As you discuss cases with your fellow students, you will learn that decision making is often a confrontational activity involving people with different points of view. Most important, you will learn how to work toward consensus while tolerating legitimate differences of opinion.
After completing a few case studies, you should find them an interesting and rewarding way to learn. You will soon discover, however, that case studies require an approach that is different from normal homework assignments. Each case can have more than one right answer depending on how the problem is defined and which assumptions are made. Students commonly spend several hours preparing the solution for a case assigned for classroom discussion. The time you spend working on case studies will be well spent because it will prepare you to confidently take on a position in agribusiness in which decision-making challenges face you each day. Success in your career will be the real reward for the work you do in preparing case studies.
The Seven Steps of Problem Analysis
Using an organized seven-stem approach in analyzing a case will make the entire process easier and can increase your learning benefits.
- Read the case thoroughly. To understand fully what is happening in a case, it is necessary to read the case carefully and thoroughly. You may want to read the case rather quickly the first time to get an overview of the industry, the company, the people, and the situation. Read the case again more slowly, making notes as you go.
- Define the central issue. Many cases will involve several issues or problems. Identify the most important problems and separate them from the more trivial issues. After identifying what appears to be a major underlying issue, examine related problems in the functional areas (for example, marketing, finance, personnel, and so on). Functional area problems may help you identify deep-rooted problems that are the responsibility of top management.
- Define the firm’s goals. Inconsistencies between a firm’s goals and its performance may further highlight the problems discovered in step 2. At the very least, identifying the firm’s goals will provide a guide for the remaining analysis.
- Identify the constraints to the problem. The constraints may limit the solutions available to the firm. Typical constraints include limited finances, lack of additional production capacity, personnel limitations, strong competitors, relationships with suppliers and customers, and so on. Constraints have to be considered when suggesting a solution.
- Identify all the relevant alternatives. The list should all the relevant alternatives that could solve the problem(s) that were identified in step 2. Use your creativity in coming up with alternative solutions. Even when solutions are suggested in the case, you may be able to suggest better solutions.
- Select the best alternative. Evaluate each alternative in light of the available information If you have carefully taken the proceeding five steps, a good solution to the case should be apparent. Resist the temptation to jump to this step early in the case analysis. You will probably miss important facts, misunderstand the problem, or skip what may be the best alternative solution. You will also need to explain the logic you used to choose one alternative and reject the others.
- Develop an implementation plan. The final step in the analysis is to develop a plan for effective implementation of your decision. Lack of an implementation plan even for a very good decision can lead to disaster for a firm and for you. Don’t overlook this step. Your teacher will surely ask you or someone in the class to explain how to implement the decision.
A well-written report would contain the following elements:
- Executive summary. This is a concisely written statement, less than one page, placed at the front of the report. It briefly summarizes the major points of the case and your solution. It should describe the major issue, the proposed solution, and the logic supporting the solution.
- Problem statement. Present the central issue(s) or major problem(s) in the case here. Do not rehash the facts of the case; assume that anyone reading the report is familiar with the case.
- Alternatives. Discuss all relevant alternatives. Briefly present the major arguments for and against each alternative. Be sure to state your assumptions and the impact of constraints on each alternative.
- Conclusion. Present the analysis and the logic that led you to select a particular solution. Also discuss the reasons you rejected the other alternatives.
- Implementation. Outline a plan of action that will lead to effective implementation of the decision so that the reader can see not only why you chose a particular alternative but how it will work.