Sunday, September 11, 2005

The Case Based Method

What do the words "teaching" and "class" mean to us? We are traditionally accustomed to a teacher walking into class and talk to us and teach us about a concept or theory. And thats it. We are given homeworks and tests based on that. The case based method might be new to many people who have not done management studies. I have never been in a class, which taught a subject in a case based method as opposed to the traditional "I will talk to you and teach you". In the Case method, the whole class is assigned a case. The case involves a business problem, a CEO or a Planning Manager faces in a particular economic/competitive environment. The case will meticulously detail the companies philosophy and its progress in the past until the point in question. It will also elaborate the companies past decisions and the effects of those decisions. It will then completely decribe the business problem the company is facing right now and leave it to the reader to solve it. You have to solve it in a way which is in-line with the company's vision and philosophy.

The problem could be "whether to expand your business or not", "how to get back at a competitor who just took a load of your market share", "how to develop a strategy for global operations at a time when everybody is doing so". A lot of tables are given which gives out revenues, profits and all the other gory numbers. The biggest thrill in this type of teaching comes, not when you are preparing for this case before the class, but during the class.

In class, the teacher will come with a pack of cards and shuffle it fast. Each card will have a students name on it. He will pick a card at random, call out the students name and say " So Mr.Hawkeye, break down the case for me. What do you think the MD of Proctor and Gamble should do that this point". So you should at this point tell the whole class how you would make the decision and back it up with numbers. Then the class will have an opportunity to attack your logic. This is called as a cold call. If a professor picks you at random and asks you to break the case down - you have been cold called. If you haven't prepared very well and can't break down the case, as Hawkeye is gonna be this week, because of excessive fun and no study scenario, you could be cold screwed. There is not a single theory or a concept taught through an OHP projector like in a theory class. The whole course involves debating on 20 such cases. Harvard Business School and Darden (Virginia) conducts all 100% of their coursework through the case based method so that they teach students the real world problems. Most other schools have a mixture of case-based and theory method. Class participation does not merely involve providing a logic but providing it with the appropriate soft skills so that you don't offend anyone. Class particpation counts for 30% of you grade. The cards that the professor has in his hand, also has your photo on it. There is a name board in front of you and a seating chart is provided so that students only sit in particular seats. This way the Professor can remember you and grade you apprpriately. At the end of the class the professor will show, the real decisions the people concerned made , why they made it, and how it turned out. So that you will know if your logic made sense or not. Fun isn't it.


Anonymous said...

Very interesting. I was looking at the syllabus, of a course offered at Harvard Univ Continuing Edu Dept. It just had five cases to be discussed, throughout the sem. Didn't quite get the picture then. Now I understand the intent.

Aren't the-results-speak-for-themself kinda answers difficult to tackle? A company might have followed certain approach, succeeded, but your reply/ analysis may be a totally different approach, which is not yet tested in real time. How will such replies affect the grades?

Does the grade depend on what the prof thinks is the right way to handle the situation (case)?


Ram said...

Amazing way to employ the target brain to register theory! I have been in a couple of corporate training classes which used case-studies. I was cold-called and obviously was not prepared.. I used the "Mudhalvan style" to get out of a sticky Merger situation! a la "Oru vegam ulla ilayngyar and a vivegam ulla mudhiyor" ;-) believe it or not... it won great applause from the bewildered (non-Indian) crowd. This was proof that Shankar did not copy from any foreign movie I guess!

Hema said...


It is great to see the way cases are being taught in Harvard. However for second graded small B-school MBAs like me were also exposed (can i say that) to this kind of class environment at my college in chennai (MOP Vaishanav, our Head of the Department Dr. Jayashree Suresh) used to teach strategic management the similar way. I can now proudly say it landed me as a Strategic consultant with Accenture and PWC here in UK. Now whenever i do a consulting study the one person who always stays in my mind is my prof.

Sorry!!! getting personal isnt...But the point i wanted to make is Our Lovely India is not too far away :)


Hawkeye said...


yes! that is the challenge you will face in your actual job when u are going with a theory thats not been tested.

But in class if you give an answer that is backed up by numbers and is logical, it does not matter if the company eventually made a different decision. In class its your logic that matters

Hawkeye said...


sometimes movie quotes and situations can work in real-life. I have quoted lyrics from songs and movie things in exams and during application process. it just worked

Hawkeye said...


my wife is from meenakshi college and the moment she read the blog she said the "over'a peethikaathe" comment. It seems she also dealt with the case study method in meenakshi.

but my blog was more on non-management(say engineering) Vs management education. Not so much about India Vs US. I know that IIMs teach case study method extensively.

and my wife dealt with case method on a business related course.

Hema said...

I didnt mean to hurt you by saying you were boasting about US and all. I was only happy that India being ridiculed by so many of my colleagues for its back handed education practices and so on, is actually not that far in its systems and its afterall us Indians who have had that so called age old customs of learning are amongst the top management belt in most companies here in UK. Just a pat on our back and a chance to raise our collars...

Sorry if i had offended you in anyways....

tilotamma said...

un wife Meenakshi-aa endha group?