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Tips on how to solve Business Case Studies. My takeaways from James Quinlan's Lecture

Updated: Aug 16, 2021

Hey everyone! My name is Arrad Mostafa and I will be a senior at Sir Wilfrid Laurier CI next school year. Last Thursday, I had the pleasure to attend Illuminate Leadership Academy Lecturer James Quinlan’s presentation on “What are business case studies and how to tackle them”. His presentation was very informative and allowed me to gain a better understanding of business case studies as well as taking part in a mini-competition. I have listed some of my highlights below.

I only had two experiences with business case studies. When I did DECA at school and the Illuminate x Markham conference. I have gained a lot from my two experiences and was looking forward to his presentation. I found case studies to be a fun way for me to improve my problem-solving skills and to get an insight into how corporates function in the real world.

Overview of Case Studies:

James explained that case studies are more related to real-life applications while schools are more inclined to what you learn in textbooks. Learning through case studies is effective as you are exposed to real problems, you can improve your analysis skills, and they are much more fun than listening to a teacher give 1.5-hour lectures every day. Having already practiced case studies myself, I was able to relate to his description of case studies. In DECA, I took the persona of a business manager and was tasked with improving and expanding a coffee shop that I work for. The case study stated your problems and you had to choose the best course of action. The real-life application is truly different from what I can ever learn at school.

James then surprised us by stating that we would be doing a case study by the end of his lecture and he will choose the winner. But before exposing us to the case study, James started off with the 4 key steps on how to approach every case study and what each step would look like.

1. Executive Summary

The executive summary is the case study itself. It will be handed to you with all the required information. It is critical to take time to thoroughly read the scenario to fully understand what is required of you. Multiple case studies have different objectives. The case study that I encountered was to expand the store's reach and potential customers. However, case studies can request much more. How to deal with competition, friction between different departments, advertising a new business, and much more.

2. Key Analysis Points & Decision Criteria

James stated that while reading the case study, it is a good habit to jot down the key points. These could be statistics, firms involved in the study, dates and times, etc... It also is very helpful to do some basic and extensive research upon the key points listed in the case study. You can use the research you achieved to your advantage. After accumulating all the information and knowledge of the case, continue to the decision-making criteria where you are given your options. These are the default options given in the case study that you can choose to follow.

3. Recommendation Details

These are the options or hypothetical solutions you are provided with usually at the bottom of your case study. Typically, there are around 3 given options. Here is where the basic and extensive research plays a huge part. With more knowledge regarding your case study, you can determine your best course of action and convince your judges as well. In my opinion, it is also better to finalize a choice and stick with it. It is better than quickly finishing this step and having to redo the whole case study.

4. Implementation Plans

Simply put, the implementation plan is your solution. Create a plan of action to strengthen your decision and convince the judges that your implementation far exceeds any other. While creating an implementation plan, it is crucial that you always relate it back to the core issue.

These 4 steps are the congested version of the "Analysis Steps". The analysis steps break down the 4 overview categories into much smaller and simpler steps for better understanding. However, they are essentially the same thing.

Strategy Triangle:

James stated that we can also refer to something called the “Strategy Triangle” to help guide us through the process. The three vertices of the triangle represent 3 key attributes needed in the case study. The goal of the case study is the main problem you are solving or it can also be the goal of the business that you are helping. Core activities relate back to what the organization supplies and its current market focus. Finally, the product market focus is what the organization wants to work further on or what they are trying to achieve. In every case study, there will be a misalignment between the 3 attributes and your role is to mend them together.

Before finishing his presentation, James reminded us to be logical. He stated “business is about sensibility”, the most creative answer isn’t necessarily the best one. Another thing he told us to keep in mind is sometimes, the case doesn’t require any change. Sometimes, we get too ambitious and always try to change. In cases, it is sometimes better to just stay the course.

Final Task - Case Study:

Near the end of the workshop, James gave us a surprise case study. We were given time to read the executive summary and list down the key analysis points individually. We were then sent out to breakout rooms to form groups of three and present a solution. After analysing the case and following all of the steps listed above, we determined that the business should stay the course it is in and it will currently prove too risky to be ambitious. When we reconvened to the main room to give our solutions, I was surprised to find every group presenting a different solution. James then concluded by saying that there is not necessarily a right answer, you just need to be confident and stick by your solution.

I would like to thank Mr. Quinlan for the informative and insightful presentation. Skills learned and gained from case studies are gems that cant be found in a school environment. I would highly recommend practicing case studies to build soft skills that you can use elsewhere. Finally, I would like to thank Illuminate Universe as well for allowing me this opportunity. Can't wait to see the other speakers!


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