Case Method of Analysis

AuthorMarilyn Helms, Judith Nixon

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The case method of analysis involves studying actual business situations—written as an in-depth presentation of a company, its market, and its strategic

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decisions—in order to improve a manager's or a student's problem-solving ability. Cases typically investigate a contemporary issue in a real-life context. There are multiple issues to consider and many "correct" or viable alternatives to solve the case issues are presented. Case studies provide students with a "note of reality" that makes learning more relevant and enjoyable.

Cases are written and published in textbooks by students, faculty, or consultants. Cases may be based on actual company experiences, like a consulting project, or may be developed from articles and events in business periodicals and newspapers. Cases include actual information of a company's decisions and may include interviews, observations, or data from firm and industry records, as well as database records and published historical facts on the company and the industry. Barbazette identified five types of cases studies:

Identification cases studies help learners identify positive and negative characteristics of the situation.

Problem-solving case studies use systematic and creative problem-solving techniques.

Practice case studies require students to use a new idea or try a new skill.

Application cases studies are used at the end of a training program to summarize and review.

Serial case studies progressively add new elements.


The case method was invented by the Harvard Business School over 80 years ago, where it still remains the foundation for teaching and research. By studying and examining actual cases, professors believed students could develop better insight as to how organizations reach conclusions. This method of study and analysis is seen as an effective way to train young business leaders to consider facts and present them more efficiently.


Today, cases remain a popular method of study in business schools—especially at Harvard and the University of Virginia, where they are used heavily in the Master of Business Administration (MBA) programs. While technology, computer simulations, and other learning methods continue to grow, cases fill a much-needed function in the educational process of students, future managers, and leaders. Cases are used in a wide variety of disciplines and areas of study. They are also popular for executive training and are used in weekend-format continuing education and professional development programs.

In their study of the skills of technologists, Birchall and Smith found that technologists are often...

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