Prof R K Gupta
BE (Hons), MBA, FIE
Aravali Institute of Management
E-mail : /

First conceived at Harvard School by a professor in 1871, the Case study has been widely recognized as a powerful method in Management teaching. The Harvard Business School has stuck to it as a prominent tool of management teaching (a student typically handles 400 odd cases). Most of the Business schools worldwide follow the same pattern in varying and much lesser degrees. It appears that the underlying assumption is that if Harvard does it, it must be best. Further, case method is one of the well-recognized methodology in conducting Business Research.

The Author having more than 25 years of senior level experience in Indian Corporate sector, now teaching management since several years has been using business cases. Based on his experience and analyzing more than 50 cases drawn from various sources, this article attempts to critically examine the present format of Case method adopted in various Indian B-schools and its suitability in Management teaching.

Some dramatic changes have taken places especially in last 12 years all over the world putting serious question mark on present form of use of cases in management teaching. It is widely accepted now that the business situation has become extremely volatile, dynamic and fast changing. A case is supposed to create a real life business situation or a problem and guide the reader into arriving at alternative courses of problem solving putting the concepts and academic knowledge acquired into the case for this purpose.

If purpose of the case is this, is not it better if management learning is more experiential and project based rather than reading about business situations given in a case, which is essentially restricted, notwithstanding the efforts put in to prepare a case.

Inherently the Case method suffers from following limitations:

* It does not and cannot represent the complex and multidimensional business situation in its entirety.

* The business decision-making process in real life situation is much more dynamic and based on current decision making results obtained by managers in their respective business setting.

* The case is inherently more useful in higher level of business thinking and not at lower functional level

* Majority of cases look like augmented illustrations to concepts and problems discussed in the text of a course, like the illustrations given in sciences and social sciences text. Is case an illustration?

* A case is normally suitable for experienced persons and not at all useful for fresh students in Management schools. (The average experience of Harvard entrants is 7 years)

* Merely analyzing a case and its given problems are not adequate to generate capability in Student to identify real business situations and derive solutions.

In this context, the traditional Indian Vedic System of education (referred to as Gurukool system) is far superior in gaining Practical experience. Can it also claim superiority to traditional Upanishad system of Teacher -Pupil interaction in learning facts of life and business? Can one learn to swim by reading and analyzing how a particular swimmer managed to swim? One forgets all theory the moment he/she dips into the deep waters.

* It is observed that most of these Cases do not describe in beginning the area of business problems these intend to explore nor do they have guiding questions in end thus channelising the thinking process of student, in particular direction which these are supposed to do. This is done so, based on argument that business does not have one solution and field should be left open for innovative and creative ability of students. The author does not agree with this based on his own experiences. It is like moving in a big airport not knowing your destination and the possible flights one has to take.

* The cases are inherently outdated, particularly in present business environment. These ignore the cultural and human factors having important bearing on arriving on a typical business decision.

* These can't be a substitute for Practical work, like Project work, field research, on-job-training (like a Sandwich program in collaboration with business organizations) and writing a complete business plan for a new venture. Undue emphasis on case method therefore has danger of being counter-productive.

* Cases are best suited for group learning, and have a possibility to run wild during class room discussions by going off the Track of key business problems these are intended to focus on

* Besides in most Indian Universities and institutes, academicians with little business experience teach. They have no way to judge suitability and practicability of a solution suggested. Unfortunately our system relies heavily upon broadly substandard and useless PhD based teaching qualifications. Everyone knows about it and no comments are needed.

* What is being taught in name of cases is merely detailed illustrations which normally don't even fit the concepts covered under the syllabus.

* Most of Cases taught are based on Alien business environment, which average student cannot even appreciate. There is paucity of high quality business cases in Indian environment, prepared by People who have been in Field.

Harvard's Viewpoint

"Bringing real-life business problems into the classroom: this is at the heart of the Harvard Business School experience and the essence of the case method.

The primary form of instruction at Harvard, the case method presents the greatest challenges confronting leading companies today-complete with the constraints and incomplete information found in a real business situation-and places the student in the role of the decision maker.

Through the case method, our students are exposed to real-life situations that are relevant, intellectually and emotionally engaging, and highly interactive. This creates a challenging learning environment that encourages everyone to share opinions and perspectives and learn from each other.

When students are presented with a case, they place themselves in the role of the decision-maker as they read through the situation and identify the problem they are faced with. The next step is to perform the necessary analysis-examining the causes, considering alternative courses of actions-to come to a set of recommendations.

To get the most out of cases, students read and reflect on the case and then often meet in small study groups before class to "warm up" and discuss their findings with other classmates. In class-under the questioning and guidance of the professor-students probe underlying issues, compare different alternatives, and finally, suggest courses of action in light of the company's objectives.
As you watch a case study unfold in class, you'll see students doing 85% of the talking, as the professor steers the conversation by making occasional observations and asking questions. The 80-90 individuals from diverse industries, functions, countries, and experiences enrich this classroom interaction. At the end of the class, you'll find that the day's lesson lay in the exchange of ideas amongst the students-and not in a lecture or textbook.

In many cases, convinced they have the right answers, students are surprised at the variety of points of view that emerge from their classmates during the course of the classroom discussion. Having to listen carefully to others' arguments and define their analysis, students learn from one another.

Class participation is so important to the learning model at HBS that 50% of a student's grade is based on the quality of class participation. This requires students and faculty to work closely together-another hallmark of the HBS experience.

During their time at Harvard, students study and prepare over 500 cases-a transforming experience that helps them to recognize the unique aspects of different situations, define problems, suggest further avenues of analysis, and devise and implement action plans. Once they finish the program, HBS graduates have the confidence they need to go off and tackle the many business challenges they will face in their careers."

One can observe over-emphasis on case study method at Harvard. The Author has serious doubts about the efficacy of this as claimed by them. Moreover, distinct features of their methodology need to be noted: -

They have large number of experienced students from diverse industries, functions, countries and cultural groups. They are also required to write the cases. There lies the point.

Do the Case method support the Adult Learning theory?


*  Like to solve problems.

* Want feedback ASAP.

* Bring experiences to the learning table for sharing.

* Want to apply what they have learned as soon as possible.

Well the case method can definitely play this role, provided the above ingredients are met with in Indian B-schools. But the points appear to be more relevant in Management Development Programs, barring a few management schools The teacher's role should be to steer discussions in meaningful directions not broadening the context too much/She should be Effective Discussion Leader, who

- Is comfortable not knowing all the answers

- Believes she can learn from the learners

- Knows her learners

- Knows and practices techniques that make discussions effective

Outline for case analysis

Broadly speaking, a case should be analyzed on following systematic approach.
Before that, two things are necessary: -

1.The sitting arrangement should be such that it facilitates group discussion
2.The Discussion Leader (Teacher, normally) should fill up background on the case and related issues involved, since cases cannot be written with all details without making them bulky.

Step 1> Situation Audit

Step>2  Problem/Decision Statement

Step>3  Identification of Alternatives

Step>4  Critical issues

Step>5 Examining each alternative in terms of each critical issue

Step>6 Recommendations, and limitations of arriving at recommendations.


- Cases are one of the tools of management teaching and presently we are ill equipped due to lack of quality business cases in Indian environment

- Students should be made to write cases

- The cases generally tend to be outdated but can be used to highlight major problem areas based on certain concepts of the topic

- These are more suited to experienced -teachers and students group

- They should be written with introductory guidelines on area they touch or intend to explore and end with pointed questions.

- They should focus on identified and desired learning objective rather than be general and wide sweeping in contents.

- Should be designed as exercise in solving problem rather than illustration of problem or concept. Student should be encouraged to adopt a solution and not leave the discussions in conclusive.

- They should not dominate management teaching content. Alternative methods should be explored to make management courses more project oriented and experiential

- A Case should not be too long

- The Indian Corporate sector should come forward to extend on-job-training to Business students and feed data for preparing better cases. The companies should open up in their own interest.

Prof R K Gupta
BE (Hons), MBA, FIE
Aravali Institute of Management
E-mail : /

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