case study

case study

The Importance of Case Studies in Decision Making

1. Introduction

The concept of decision teaching and case method in general is not without its criticisms. Critics of the case method often cite the disadvantages of teaching a limited number of cases on a specific course, resulting in a lack of breadth in the students’ knowledge. An additional problem is the difficulty in locating suitable cases and the time taken to prepare and set them up. Practice and role play simulation cases have also proved unfruitful due to the fact they are quite often difficult to construct and may not be taken seriously by participants.

The Importance: There are many claimed benefits of case studies, some of which are quite dubious. An example often cited is the development of analytical skills. It is claimed that the use of small group and guided analysis (e.g., PBL, PPT) is superior to standard lectures and greatly develops students’ analytical abilities. This is an issue which can be debated and probably varies from case to case or person to person, but it often provides a convenient excuse for enthusiasts who might otherwise have difficulty justifying a new teaching method. A more credible benefit is the linking of theory and practice. If a case study is well documented and detailed, it is often possible to identify specific concepts which were being studied in a course at the time the case was set. Some tutors find it helpful to construct a worksheet of tutorial assignments for a particular case, drawing from a relevant lecture series and with the aim of reinforcing these concepts. Case study makes mistaken conception.

The act of decision making must be understood as a complex process, as any case study teacher will tell you. How he analyzes a case tends to be on three different levels, which in many ways is his personal approach to them all. The first is the intuitive level; here the teacher is looking for something which he can use in his own practice. This may involve recognizing a particular problem or difficulty and seeking to find a way to solve it. Having been a British GP for several years in the past, I can particularly relate to this level when teaching health management cases, since I often translate the scenario into my own experiences and look for ways in which I could have dealt with it. This approach is not, however, confined to practitioners. For example, a teaching hospital CEO may find himself doing much the same since his decisions may well have direct implications on medical practice. The decision making process is generally taken within a group context, which forms the second level. This is perhaps the most important part of a case study. If the case is not used in a tutorial, then students may well only read it in passing, and discussions often form the highlight of the learning process. The decision making process must therefore involve some form of joint analysis of the problem, and tutors should often resist the temptation to jump straight to the answer. This second level of decision making is where cognitive concepts can be applied and tested. It is often these cases which will best highlight a link between a case and a theory, and they do provide excellent examples. The final level is one of administration. When setting a case up on a management course, it is important that the particulars be well documented for future reference.

2. Benefits of Case Studies

One of the most persuasive reasons for using case studies is that they provide highly detailed accounts of people, settings, events, and decisions. They provide the reader with firsthand accounts of the decision-making process or strategy that can prove extremely powerful. This sort of detailed contextual information is essential if the researcher is trying to answer ‘how’ and ‘why’ type questions, and understanding the intricacies of real-life problems is only possible through in-depth study of a single case. This is a major advantage, as the case study method is underpinned by the aim of providing a detailed account of a social phenomenon, and providing an in-depth account is often considered to be the strength of qualitative research, in which case studies are grounded. On the other hand, it is argued that a detailed case study of a ‘typical’ case might serve to generalize the results to a ‘typical’ population. This is a fair argument, and the researchers conducting the case study should acknowledge the limitations of their study and how the results might be generalized to other populations. But it must be remembered that it is often the aim of research to establish causation, and generalizations are not always essential for this. Case studies are also useful in the early stages of research when the goal is to explore ideas, test and perfect measurement instruments, and to prepare for a larger study. This was illustrated in a research methods case study on Barriers to implementing evidence-based practice in minority and social work by Cabassa, and the authors agreed that the case study method was ideal for the complex work they were carrying out. It also might be the ideal method when the research is aimed to provide a user-friendly guide for those new to a particular field, as was the case in a usability case study on the Royal Brisbane Hospital website.

2.1 The strengths and limitations of case studies

3. Steps to Conduct a Case Study

Preparing for data collection The second job in the case study is preparing for data collection. The researcher must decide what type of case study it will be, the plan for data collection, and the data collection techniques. Perhaps the case study is to look into a small issue like information retention. In this case, the plan is very simple: the researcher has no need for a sample, random or otherwise, and finds it efficient to simply study all employees within the organization on the specific problem. Time and resources are often a constraint, so the researcher must decide whether to use a sample. A random or stratified random sample may be a time-consuming process, and it would not be productive to spend so much time looking through the yellow pages of a directory for the selection process. Data collection techniques can be on the list of things to do for very simple case studies, e.g. a project to identify all data sources and documents in a case study on IT and information systems in an organization, and very reactive where the researcher interacts with the case quite frequently during the data collection phase.

Choosing a case In choosing a case to study, whether it be an event, process, organization or individual’s behaviour, the researcher must make the decision based on its own level of interest. If the researcher does not have a well-developed interest in the case and an emotional involvement with the issues under study, it is doubtful the case will provide clear and reliable information. Selecting a case on the same organization that the researcher is working for at the present time would involve a conflict of interest. This should be avoided because the researcher is likely to have a stake in confirming the problem and may be biased in interpreting the information.

4. Real-life Examples of Successful Case Studies

In another case, Guinness examined the problems of the four different Guinness units in relation to their marketing strategies in the late 1990s. This case was successful because Guinness was able to be honest and they discovered the real issue in that they were paying lip service to the brand. They identified the problems and took measures to alter marketing strategies and managed to increase sales in the brand, which is strong proof that the case was a success. Success can therefore be easily measured by whether the initial problem was solved or whether the issue was clarified to a point where strategic decisions can be made. In both previously mentioned cases, Frito Lay and Guinness managed to identify what specific actions they needed to take in order to remedy the problems. This is evidence of successful case studies because at the end of each case, an organisation hopes to have a clear understanding of what it should do to improve, leading onto the next step.

Most case studies are written about key problems and issues faced in organisations. In order to be defined as a success, the study must overcome this issue. Therefore, it is clear that the aim of the case study is to find the most suitable solution to the issue. An example of a successful case study which sought to identify the key attributes of a high performing organisation in terms of innovation and marketing is Frito Lay Company. Using the case study method, they discovered a causal model which provides a framework for building an innovative organisation. This is achieved through identifying certain characteristics and then following this with great success, demonstrated through innovation and sales growth. This model provides a clear indication of how innovation can be a programmatic strategy for future success.

5. Conclusion

Decision-making is a function of management, as well as the essence of planning and organizing. The decision-making process plays a crucial role in management because having an effective decision-making process, along with understanding and implementation of the decision, is better than management without a good decision-making process. Having a good understanding of the decision-making process will benefit an organization. There are four types of decisions that managers must carry out throughout their careers: programmed, nonprogrammed, and crisis decisions. Programmed decisions involve situations that have been faced before, usually with a set of procedures or previous experience to solve them. Nonprogrammed decisions are made in response to unique, poorly defined, and unstructured situations that have important consequences for the organization. Crisis decisions are nonprogrammed decisions made in response to unexpected problems or events that have the potential to cause serious harm or destabilize the organization. A good decision-making process should suit the type of decision being made.

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