16. Written Analysis of Cases – Business Communication, 2nd Edition

16

Written Analysis of Cases

“A single, well-designed case study can provide a major challenge to a theory and provide a source of new hypotheses and constructs simultaneously.”

 

Donald R. Cooper and Pamela S. Schindler

COMMUNICATION AT WORK

The case study method of teaching management issues and solutions is a crucial component of the modern pedagogy of business schools. Students and faculty spend a lot of time finding the perfect answers to the issues raised in a case. Their concern for reaching a logically satisfying solution is genuine, but they should all be informed by Amartya Sen’s description of a hypothetical situation in his book, The Idea of Justice. In his book, Sen describes three children’s demands for a flute. One child claims that she deserves the flute because she made it; the second says she deserves it because she has no toys (while the others do); and the third claims she deserves it because she can play it best. The question of who should get the toy remains: its maker, its player, or the child who has no other toy? The decision-makers could decide to give the flute to any one of the children, but who can tell what the right solution to this problem is?

 

Upon completion of this chapter, you should be able to:

  1. Know the nature and types of case studies.

  2. Understand the process of case analysis.

  3. Identify major problems/questions involved in a case study.

  4. Know how to consider alternative solutions to the questions raised.

  5. Write out the findings of the analysis—a statement of the problem, the logical framework, consideration of the alternative solutions, and final decisions.

WHAT IS A CASE?

A case is a written account of real or simulated managerial problems, dilemmas, and situations calling for solutions. Case analysis is an exercise in critical thinking and understanding of concepts and causes of problems and events. Broadly speaking, a case can be divided into theoretical and factual cases.

  1. Theoretical cases: Case studies that are meant for reading and clarifying theoretical concepts in a discipline such as management, marketing, human relations, communication, and so on are academic case studies. They are used as examples to concretize abstract concepts. The interplay of ideas is presented in the form of action, interaction, and conflict among persons involved in a life-like situation described by the case. The case study on the profile of an effective communicator discussed at the beginning of this book is an example of a theoretical case. It uses the principles of oral, nonverbal, and written communication to demonstrate the dynamics of effective communication.
  2. Factual cases: Case studies that describe and illustrate an organization’s experience and efforts to overcome different problems and situations are real cases. These cases are based on facts. They present critical management issues with full details of facts and figures. Their analysis requires a systematic approach to identification of the main problem, alternative solutions, and, finally, the best solution. Such factual case studies highlight corporate problems belonging to any functional area of management, such as marketing, production, or human relations. But the technique of analysing different cases does not vary. Analysis of factual cases follows the same technique of identification and evaluation of alternatives for documenting the strategic process of decision-making.
1

Know the nature and types of case studies.

An important characteristic of a factual case study is that it presents a problem/event in its entirety, explaining all relevant causal relationships. In life, nothing happens in isolation. Interlinked events offer a kind of intersection between causes. The case study requires the application of analytical reasoning to the main problem and its best solution. The case of communication breakdown at City Hospital discussed in Chapter 2 illustrates a problem of managerial protocol.

CHARACTERSTICS OF A CASE AND ITS ANALYSIS

Before we go into the actual process of case analysis, it is necessary to understand some characteristics of cases and their analysis.

  1. A good case study is based on critical management issues faced by organizations. It does not focus on personal dilemmas.
  2. The subject matter of a case can focus on different aspects of management. For instance, a case can illustrate the principles of effective communication and it can also demonstrate techniques in sales and marketing. The Devox case at the beginning of this book is an example of such a case.
  3. There are no right or wrong answers to the questions raised by a case study. The proposed answers or solutions to the problem should be logical. The decision that is finally recommended should keep with the logical framework that is established at the outset of the analysis.
THE PROCESS OF CASE ANALYSIS

The process of case analysis requires methodical study. This section describes the various stages of case analysis.

2

Understand the process of case analysis.

Step 1: Study the Case

First, a case analysis requires an understanding of the case and its context. This involves a comprehensive study of all factors at the organizational level that may be responsible for affecting working conditions and performance levels. Therefore, the first step is to know the goals, objectives, and structure of the organization. One can start by quickly reading the important points of the case and understanding the general drift. This should be followed by re-reading all the material and slowly taking note of important issues, facts, and ideas.

Step 2: Identify the Problem

After reading over the case, the next step is to identify the main problem and discover the relationships between the problem and the factors responsible for it. Critical analysis and insight should help the analyst distinguish between the problem and its symptoms. For example, frequent strikes in a company can be viewed as a problem, as they cause dislocation in so many ways. But strikes are actually symptoms of a deeper problem in the organization: its work culture, system of promotions and rewards, and its goals and objectives. Hence, the analyst should identify the real problem, as distinguished from its symptoms.

3

Identify major problems/questions involved in a case study.

Step 3: Define the Problem

The problem should be formulated in precise words. For example, in the aforesaid case, the problem could be defined as, “Low productivity owing to frequent labour strikes in the factory”.

 

In linking facts in causal relationships, any assumptions that have been made must be stated clearly. These assumptions form a part of the hypothesis that will be tested for validity.

Step 4: Identify the Causes of the Problem

The next step is to state the relevant facts of the case and establish logical links between them. Here one should remember that facts are not opinions. Facts are the basic data obtained through investigation and study of the work environment and other industry-related factors affecting the problem to be resolved. For example, in the aforesaid case, the facts could be that in the second quarter of the year, production was lower by 40 per cent, meaning it came down by 8,000 units when compared to the previous year, in which there were no strikes. This year, there were two major strikes in the second quarter alone. When linking facts in causal relationships, any assumptions that have been made must be stated clearly. These assumptions form a part of the hypothesis that will be tested for validity.

Step 5: Develop Alternative Solutions

The next step is to suggest various possible answers and solutions to the problem or questions raised in the case. According to experts, at least three to five alternatives should be generated, ranging from “most viable” to “least viable”.

4

Know how to consider alternative solutions to the questions raised.

Step 6: Evaluate the Alternatives

Next, each solution must be evaluated in terms of its relevance to the organization’s objectives and the decision to be taken. The analyst should compare the various alternatives and decide on the best course of action to recommend. The alternatives can also be scrutinized in terms of their utility over time, that is, in the immediate term, intermediate term, or long term.

Step 7: Develop a Plan of Action

Lastly, the analyst works out a plan to implement the recommended course of action. It is only when a plan of action is developed that one can check whether all the aspects of the problem have been addressed.

REQUIREMENTS FOR A CASE ANALYSIS

To understand the requirements for a case analysis, let us go back to the Devox case: The Profile of an Effective Communicator. This case analysis has been deliberately placed at the beginning of the book because it introduces all the essential principles and characteristics of effective oral, non-verbal, and written communication—it is almost like a summary of the book. We can use this case to examine the requirements necessary for a thorough and insightful case analysis.

5

Write out the findings of the analysis—a statement of the problem, the logical framework, consideration of the alternative solutions, and final decisions.

The following are the key requirements of a case analysis:

  1. Thorough knowledge of the concerned subject: The first requirement for being able to write an analysis of a theoretical case is thorough knowledge of the subject. Since the Devox case is considered a communications case, its analysis needs application of the concepts of effective communication. If we take the same case as an illustrative situation in consumer behaviour, its analysis will require a thorough knowledge of consumer behaviour concepts.
  2. Analytical ability: When attempting a case analysis, one has to go deeper into the situation described in the case. For example, in the Devox case, questions such as the following must be considered:
    • Why does Mr Oberoi want to return the pair of shoes?
    • How did this situation arise?
    • Does Mr Oberoi leave the show room satisfied? If yes, why? If not, why not?
    • How are the different aspects of this case related to one another?
    • Can we explain the situation in terms of our assumptions and observations?
    • Who is the most effective communicator in this case: Rahul, Mr Oberoi, Mr Sharma, or Mr Khare?
    • Why does Mrs Oberoi keep away from the discussion?

     

    When ideas are taken apart, each component can be discussed separately. This results in connections being made among the components and new relationships and interactions being established.

    To analyse means to break something down into its constituent parts. It involves more than just describing something. When ideas are taken apart, each component can be discussed separately. This results in connections being made among the components and new relationships and interactions being established. This allows us to examine the validity of the logic used to establish these relationships.

  3. Ability to think critically: The ability to think critically requires going beyond the obvious and looking for the truth underlying conflicts. It requires looking beyond what meets the eye and having a questioning approach in which one accepts an idea only after examining its basis.
  4. Ability to evaluate: The ability to evaluate ideas and reasons is part of critical thinking. When evaluating, it is important to know the reasons for a particular judgement. For example, it is not enough to say “Rahul is the most effective communicator”. One must also explain why and how Rahul is an effective communicator, for instance by comparing him to others and pointing out examples in which he demonstrates effective communication.
  5. Ability to infer: From the given analysis of the Devox case, you should have noticed that the analysis is centrally related not to Mr Oberoi’s purpose of returning the shoes, but to the way his skills to convince and persuade are outdone by Rahul’s competence in communicating. You should be able to finally view the whole problem from a certain perspective. Here, the analysis takes the position that effective communication is an act of the total personality of the communicator.

Analysis of Communication Breakdown at City Hospital

Another example of written analysis of a factual case is Communication Breakdown at City Hospital, which is given in Chapter 2. This case was discussed by nearly 300 groups of executives at several executive development programmes. The candidates were given enough lead time to understand the case thoroughly and answer the following questions:

  1. Why did the situation worsen with the widespread rumours of layoffs?
  2. Was it correct to include Lily Joe in the initial discussion meeting?
  3. Ideally, how should the situation have been handled?

Why Did the Situation Worsen?

Answers to the first question (“Why did the situation worsen with the rumours of layoffs?”) include the following common points:

  • Slow decision-making and poor coordination by the management.
  • Lack of initiative by the management—it did not anticipate the confusion and protests.
  • Excess attendees and too many meetings regarding layoffs.
  • Inability of management to take the staff into confidence from the very beginning.
  • Lack of proper planning and inept execution of the retrenchment process.
  • Presence of a clear communication gap and increasing anxiety of concerned staff.
  • Fear of the fifth-floor staff.
  • Inclusion of Lily Joe in the initial meetings.
  • Popular belief that management was behind the rumours.

     

    Here are some examples of answers to the first question.

    Example 1: Prima facie it seems that the inclusion of Lily Joe in the meetings was the primary reason for the spread of rumours. However, it cannot be said with certainty that other members in the meeting would not have spread the news, since the decision would affect a number of fifth-floor employees. The very fact that members were sworn to secrecy would be enough to fan the flames.

    Example 2: The reasons for the worsening of the situation due to widespread rumours could be:

    1. Rumours were spread with the intent of generating fear and agitation among employees, in the hopes that they would do something illegal or untoward, which would help the management justify closure of the fifth floor.
    2. The hospital had a policy of reassignment, but talk of the layoffs must have been leaked. The crux of the matter is that the management did not involve the staff in the decision-making process and the staff was resistant to changes.

    Example 3: The reasons for the rumours regarding layoffs of the observation ward employees could be:

    1. The series of meetings involved too many people and led to the rumours.
    2. There were differences among management regarding the process and procedure of decision-making. There were last minute objections put forth by the chief medical officer (CMO) and the chief accounts officer (CEO). Both demanded specific numbers and significant changes in the announcement letter drafted by the group before they would allow the plan to move forward.
    3. Negative news spreads very quickly via the grapevine.
    4. Lily Joe refused to accept the decision.
    5. The execution of plans was delayed, which led to the spreading of rumours.

The spreading of rumours via the grapevine suggests that the management missed an opportunity to share information that was of interest to employees. This poses a challenge to the management’s effectiveness and the organization’s human resource management system. Normally, management views the grapevine negatively because it tends to breach confidentiality and secrecy, and often results in the spreading of false rumours and negative information. However, sometimes the management itself may want to take advantage of rumours to gauge the likely reactions of the concerned employees to a proposed change or scheme. In this case, the communication gap happens because the decision was taken at the “top” and the implementation was desired from the “bottom”.

 

Normally, management views the grapevine negatively because it tends to breach confidentiality and secrecy, and often results in the spreading of false rumours and negative information.

Was it Correct to Include Lily Joe in the Meeting?

Answers to the second question, “Was it correct to include Lily Joe in the initial discussion meetings?”, can follow two directions. One view is that it was right to include Lily Joe in the initial meeting because the management was taking a decision affecting the staff of the fifth floor, so involving those whom the decision affected was crucial. Lily Joe, being their head, could contribute to the decision. Protocol demanded that she be involved in the meetings. In addition, including her would send her the message that her opinion was still valuable. According to this view, her attending the meeting is a perfect example of participative management, where employees are called to put forward their views. This approach helps the management obtain a holistic view of the situation.

However, an opposing view is that it was incorrect to include Lily Joe in the layoff meetings, even at the initial stage, because she was directly affected by the layoff plan. She did not contribute to the discussion. In fact, her participation created further problems because she herself was part of the problem, but made no contribution to the discussion.

How Should the Situation Have Been Handled?

A case study does not illustrate the dilemmas of an individual. It presents problems that an organization faces because of the failure of its systems.

 

A case study does not illustrate the dilemmas of an individual. It presents problems that an organization faces because of the failure of its systems.

The closure of the observation ward seems to be an easy solution to the problem, but it is misdirected. The executive director should have first prepared a plan to reduce staff across the hospital, instead of abolishing the fifth-floor unit. And after deciding on the number of employees to be dropped, after “reassignments” at the hospital level, general options should have been asked for from all the employees of the hospital and not of “observation ward” employees only.

The executive director should also have kept in mind that the hospital had a policy of reassignment rather than layoff, and thus had a commitment to placing the fifth-floor staff in other positions for which they were qualified. Just as fifth-floor patients were to be reassigned to other units, the staff of the fifth floor should have been reassigned too. In addition, new recruitment should have been stopped for some time. The action plan should have involved the following steps:

  1. The executive director should have appointed a committee made up of the director of personnel, the director of public relations, the head of nursing, and the labour relations consultant to discuss the retrenchment plan. When the hospital management decided that, since her floor was being closed entirely, Lily Joe would no longer be needed, the management should not have included her in the planning process.
  2. This committee should have developed a report on the reassignment and layoff of the fifth-floor staff.
  3. Then, the plan of action should have been placed before the CMO and CAO for their approval.
  4. After its approval, the plan should have been shared with the nursing heads in a formal meeting.
  5. Finally, the heads of nursing should have met the staff of the fifth floor to announce the plan for reassignment and layoff; after this, the press should have been informed.

The two examples of case analysis discussed here are only suggestions of how cases analyses can be carried out and are not prescriptive. A case analysis should be a well-organized piece of analytical and evaluative writing that reflects the analyst’s critical thinking on the relevant information and ideas.

THE STRUCTURE OF A WRITTEN CASE ANALYSIS

The writing of a case analysis follows a sequence of steps. Like a project report or an investigative report, a case report presents the process, findings, and recommendations of the analysis in an organized form, under distinct headings and sub-headings.

The main parts of the written analysis are:

  1. The title of the case: The title reflects the central problem of the case.
  2. The statement of the problem: The statement of the problem describes the objective of the case and what is to be achieved through the proposed solution.
  3. The case: The case is a brief narration of the situation or problem. It provides the context for the various issues to be investigated.
  4. The scope of the analysis: The scope defines the limits of the analytical study of the case clearly. It also describes the assumptions that have been made for the purpose of the analysis.
  5. The alternative solutions and their evaluation: Each possible solution is an alternative answer to the problem and should be fully considered in relation to the company’s objectives and goals and evaluated in terms of its merits and demerits. Sub-sections can be created for each solution, listing its merits and demerits. Here is an example:

    Solution 1: Fire the employees who engaged in violence during the strike.

    Merits: The company will be justifiably free of trouble-makers.

    Demerits/limitations: They might be some of the most productive workers otherwise; this might also further escalate the situation.

  6. The recommended solution: The recommended solution is the final suggestion for action. It is backed by the principles of management that are relevant to the case under consideration. At this stage, the logical framework developed to interpret the case helps justify the decision to recommend a particular solution.
  7. The conclusion: The conclusion gives a plan of action to overcome the problem by implementing the solution. The recommended action is fully analysed in terms of its viability, feasibility, cost, and benefit to the company. Any other inherent limitation or weakness in implementing the plan is also clearly discussed and indicated as a point for caution and further consideration.
  8. The executive summary: The executive summary briefly includes the following:
    • A brief description of the background of the problem
    • The problem
    • The possible solutions
    • The best solution
    • The recommended plan of action
    • The benefits of the recommended solution to the company

The executive summary is for helping decision-makers understand the problem and its possible solutions without going through the entire case analysis. It is, therefore, placed at the beginning of the written analysis.

SUMMARY
  • Case analysis is an exercise in critical thinking and understanding of concepts and causes of problems and events. This chapter discusses the nature of theoretical and factual case studies.
  • There are no right or wrong answers to the questions raised by a case. An analyst’s answer or solution should be logical and convincing and based on facts presented.
  • The various steps involved in a case analysis are: studying the background of the case, identifying and stating the problem, analysing the various possible solutions, evaluating the options, and developing a plan of action based on the recommended solution.
CASE: ACCEPTING A CONTRACT

A computer services company was negotiating a very large order with a major corporation. They had a very good track record with this client. Five different departments in the corporation had pooled their requirements and budgets, and a committee that had representation from all the departments was formed. The corporation wanted the necessary equipment on a long lease and did not want to make an outright purchase. Further, they wanted all the hardware and software from one supplier. This meant that their supplier would need bought-out items from other suppliers, since no one supplier could meet all the requirements from its range of products.

The corporation provided an exhaustive list of complex terms and conditions and pressured the vendors to accept their terms. The computer company that was finally awarded the contract had agreed to the overall terms as far as their own products were concerned, but had also accepted the same terms for the bought-out items. In this case, the bought-out items were to be imported through a letter of credit. The percentage of bought-out items vis-à-vis the company’s own products was also very high. One of the terms accepted was that the “system” would be accepted over a period of 10 days after all the hardware had been linked up and the software loaded.

The computer company started encountering supply troubles immediately. There were over a hundred computers connected with one another through software. For the acceptance tests, it had been agreed that the computer company would demonstrate, as a prerequisite, the features they had promised during technical discussions.

Now, when a Hero Honda motorcycle claims 80 km to a litre of petrol, it is under ideal test conditions, and if a motorcycle from the showroom were to be tested for this mileage before being accepted, it would never pass the test. In the corporation’s case, due to internal politics, the representatives from one department—who insisted on going exactly by the contract—did not sign their acceptance since the system could not meet the ideal test conditions.

Further, in a classic case of “for want of a horseshoe, payment for the horse was held up”, when the computer company tried to get the system accepted and payment released, they could not. The system was so large that at some point over a period of 10 days, something or the other always had problems. But the corporation took the stand that as far as they were concerned, the contract clearly mentioned that the system had to be tested as a whole and not module by module.

 

Questions to Answer

  1. Comment on the terms and conditions put forth by the corporation.
  2. What factors influenced the computer company’s decision to accept the contract?
  3. Was it a win-win agreement? Discuss.
REVIEW YOUR LEARNING
  1. What are the academic benefits of a case study?
  2. What abilities are required when analysing a case?
  3. Discuss the process of developing a written case analysis.
  4. What according to you is the most important characteristic of a good case study?
  5. Do you agree that a case can be used to illustrate several different concepts? Give some examples of cases you have studied.
  6. To what extent is a case study a problem-solving project seeking a correct solution?
  7. “A written analysis of a case is an analytical and evaluative piece of writing”. Discuss.
  8. Discuss the main characteristics of theoretical cases. Illustrate your answer with suitable examples.
  9. Define a factual case and show how it differs from a theoretical case.
  10. How do you arrive at the “best course of action”? Discuss.
REFLECT ON YOUR LEARNING
  1. What is the essential difference you have found between your approach to real-life business problems and the approach of a working manager actually confronting these problems?
  2. If there are no right or wrong answers to the questions raised by a case, then how do we evaluate the quality of a case analysis?
  3. How would one distinguish a problem from its symptoms when analysing a case?
  4. Reflect on the central importance of hypotheses in a case.
  5. What do you understand by the phrase “analytical ability”?
APPLY YOUR LEARNING

Revisit the Devox Sports Shoes & Sportswear case and discuss what, according to you, would be the best way to satisfy Mr Oberoi as well as guard the company’s policy. Give a strategic analysis of your solution.

SELF-CHECK YOUR LEARNING

From the given options, please choose the most appropriate answer:*

  1. A case, in management studies, gives an account of:
    1. a manager’s personal problems
    2. a manager’s interpersonal problems
    3. management problems
    4. social events in the company
  2. Cases dealing with an organization’s experiences and efforts to solve problems are described as:
    1. organizational cases
    2. theoretical cases
    3. functional cases
    4. factual cases
  3. All case studies involve documentation of the process of:
    1. strategic decision-making
    2. exploring alternative choices
    3. storytelling
    4. evaluating a problem
  4. Logical links between two events/facts are established by discovering:
    1. casual links
    2. causal links
    3. hypothetical links
    4. traditional links
  5. In the scientific study of a problem, opinions are not allowed because they are not:
    1. facts
    2. widely known
    3. written
    4. subjective
  6. The executive summary helps the decision-maker:
    1. avoid reading the case fully
    2. learn about the problem
    3. learn about various solutions to the problem
    4. Both (b) and (c)
  7. In a case study, the executive summary is placed:
    1. at the end
    2. at the beginning
    3. with the recommendations
    4. as part of the introduction
  8. The first requirement for being able to write an analysis of a theoretical case is thorough knowledge of the concerned:
    1. case
    2. subject
    3. objective
    4. methodology
  9. The ability to think critically reflects a:
    1. questioning mind
    2. thoughtfulness
    3. sharp business sense
    4. holistic personality
  10. In the conclusions section of an industry-based case study, the recommended action plan is fully analysed in terms of its:
    1. viability
    2. feasibility
    3. benefit to the company
    4. all of the above