4.10.1 Case study analysis
What is a case study analysis in the context of a business course?
A case study is an account of an activity, event or problem that contains a real or hypothetical situation and includes the complexities you would encounter in the workplace (Mort, Cross and Downey, 2002). Case studies are usually written as a narrative, i.e., like a story, using the contexts of real-life organisations. When you analyse a case study it helps you to practise applying knowledge, and your thinking, reasoning and decision-making skills, to a real-life situation. Case studies in business courses are generally centred around a problem and a case study analysis will require you to:
- identify the issues or problems within the case
- identify and draw on particular theories to support your analysis
- make recommendations or suggest some solutions to the problems.
There are two main kinds of case study analyses set for assessment tasks.
- First, you may be required to answer a series of specific questions about a case.
- Second, you may be asked to respond to a more general assignment topic or question.
Answering a series of specific questions about the case
The questions that are asked at the end of the case study are designed to guide your analysis of the case. To complete this kind of analysis, work through the following steps.
Read the case study and the set questions
- Read the case, highlight or underline the main points and think about the main issues.
- Read the questions, break the questions down into key words and phrases and summarise what each question is asking you to do.
- Read the case again and make notes about the information that is relevant to the key words and phrases in each question.
Identify the issues
- Identify the main problems and issues in relation to the set questions. What are the causes and consequences of the behaviour, events or situation described in the case?
- Think about what information is missing from the case. What limitations does this missing information place on the answer you can provide and how might you speculate about any missing information?
Use the notes that are relevant to the key words or phrases in the question to brainstorm headings. You can use these headings to make a plan for each question and to guide your further reading and note making. As you read, think about how you can draw on the theories to support your answers to the questions.
If you are asked to identify solutions or make recommendations you will need to use a problem-solving process which involves:
- outlining the alternative courses of action available to solve the problem
- listing the advantages and disadvantages of each course of action, recommending a solution and justifying it.
(Source: University of South Australia, Learning Notes: ‘Analysing a case study in business courses’, accessed 11 October 2010)
Activity 12 Nokia/Siemens case study
Now that you’ve learned a bit more about how to analyse cases, return to the Siemens case study.
This task will also help you to identify certain ideas you have been reading about and how you might apply them to your own experience.
As this case is a brief example, there is not enough information to do a full case study analysis. However, you can do some thinking about the kinds of questions you might ask and the information you might need to answer those questions. For example, following the case, the reading poses four questions:
- How does Novak at NSN create a new organisational culture?
- Do differences between the cultures at NSN generate problems?
- What might reinforce and sustain this new culture once in place?
- How do new employees learn their organisation’s culture?
For questions 1 and 2, what kind of information would help you answer these questions? Try to think of three or four ideas.
For questions 3 and 4, think about the reading you have done thus far in this course. What approaches might be useful?
Then write a short reflective note on the following questions:
- Why might this be a useful tool for analysing your own organisation? How do theories of organisational culture help you to think more clearly about your problem situation?
An organisation’s culture can influence and is influenced by the different perspectives of the people who work there
In terms of information for this case, it might be useful to gain a better understanding of the current organisational cultures. For example, as noted in section 1.2, in 1983 Smircich differentiated between an organisation that has a culture (dictated by management) and one that is a culture (shared meanings developed by all employees). It is certainly possible that you might find both types within an organisation, but in the case of the Siemens and Nokia merger, it would have an impact on:
- how a new culture developed
- how smoothly one could be developed that merged the two companies.
Some of the approaches in this course could help to develop this new culture and help the employees understand and assimilate it. For instance, using the above example, if a shared culture was envisioned, it would be crucial to begin by involving employees in its development in order to help them appreciate their differences and to participate in the emergence of a shared culture. This would be quite a challenging task given the differences between the companies.