Posts Tagged ‘Case Method’

I’m now four from eight.

That first email that comes through offering you an interview is an incredible confidence boost. You finally realize that firms don’t all start their emails with “Thank you for your application. However…” Your foot is in the door, quite literally in some cases when firms host interviews at their offices. But again, a reality check quickly follows. Afterall, this is only a foot in the door; we’ve been reminded numerous times that this is only the first step along a tough and merciless road (nevertheless, a significant step, that could, I feel, be measured in comparable size to those taken by Neil Armstrong). We’ve been culled down to a select few for the first interview. Following that an even more ruthless cut will ensue, succeeded by a minority who are left standing at the end. It sounds like something even Gordon Gekko would be challenged at.

A series of interviews now face me. But what does a consulting interview comprise of? The core is the case problem. These usually start with the premise that the CEO has asked for your advice to solve their problem, whether that be falling profits, market entry, a potential merger, or some other scenario. Your role, no, your duty, is to identify the crux of the issue and resolve it in the short space of 30 minutes or so.

So how does an MBA student prepare when one has succeeded at making it to this first round? Thankfully, it is not too hard, it just requires persistence. You must first turn your head and open your eyes to see all the hopeful study partners all around. I am immensely appreciative for the collaborative and constructive help of my fellow classmates. They, like you, are wanting to succeed. And perhaps in the most illustrative example of a ‘win-win’ scenario, you buddy up and test each other on sample cases. And you do this until you are verging on being repulsed by their company and constructive feedback. You wonder if you even want to be a consultant after you have long forgotten and given up counting the number of cases you have burned through. In these weeks of recruitment you will see the best and worst of your classmates – the built up pressure and stress in their frayed nerves and short tempers, the highs from crushing a case, the lows from screwing up the maths worse than their thirteen year-old cousin. Don’t forget, they see the same in you.

And through all this, you strengthen those connections with your classmates; an incredibly perverse bonding experience.

Now bring it on.

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The Case Method…

Posted by: Allen

The London Business School MBA often uses the ‘Case Method’ as the basis of its various units. Given this, one of my biggest questions before the MBA began was how exactly the Case Method would work in practice. Sure, I’d heard about it and seen video clips of classes being tutored using this approach. But what would it be like actually being a part of one of these lectures? How effective would they be? And how best to actually participate and contribute?

In case you haven’t come across the Case Method before, let me briefly explain what it involves. At the start of each unit (e.g. Strategy) we are given a binder containing the cases and additional reading for each lecture. Before each lecture everyone should have read the case in detail and summarised their thoughts (e.g. What are the key issues? How did management react? What should the CEO have done differently?). In class the lecturer will briefly introduce the case before posing a question to class based on the case, such as ‘Why was Honda’s entry to the US market so successful?’ Someone in the class will volunteer their thoughts, before someone else comments on that answer, builds on it or offers an alternative. The lecturer goes on to direct and chair the ensuing discussion, linking in to underlying academic theory as the class progresses.

In my opinion this method has so many benefits over the traditional book-based method of teaching business that I can’t possibly summarise all of them. But let me offer a few of the most important for me:

1) It’s more fun! Even as an accountant I find some of the more detailed parts of finance a little dull. But framing the topic as a case brings the subject to life. No longer are you learning what the optimal capital structure is for the sake of it, you’re trying to find the best way of funding the growth strategy for a new low-cost airline. You’re not trying to define what exactly a ‘competitive advantage’ is, you’re trying to find out how best Honda could secure an enduring position in the US motorcycle market.

2) It brings business back to reality. Having read more than my fair share of management books prior to London Business School ‘business’ had started to seem like quite an abstract, academic subject. The case method rapidly brings you back down to earth, reminding you that business involves real people being forced to make enormously important decisions often based on incomplete and/or poor quality information.

3) Cases allow you to benefit from the experience of others. How exactly would you have reacted to IBM’s entry to the personal computer market if you were Steve Jobs running Apple? What would have been your priorities if faced with turning around American Express in the early 90s? How do your answers compare to what decisions were actually made? Through this process you gain an insight into why business leaders of old decided on the choices they made. And, more than this, you get to benefit from listening and reacting to the views of your fellow classmates.

4) You practice articulating arguments clearly and concisely. No matter how brilliant or insightful , unless you’re able to clearly convey your ideas they’re likely to go nowhere. This is particularly important in business where the correct decision often needs to be made and executed quickly. The Case Method forces you to practice structuring your argument and conveying it clearly… how well I’m doing will become clear when I see my first class participation grade (did I forget to mention that we’re graded on the quality of our contributions in class?!)

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