A strategy case study describes the conditions and circumstances faced by firms in real business situations

Case Studies

A strategy case study describes the conditions and circumstances faced by firms in real business situations. Usually a historic description of the development of the business over a number of years is given, as well as current external, internal, and financial conditions. The case chronicles the events that managers have had to deal with, such as changes in technology or competition, and describes the managers’ strategic responses.  There are two types of cases. Problem cases describe conditions faced by the firm that demand immediate management attention. These require you to analyze current conditions and propose appropriate actions.  Descriptive cases primarily look back at events that have occurred and the actions managers have taken in the past.  These require you to evaluate the strategies implemented by managers and to explain why the strategies were/not appropriate to the circumstances faced by the firm. In either case, the purpose of the case study is to apply the concept and methods of strategic management to analyze conditions and actions. In a descriptive case we are looking back to examine actions that have taken place; in a problem case we are looking forward at actions that should be taken.

 

Few cases contain all the information and facts you would like to have to make decisions.  Many cases contain superfluous or irrelevant information. You need to extract the information you think is pertinent and use it in your analysis.  If you think you are missing key information you can either do research to get the information or you can make assumptions based on the information in the case and your specialized knowledge and experience. Any information not given in the case must be cited and sources supplied. If you have to make assumptions, make them explicit and explain why you think they are justified based on the facts in the case.

 

There is rarely a right answer in a case analysis. Different people can look at the same information and reach different conclusions. This is to be expected. The most important part of a case analysis is not your conclusions or recommendations; it is how well you can support your arguments with rigorous and rational strategic analysis. The best answers apply strategy methods, use strategy terminology, and examine strategy issues to develop logical and persuasive arguments.

 

Assignment Description

This assignment is not intended to be a full analysis of all the factors and conditions in the case or a list of all the facts and issues in the case. It is not a description, summary, or overview of the case. Instead, it is a concise analysis of one important underlying strategic factor (USF) that helps to understand or explain the circumstances in the case. You are to identify and analyze one (or a few related) factor(s) that you think is most important in the case, extract from the case the information relating to the factor, and use the methods of strategic management to analyze the issue and discuss its implications for the case. Everything in your analysis should be directed at this USF. You have to extract from the case the information relating to the particular factor(s) you identified, and exclude information not needed to analyze or understand the issue. This likely means that there will be information, activities, or events that are described in the case that you will leave out. Through the analysis you will demonstrate your understanding of a case, your judgment in identifying the core strategic issues that are important in a case, and your ability to apply the methods and concepts discussed in class to explain the circumstance in the case.

 

The key to a good case analysis is identifying the relevant underlying strategic factor(s).  This goes beyond describing the conditions, or symptoms, presented in the case, and focuses on underlying issues that lead to the symptoms.  A symptom is an indication that there is a problem in a company – low productivity, for example.  You may be tempted to focus on the symptom, perhaps by increasing compensation, instead of looking for an underlying cause, such as an unproductive organizational culture. However, the symptoms usually cannot be addressed directly and the factors creating the symptoms are often not directly observable. Therefore, your case analysis must look beyond the obvious facts and circumstances described in the case and must examine the more fundamental issues. The observable symptoms must be explained by examining their underlying strategic causes. Think of yourself as an “organizational doctor.”  A good doctor does not just treat a symptom – a headache – the doctor tries to identify the cause of the pain – trauma, brain tumor, hangover – and treats the underlying disease. Just as a doctor has diagnostic procedures, you will have methods and procedures to examine a case, but it will depend on your judgment to determine which methods and models are useful, and to apply these conceptual tools using the appropriate information from the case.

 

Not all cases present problems. Many descriptive cases are about firms that have faced strategic issues and created and implemented strategies to maintain competitive advantage. In these cases the USF will not relate to a problem but instead will relate to some aspect of the strategy that has been implemented by the firm. Your analysis should examine how and why the strategy was/not successful and whether it will lead to sustainable competitive advantage.

 

Limit your analysis to the period of the case. Do not update the case or take advantage of knowledge of events subsequent to the ending date of the case. Any information you use from outside sources must be properly referenced, except information from the case itself, from class lectures, or from the textbook. These you can take to be common knowledge. Do not waste space summarizing the basic facts in the case. You can assume that I have read the case and am familiar with the basic facts, so you do not have to repeat large pieces of factual information. You should only include the facts, data, and circumstances that are necessary to support your analysis and conclusions.

 

The purpose of the paper is to demonstrate your understanding of the concepts and theories discussed in the class, your ability to apply these systematically to a particular business situation, and your ability to convey the results.  The use of appropriate “strategy language” is important. It demonstrates your grasp of fundamental concepts and provides confidence in your analysis and recommendations. Avoid flowery language (a thesaurus can provide impressive words, but they aren’t always appropriate) and unsupported opinions. Do not use phrases like “I think . . . ,” “I feel . . . ,” “I believe . . .,” “It is obvious . . .,” etc.  Instead, you should be able to state “My analysis shows . . . .,” or “My assessment of the situation described is . . . .”  This demonstrates the rational and logical process you have used to develop your arguments and reach your recommendations or conclusions.

 

The case factor analysis is to be written as a formal business report that communicates clearly and concisely your analysis and recommendations.  It is to be between ten pages in length, double spaced, twelve point font, one inch margins on all four edges of your paper. You may add a cover page and an additional page for graphs, charts, tables, figures, or references.  Use major and sub-headings to clearly identify sections of the paper. Papers that are longer than twelve  pages or that do not conform to the specified format will not be accepted. All papers are due at the beginning of class on the assigned date. No late or make-up work will be accepted.

 

 

Content

The case analysis is to have five main sections: An Overview, a description of Current Conditions and Strategies, an Analysis, a Diagnosis (discussion of the analysis), and Recommendations/Conclusion.

 

Overview and Issue

The main purpose of this part is to introduce the issue(s) you will examine in your analysis and to provide the justification and reason for the analysis. You should identify the symptoms that you think need management attention and the underlying factor(s) that are the cause of the symptoms. This should not be a summary of the entire case; it should contain enough information to show why the factor you identify is important.  This section should conclude with a concise statement of the important issues in the case.  These may be primarily problems or conditions the firm has faced in the past or is facing currently. The issues you identify become the focus for the rest of the paper. In the rest of the analysis you should present only information that relates to your identified issue.

 

Current Conditions and Strategies

In this section you will discuss why you think the issue you identified is important to the case, and the strategy(ies)the firm is following to address the issue. You could show that the mission and goals of the firm are not being met, that financial targets are being missed, or, in a descriptive case, how the firm maintains competitive advantage.  You should describe in objective and/or quantitative terms, including financial measures, the current conditions of the firm. You should also describe strategies the firm is following or has followed to address the issue.

 

This section should be fairly brief. Do not try to summarize the whole case and everything the firm is doing. Instead, state clearly and concisely what the firm is trying to accomplish, how it is trying to accomplish it, and whether or not they are successful.  Remember that everything should address the issue you identified in the first section.

 

Analysis

In this section you will use the methods from class and the textbook  – stakeholder analysis, five-forces analysis, value chain analysis, etc – to analyze the strategic conditions faced by the firm. This section should not just describe conditions; it should be a rigorous and systematic analysis of conditions. This means you must relate the factors to a strategic structure, model, or concept to show how and why the factors are important to understanding the conditions in the case. The analysis should be related to the USF you identified in the overview. Use whatever methods and models you think are appropriate and use the information from the case.

 

There are usually two parts in the analysis, external analysis and internal analysis. The order of presentation, content, and emphasis of each part will depend on the nature of the case and your own style and judgment. The following are topics that should be considered in the analysis.

 

  1. Environmental Analysis. Describe and analyze important conditions, trends, and factors in the environment that have impacted the competitive position of the firm. Start with the general environment and work into the industry and strategic competitive environments. Identify key competitors and discuss their relative resources and market position. As in the previous section, it is not enough to simply describe conditions; you must analyze conditions and show how they are related to the issues you identified and to the success of the firm.  Use whatever models and methods you think are appropriate to the case and the issues.  Your focus should be on identifying key success factors, environmental trends, and strategic factors and showing how they impact the success of the firm.

 

  1. Internal Analysis. Discuss why you think the issue you identified is important to the case, and the strategy(ies)the firm is following to address the issue. You could show that the mission and goals of the firm are not being met, that financial targets are being missed, or, in a descriptive case, how the firm maintains competitive advantage. You should describe strategies the firm is using to address the issue.  You should also describe in objective and/or quantitative terms, including financial measures, the effectiveness of the strategy and the current conditions of the firm. As much as possible, you should use the terminology and topics from class – industry life cycle, leadership, corporate social responsibility, generic strategies, core competencies, etc.  Remember that everything should address the USF you identified in the Executive Summary.

Diagnosis

This is an extremely important but often neglected or short-changed part of the paper.  The analysis is not complete without a thorough diagnosis that explains the significance of your analysis. It should answer the “So what?” question by discussing how your analysis explains the conditions presented in the case. The diagnosis interprets the relevance of your analysis and how it contributes to understanding the underlying strategic issue(s) you identified in the overview. The analysis provides valuable insights and information, but it is only valuable if the lead to useful learning.  It is not enough, for example, to use a five-forces model for an industry analysis.  You must show how the industry conditions create opportunities and threats for the firm and how the firm addresses them.

 

Nothing new should be included in this section. You should “connect the dots” from the previous analysis and discussion to show how the unique circumstances of the firm create strategic opportunities. This should include your rationale for your recommendation or conclusion, how it addresses the issue(s) you identified, and the outcomes you expect.  You can use a SWOT summary table or matrix as part of your diagnosis.

 

Recommendations/Conclusion

This should be a brief summary of your assessment of the conditions presented in the case based on your analysis, and present your recommendations or conclusions.  Your recommendations or conclusions should include your rationale, how they address the issue(s) you identified, and the outcomes you expect.  Recommendations should address the critical problems you identified, lead to a solution to the central issue you identified, and be reasonable within the capabilities, resources, mission, and values of the firm. In a descriptive case, you will be looking back on actions taken and your conclusions will describe why strategic actions were or were not appropriate and why they produced the results described in the case.

 

 

Grading 

Each of the following elements will be graded on a scale of 0 – 10 based on the following:

0 – 3        insufficient original content for credit

4 – 6        shows effort but omits important information

6½ – 7½ meets basic requirements

8 – 8½     exceeds expected requirements

9 – 10      provides significant insights or value-added analysis

 

Overview 10%

Identifies the basic problem facing the firm

Clearly identifies underlying strategic factor(s)

Demonstrates understanding of issues in the case and of strategy

 

Current Conditions and Strategy 15%

States mission as stated or implied in the case where appropriate

Identifies goals and objectives where appropriate

Describes key strategies; gets beyond describing activities to the underlying strategies

Describes current conditions including finances where appropriate

Clearly relates each of the above to the focus issue(s).

 

Analysis 30%

Addresses main issue(s)

Uses appropriate theories and models; correctly applies models

Provides “value-added” explanation or insights that go beyond description

Uses appropriate data and information from the case

Relates information to USF and supports recommendations

Identifies key environmental factors, competitive conditions, and stakeholders

Identifies key capabilities, competencies, value creating activities, and sources of competitive advantage

 

Diagnosis 20%

Relates analysis to the conditions in the case

Clearly identifies key factors and conditions

Explains significance of analysis results

Relates analysis to USF

Provides adequate support for Recommendation/Conclusion

 

Recommendations/Conclusion 15%

Demonstrates that recommendations address basic problem

Demonstrates feasibility of recommendations

Shows that key stakeholder needs are addressed if appropriate

Identifies obstacles that may be encountered

Describes expected outcomes

 

Grammar and Structure 10%

Writing is clear, persuasive, and grammatically correct

Uses appropriate language for a business report

Uses appropriate terms, topics and “strategy language”

Follows logical sequence; good structure

Correct spelling, punctuation, and grammar

Citations are given in complete standard form where required

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