Undergraduate and MBA students from the Foster School of Business in Washington state to Harvard Business School have to contend with case studies every semester. These documents outline the growth of new products, services and community initiatives to bring lessons to life for future business leaders. While business students dislike reading and writing case studies, techniques and innovative ideas from these studies will stick with them for years. In order to get the most out of business case studies, students should learn more about these documents before heading into the classroom.
Business students and professors have similar purposes as they approach business case studies. From the student’s perspective, the purpose of writing or reading a business case study is gauging the depth of knowledge gained over a semester. Students who have built good foundations in product development, business ethics and marketing can assess weaknesses in studied companies and write thorough reports of their own. While professors need to know the breadth and depth of knowledge held by students, these assignments offer opportunities for objective assessment throughout the semester. Professors can ask students to analyze and write case studies at several points throughout the semester to determine accurate grades.
A business case study starts with a background of the company in question and biographies of executives connected to the study. After the company’s history is laid out, the study progresses into corporate objectives and initiatives that are subject to review in the document. The writer highlights the assets and liabilities of the company that will help or hinder the fulfillment of these objectives over the study period. A review of competing companies and market challenges also puts the final results into starker relief. The conclusion of a case study includes the progress made toward the stated objectives by the end of the report, as well as suggestions on ways to improve applicable practices in the future.
The size of a business case study depends on the size of the business, the scope of the study and the depth of recorded results. A tech startup working on niche applications for PDAs studied for a month may only warrant a four-page study due to a narrow time frame. By contrast, a yearlong study of a single department in a major corporation such as Microsoft or Nike might exceed 30 pages to account for all aspects of operations. Most case studies used at the undergraduate level address the latter type of company, meaning hundreds of pages of reading over an entire semester.
The main benefit of a business case study is that the writer and the reader are given virtual control over a corporation. While classroom lessons about supply chains and foreign investment sound simple, the obstacles laid out in a business case study can bring the reader back to Earth. MBA students writing case studies can demonstrate their business acumen by suggesting new techniques after reviewing company information. The typical case study offers a road map to business graduates and novice business owners who have a great idea but little guidance.
Resources for Business Case Studies
Several online resources exist for business teachers and professionals looking for specific types of case studies. Intel has an Enterprise Case Studies section on its website, with an alphabetical list of real-life case studies of businesses helped by the computer giant. MBA professors can head to http://www.casestudywriter.org/ to find business case studies that are geared to classroom learning. Darden Business Publishing at the University of Virginia has an online section of business case studies divided by industry, author, date and categories for easy access.
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