Vince's Best Case Method Tips

A case discussion differs from conventional university classroom pedagogy. Students engage in the text rather than examine it.  They offer ideas, raise questions, build on each others’ statements, construct a collective analysis, re-frame the discussion, and challenge the teacher. The teacher is active, and frequently mobile. She initiates discussion and draws the class into it. She invites engagement in the issues, amplifies some students’ remarks and points up opposing views, feeding the group’s thinking back to it, pulling the threads of conversation together and tying them into the course’s themes. She structures and facilitates the students’ work rather than delivering information, giving explanations, or providing answers.  The emphasis is on the students’ reasoning and expressions, on their capacity to structure the problem and work out a solution. Case learning emphasizes the process as well as the substance of inquiry, and a case discussion often ends with questions as well as conclusions.

If you don't already have some, I suggest you purchase some cases from HBS as you read this post 

Case Study Handbook 

How to Read, Discuss, and Write Persuasively About Cases by William Ellet

256 pages. Publication date: Mar 15, 2007

A former client summarized Ellet's book. These are his views, not mine. Still, I hope they help you get the most out of Ellet's book.

"Chapters 1 and 2 are a relative waste of time. Ellet spends a lot of time romanticizing the Case Study and locating it within Western Tradition. This can all be summarized in a few sentences. 

Chapter 3: How to analyze a case

Things to remember

1) reading in order is not always beneficial

2) reading actively- taking notes, highlighting, reorganizing information- is key

3) you will never have as much time as you need, so keep moving!

Four Types of Case Situations

1) Problem Cases

"...situation[s] in which 1)there is a significant outcome or performance, and 2) the is no explicit explanation of the outcome or performance" (21).

Situations can both be negative (a new project fails, sales increase but revenues drop, etc.) or positive (a product our market research showed was ready to come off the shelves suddenly sold out, and we don't know why).


2) Decisions

Cases that revolve around an explicit decision.

All cases will include decisions, but Decision Cases will have some big decision that becomes the fulcrum for the case.

(Do we launch a new product? Do we buy that company?)

In decision cases, there is no objective answer. It is up to you to defend your decision well and be aware of the other options.

3) Evaluations

"Express a judgment about the worth, value, or effectiveness of a performance, act, or outcome" (23). Evaluations can be about people, outcomes, decisions, etc.

4) Rules

Not discussed in detail here, rule cases involve situations where a specific set of information needs to be compared under a specific condition. Here rules and frameworks are given and must be applied.

The process of analyzing a case is the same in all situations, but the details will change. Let's look at the overall process:

How to Analyze a Case in Five Steps

1) Situation

2) Questions

3) Hypothesis

4) Proof and action

5) Alternatives

Once you receive your case, here's how the process works.

1) Situation (5 minutes)

Read the first and last portions of the case. Ask yourself, "What is the situation?"

Often times reading the first and last sections first will make it very clear what type of case it is, and may provide direction. (For example, often times in decision cases, which decisions are available are spelled out at the end. Without reading these first the student may make assumptions while analyzing the case only to realize that a different element was at play.)

Decisions and evaluations are often stated in the very beginning.

- Consider what kind of framework you may want to use for this case, and what kind of information you are given. (For example, do you have a lot of quant data? Do the two sections give any hints about specific criteria needed to evaluate or decide?)

2) Questions (15 minutes)

Start to ask yourself questions about the case to get your thoughts organized. After you have established the situation, ask yourself "what do i need to know about the situation?"

Ellet gives questions specific to each situation:




Once you have some questions laid out, scan the headings in the text and a little of each section. Try to get a feel for which sections will contain information valuable to your analysis, and which ones may just be dead-ends. Mark the case up- make notes!

3) Hypothesis (45 minutes)

It's time to dig in. Hit the text- those places you noted and marked up- to gather the information that will answer your questions and help you form your hypothesis.



If there are numbers, charts, USE THEM. The more data you can have to support your cause, the better evidenced your hypothesis will be. 

If there is a protagonist, consider that they may be a cause of the problem, or at least contribute to it.



4) Proof and Action (40 min)

5) Alternatives (15 min)

Problem Cases

Five elements are incorporated into the study

1) Problem definition. Step one- what's the problem? There are usually multiple problems occurring, so it is your job to...


3) Cause-effect analysis: Consider this in terms of cause-and-effect, and remember you HAVE the effect, so you have to work backwards.

4) Frameworks- apply one here. (Like external and internal consistency are crucial to an effective strategy")

5) Action: Create a forward-moving solution

Think about the whole case as cause and effect. Once you have your main effect (problem), your hypothesis becomes the main causes you feel contributed to the problem. From here, you must back up that hypothesis with evidence- both analytical and quantitative, and recommend some sort of action to take.

Decision cases have five elements

1) Options- often laid out within the beginning AND END of a case. Watch that!

2) Criteria- the priorities of the company/individual/country/

3) Analysis of the options- see which option fulfills the criteria the best. Consider both advantages and disadvantages of the option you choose but stay efficient and focused

4) Recommendation- Recommend an option- this is your hypothesis

5) Action- Develop an action plan to make your recommendation a reality!

Evaluation cases have six elements

1) Criteria: Sometimes given, sometimes not, is the framework for your analysis.

2) Terms: You have to decide how you are going to evaluation. 5 Stars? Good? Efficient? Pick the most appropriate to the case.

3) Evaluative Analysis: Consider each criteria based on the information you are given, including the positive and negative sides of each

4) Bottom-line judgment: Make an evaluation. Don't beat around the bush.

5) Qualifications: consider other forces involved (maybe the manager was not effective, but was it all his fault? If corporate shares responsibility, that goes here. If the market sucked over all, that goes here)

6) Actions- make future recommendations.



Again, I suggest you check this page to find cases that relate to you and your goals. Best of luck at your interview!