to identify general lessons that might
apply to other cases. Odds are there are several such lessons.
Knowing When to Stop

How do you know when to stop analyzing? A well-written case will almost
always cough up one more relevant fact or interpretation that's tempting to
consider. But as a practical matter, you need to use good judgment to
determine how to end the process at some point.
A bit of trial-and-error is perfectly normal. Some of the things you decide
to analyze might provide little insight, and that's okay. Other things don't
yield much at first but turn out to be more valuable later, after you've
investigated further. So don't throw anything away or set anything aside too
quickly.
One approach is to stop analyzing when you're not learning very much
anymore. If when revisiting your problem statement and recommendations,
you find that you're not changing them very much, you're getting close to
being finished.
Of course, it could be that you're not learning more simply because you're
not digging very deeply into the case. In that situation, the clue would be
that your analysis so far doesn't seem very substantial. If this happens, try
putting the case aside for a few minutes and then coming back to it or
talking it over with someone else. Approach the case in a different wayperhaps read it from back to front. In short, try to jolt loose an insight that
will help you move forward.

The Case Method is sometimes called "Education for Judgment."


Click here to learn more

Education for Judgment


The Case Method is sometimes called "Education for Judgment." This
description emphasized a truth about case analysis: You have to make your
own judgments about what to do next. What to pay attention to and what to
disregard. There's no magic formula, thus no unambiguously right or wrong
next step.
At this point, you've gotten oriented and done a careful read, so you've got
all the facts "on the table."
Now what do you do?
This is one of the most difficult moments in case analysis-you need to begin
to structure your investigation.
What you do next depends on your own judgment, how you decide to
structure your investigation, based on your assessment of how this particular
case's structure, and how it has revealed its meaning so far.

Action Planning

Recommended action plans should state what would be objectively best


for the case company given its goals, resources, and situation. But they
should also outline possible implementation objectives and hurdles.
Action plans should include short-, medium-, and long-term steps that will
concretely carry out recommendations like these. Real-life situations often
have hidden agendas and nuances that can affect how an action plan is

crafted. These elements are also relevant in the analysis of a full case,
except perhaps for cases that are purely or primarily quantitative.
At some point, you might need to develop your favored case action plan in a
degree of detail that exceeds that of alternative plans. If you're operating
with space constraints (on a word-limited case exam, for instance), you may
need to explore just one alternative in full detail, rather than developing all
alternatives at the same level of detail.
An Approach for Action Planning

Step 1: Identify Tasks


Brainstorm all of the tasks that you need to accomplish your objective. It's
helpful to start this process at the very beginning. What's the very first
action you'll need to take? What comes next? Should any steps be prioritized
to meet specific deadlines, or because of limits on other people's availability?
Step 2: Analyze and Delegate Tasks
Now that you can see the entire project from beginning to end, look at each
task in greater detail. Are there any steps you could drop without
compromising your objective? Which tasks could you delegate to someone
else on your team or to a freelancer? Are there deadlines for specific steps?
Do you need to arrange additional resources?
Step 3: Double-Check with SCHEMES
Use the SCHEMES mnemonic to check that your plan is comprehensive.
SCHEMES stands for:

Space.

Cash.

Helpers/People.

Equipment.

Materials.

Expertise.

Systems.

You may not need to think about all of the SCHEME components to
complete your project. For a small internal project to streamline the
format of your team's reports, for instance, you might need to think only
about Helpers/People, Expertise, and Systems.
An action plan is a list of tasks that you need to do to complete a simple
project or objective. To draw up an action plan, simply list the tasks in the
order that you need to complete them.
As you finalize the process, keep in mind the short-, medium-, and
long-term horizons for the project. Action plans are useful for small
projects, as their deadlines are not especially tough to meet and the need
for coordinating other people is not high. As your projects grow, however,
you'll need to develop more-formal project management skills, particularly
if you're responsible for scheduling other people's time or you need to
complete projects to tight deadlines.
[adapted, in part, from Mindtools.com]
Summarize your analysis to this point. Include the evidence you

have accumulated that supports one interpretation over another.


Decision Alternatives

At this point, stop to list a few possible recommendations for the case and
think about possible action plans. These deliverables are, after all, the
ultimate objectives of your analysis.
Try not to restrict yourself to one solution. Let your conclusion emerge
from the evidence; don't force the evidence to fit your conclusion. Remain
open-minded as you proceed to the next step. List possible
recommendations or actions based on your analysis of the case.
List a few recommendations or actions that come from your

analysis of the case.


Firming Up Recommendations

When you finish your case analysis, you still must articulate your
recommendations and your action plan. You also must assemble the
arguments and evidence needed to defend those proposals.

The format of your case analysis will depend on what you're being asked to
do. You might take one approach if you're preparing for an in-class "cold call"
or a class discussion, but another approach if you're writing a paper or
preparing for a team presentation, or still another if you're taking an exam.
For examples of how real students have prepared analyses of the Komatsu
case for different purposes, click on these links.

Komatsu Case Notes: Student 1 (72kb - pdf)

Komatsu Case Notes: Student 2 (65kb - pdf)

Revisiting, Refining and Reflecting


In most case discussions, the professor will ask for general lessons learned
(although sometimes students might be expected to develop those on their own
outside of class). To prepare for this part of a case discussion, take a few minutes at
the end of your analysis to think about lessons that you might apply to other cases.
List four or five major takeaways that you think your case analysis has revealed.
Other Cases and Case Analyses

The approach to analysis we've outlined in this tutorial is sound, as it has


been tested in real classrooms. Nonetheless, given the wide variety of case
types and topics, the approach may sometimes lead you to a dead end when
you come to a new case. After all, each case is unique.
When that happens, don't give up. Use your judgment to try something a
different way. If moving to more analysis seems like a problem (because you
don't know what to do next), try going up in layers. You also might revisit the
context, the problem definition, or your past ideas about action plans.
Like a detective solving a crime, sometimes you'll get stuck. But as you work
on more and more cases, you'll get stuck less often, and you'll have more
ideas about how to proceed.
We've started you down the road toward developing expertise in case
analysis, but this is only a beginning. Real expertise comes from doing it
again and again.
Good luck!