DEVELOPING A TEACHING CASE Contents An Introduction to Cases The Case writing Process Writing the Case Preparing a Teaching

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This write-up on ‘Developing a Teaching Case’ has been prepared for the Society of Entrepreneurship Educators by T P Devarajan, Indian School of Business. It is based on two Harvard Business School publications – “An Introduction to Cases” by Professor Benson P Shapiro (No 9-584-097) and “Developing a Teaching Case” by Professor Michael J Roberts (No. 9-901-055). Professor Shapiro and Professor Roberts teach at the Harvard Business School. Visit to purchase these articles.

it gives the student an appetite for those analytical tools and frameworks by forcing them to grapple with a set of issues where these tools can be of value. the development of approaches. a case is a vehicle to develop knowledge. revenues. Exercises or problem sets are an excellent way to begin to learn the application and limitations of techniques. a good case must do more than this. knowledge. But. skills and attitudes. a case might present the issue of whether to construct a new plant in order to manufacture a new product. Each case is a description of a real business situation and serves as a metaphor for a particular set of problems. A good case must pose an action question—a decision—and then permit the student to perform some piece of analysis that will shed light on the issues raised by this decision or problem. What Makes a Good Case? A good case achieves its learning objectives via both a good story and some analysis that students must perform after they have read it. The analysis required to address those issues. and skills is best served by the case method that can also help to provide knowledge and experience with techniques. The student who performs this analysis should be rewarded with an insight into both the case protagonist’s specific problems. The case method is built around the concepts of metaphors and simulation. Lectures and readings are the most efficient way to acquire knowledge and to become informed about techniques. That is. But. based upon fixed costs. skills. if the student merely reads the case. The case writer must have the following four things firmly in mind early in the case writing process: • • • • The issues the case will focus on: This is often thought of as the “first paragraph. One question that would arise would revolve around the “break-even”—the lowest volume of product that the company can achieve and still earn a profit.DEVELOPING A TEACHING CASE An Introduction to Cases Management instruction involves the development of a set of approaches. Answering this question requires that the student performs a break-even analysis. By forcing students to focus on a specific situation. for instance. 2 . the case is intended to serve as a general lesson on how to approach problems of this type. and. and variable costs. and techniques. And. one would hope that they would learn something valuable—how a venture capitalist thinks about potential investments. So. Remember always.” although it may indeed take up the first page or two of the case. or how a sales manager hires salespeople. Where that data can be obtained. While the case itself does not teach the analytical techniques (these are taught by the instructor during class or in a “note”) the case does provide a setting where those analytical tools can be applied in practice. The data required by students to address those issues satisfactorily. as well as into this general class of issues.

this is probably an efficient use of everyone’s time. include interviews with one or more company executives. then the company must approve the use of these data. The typical process is to go into the field to write a case with a fairly strong notion of what you want to teach and how the case will serve that end. The fact that the focus of the case is an individual and that the individual will release the case—raises a particular issue. one may well learn some things that one did not know. 3 .” During the course of developing a case. This is the most common type of case study. Based on figures for various activities. the instructor would ask students to derive a set of financial statements. As such. They usually have the firm’s name in the title. Because the issues are so basic.” Note that no attempt should be made to make a published source case appear to be anything but that.What a Case Is NOT It is not a piece of research. The most frequent cause for concern is that the individual has talked about certain information that relates to companies with which he or she was once associated. you will discover some things that surprise you. Types of Cases Company field cases are developed with the cooperation of a participating company. and you will indeed learn something about the topic of interest. If all material is obtained from public sources. One should not set out to write a teaching case with the agenda of “Let’s see what we can learn about how X Company manages the product design process. a faculty member might need a very basic case for an introductory accounting course. But. and require approval and release from a senior executive at the company. this learning takes place against a backdrop of a strong initial set of hypotheses about the way in which this class of problems should be addressed. research reports and journals. Often you won’t find some fraction of what you expected to find. Rather than find a real company. General experience or “armchair” cases are written based solely on the faculty member’s general knowledge. magazines. the “credit line” at the bottom of the case must identify the case as “prepared from published sources. they must be extensively footnoted. Further. and because the instructor knows the territory sufficiently well to abstract the important elements into the case. there is no need for a formal company release. Individual field cases are written about specific individuals. it is rare that a general experience case will work. If the case reveals any non-public data based upon the individual’s experience with a particular company. and this is indeed one of the joys of case writing. Published information (or library) cases are those derived from published sources such as newspapers. And. For instance. the instructor simply invents a story. it is precisely this set of hypotheses that will drive the initial interviewing agenda and data collection efforts. But as the territory you wish to explore becomes increasingly complex.

if this happens.” Company/Industry/Executive/driven: Many cases come about because an instructor has learned about a company or executive from the media. you can search for companies that might provide good case subjects by sorting through various business media. will take place at the very beginning of the case writing process. One good reason to do this is to learn as early as possible if the company will be uncomfortable or. be sure that the senior executive has communicated to his/her colleagues the company’s willingness to share information with you. an instructor may decide. based upon knowledge of the field. and the process of getting the company comfortable releasing this data. and if the company has a good sense for the documents that relate to that topic. you will want to describe the nature of the course you are teaching and why the company may make an appealing case. the amount of time that will be required on the company’s part. the “sponsor” may hand you off to a subordinate who will provide you with much of the information and do most of the work. Scheduling and Sequencing Interviews Ideally. and you should know who at the company would have an important perspective on it. However. and therefore. It is better to be assigned to a more junior person who is willing and able to do the work than to a senior executive who doesn’t have the time and who doesn’t really know the details you need. “We need cases on this issue.The case Writing Process Sources of Case Ideas and Case Leads Issue-driven: An analysis of an existing (or new) course syllabus may lead the instructor to conclude that an existing case works well. the negotiation over what data will be required for the case. given the topics covered in the course. Before the First Field Visit Contacting the Company When you contact the company. In some cases. It is also useful to understand the hierarchy of the organization and how you will work with it going forward. that the hoped-for case cannot be written. and the rules of confidentiality under which the work will take place. and decided that it would e an interesting case. Negotiating the Terms and Conditions Ideally. but not every story has a case in it. You will want to lay out the kind of information required. once the focus of the case is sharpened. Almost every company has an interesting story to tell. Or. This is particularly true if the focus of the case is established. you would like to have a thorough understanding of the issue(s) the case will focus on. looking for examples of the issue of interest. but set in the service sector. but is just too old. Preparing for the Initial Visit and Interviews It is always good to get some information from the company prior to the visit. 4 . because more and more students are going to work in service businesses. learning as early as possible that the data cannot be released. alternatively. When you begin with a clear picture of the issue.

Constantly Think About Writing As you are interviewing. sometimes companies expect some value in return for their spending and sharing data. why you are interested in the company and this particular situation. It is useful to offer to share the case analysis and conclusions with the company at the end of case writing. It may be that the interviewee does not know it all. etc. as well as others in the company who have a perspective on the issues at hand. Pay attention to stories and anecdotes that capture truths you want to build into the case. it is important to say a little bit about your own background. Do you know enough to write the story you want to tell? Test your understanding by constantly telling yourself the story. about the case method of teaching. In any case. Many cases benefit from having little stories. Similarly. a solid agenda will make the interview productive. the key to a good interview is to go in with a solid idea of the information you want to come out with.More often. and therefore. and how they come together at a single point in time and on a single person’s desk – the case protagonist at the time of the case. constantly think abut the case you are going to be writing. But. While Gathering Information. the case writer and the company embark upon the process with the sense that there will be some sensitive information and that “we will cross that bridge when we come to it. 5 . what course this case will be used in. Generally. you will need to focus on understanding the threads of the story that are important for the case. as well as the rules for confidentiality. or raise an interesting issue. or points you to another individual in a better position to answer the question. In the Field—Visiting the Company Introducing the Case Method During this initial piece of the discussion. however. or whom can provide important background information for the case. the company will have a far clearer idea of what is required—and why—once it sees a draft of the case.” The case writer will have a far clearer idea of what information is truly essential once the writing process has begun and the issues have been clarified. follow-up work. This will include the case protagonist. relate it to a colleague – in a way that makes sense? This is a point you will need to get to before you can do a good job of writing the first paragraph. Can you develop a clear picture in your own mind – or even better yet. they can provide a timeless piece of wisdom. the bulk of your work will consist of interviewing. Interviewing Once you are at the company. It is also important to set expectations around the amount of time this will take.

The specific situation will determine the issues and the analysis that the case will focus on. As the case writer. You should be focused on coming to a perspective on this from the time you first walk into the company. the time of the case. An outline of the case – including a list of exhibits – will help you organize your thoughts and the material you plan on including in the case. The best thing that you can do is to start writing within a day or so of the first set of interviews. you must decide how to tell that story on paper. There may be background information on the industry. The first thing to do is figure out the time the case is set – the day. and therefore. the issues. and the pressures that make the decision or problem an important one. Also. The first paragraph – or the first page – captures the time. Write. it is often much easier to convey complex information in a quote – you can use more informal language. It will be important to get this right. Often. 6 . to pass along the thinking behind the design of the case. and it will help you develop a first draft of the case. Finally. Then. an outline is a useful starting point. Teaching notes are documents prepared solely for use by faculty. and think about little else until you figure it out. and the protagonist that you want to convey before really starting to tell the story. When these views are in the case writer’s voice. you give the reader permission to question them. you have a lot of authority. But. However. Write the teaching note at the same time as you are writing the case. Maintain the authority of the case writer s voice. Once you have determined the story you will tell and the issues it will lead to. are not relevant. and to describe the analysis that is expected from students. Think hard about the structure of the case. Prepare an outline. Do a time line. It is only the process of writing that will drive the discovery of what information is missing. First. and it is worth writing it down as carefully as you can to communicate this picture to any faculty colleagues / supervisor with whom you may be working. Write the first paragraph. the final structure of the case will be different – as you tell the story. This picture of the case will be the touchstone around which the case is crafted. the protagonist(s) and the context. The most natural structure for most cases is chronological – telling the story in the order in which it transpired. it is much more difficult for the reader to question their validity. shorter phrases. what events transpired after the time of the case. Don’t squander it by heaping exaggerated praise on the company or the protagonist. by putting any judgmental perspectives in a quote. vs. three are often several considerations that argue for some modification of this structure. The use of quotes will help you maintain your authority by putting anything judgmental in someone else’s words. the week. This will force you to constantly test the case against what needs to transpire during the student’s preparation and during class. what data you need to complete the story. the company. write the first paragraph – the first page or so of the case that will set the situation. Use quotes liberally. the protagonist. the month. you will develop new insights about how best to present the material. This will determine what information needs to go into the case.Writing the Case Case Draft Preparation A few tips that should prove helpful as you begin to write: Determine as quickly as possible the specific situation with which the protagonist will be wrestling. just write.

If you do have to sue technical term. so that the company doesn’t think that the next thing they will be receiving after you leave is a finished draft. Exhibits are an important piece of any case. you should mention this in the “credit line” on the first page of the case. Follow-up Work and Company Review Something during the writing process. Some exhibits are “highly processed” data. Agreeing on the Information that Will Appear in the Case In all situations. You should always see these expectations up front. Write in the past tense.Carefully craft the exhibits. market share data may support the argument that the market is highly fragmented – or. Most information can be articulated without the need for specialized jargon. when the phrase in the present tense – as long as it is in a quotation – the reader understands that this was spoken at the time of the case. employing parentheses to insert the definition in the same sentence. requiring the student to think hard and to perform some analysis to extract much meaning. However. which are designed to support a particular argument in the case. If you do disguise some or all of the data in the case. Writing always highlights issues you didn’t know were there and data you didn’t know you needed. Don’t use the word “currently” to describe an event transpiring at the point in time when the case is being written – it will be confusing when the case is read fiver years later. For instance. you will need to interact with the company again. disguise should be seen as an accommodation to a reasonable concern on the part of a case subject. highly concentrated. Other data are quite raw. Quotes present the most difficult challenge. Avoid jargon and technical terms. try to define it immediately after you use it. 7 .

or the general discipline of a field. a course module. Pedagogical Overview: This section provides a high-level road map of the class discussion plan. While there is not single standard format for a teaching note. These can be seen as one set of “answers” to the Assignment Questions. Teaching Objectives: This gives the instructor a little more detail on how to use a case in the classroom. This section should provide some overview of how the case fit within a course. these should be noted. Analysis: This is the meat of the teaching note. Assignment Questions: These suggest specific questions the students are directed to consider in their preparation. and what the intermediate “way points” in the discussion might be. and the advantages and disadvantages of each discussed.Preparing a Teaching Note A teaching note is prepared for the benefit of other instructors. It suggests the potential allocation of time to the various discussion blocks. • • 8 . The pedagogical overview section should paint a picture of at least one possible path. and the learning objectives of the case. as well as the analysis that students will be asked to perform. the issues they face. the protagonists. certain components do help to present the information to the instructor in a useful way: • • • Overview or Synopsis: This gives the instructor a sense of what the case is about – the industry. It is a detailed roadmap of the discussion questions that can be asked. Where the author of the teaching note is aware of multiple pats. Relevant theory can also be presented here.

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