A case study presents an account of what happened to an organisation or business over a period of time. It chronicles the events that occurred within that organisation and which the operations managers had to deal with. It may also describe changes in the competitive environment, and describe senior managers' response, which usually involves changing the operations strategy or changing the operational focus.
Cases provide valuable insights into the theory and concepts of managing operations. They are directed at developing managerial decision making skills in Operational Management decision areas.
Cases provide you, the student, with a shared experience of operational problems if you are working in groups. They may present you with issues that you probably have not had the opportunity to experience first-hand. In a relatively short period of time, you will have the chance to appreciate and analyze the problems facing many different organisations and how operations managers deal with them.
Cases illustrate what you have learned. The meaning and implication of this information are made clearer when discussed in groups and in the larger group. The operational theory and concepts help reveal what is going on in the organisations studied and allow you to evaluate the proposed solutions (or ways forward). Consequently, when you analyze a case, you should consider yourself a detective who, with a set of conceptual operational tools, probes what is happening and what or who was responsible and then consider the evidence described in the case. Senior managers enjoy the thrill of testing their problem-solving abilities in the real world. It is important to remember, after all, that no one knows what the right answer is. All that managers do is to present the most feasible options and compare the advantages and disadvantages between them until a preferred solution emerges. In fact, managers often suggest that they are happy if they are correct only half of the time. Management is not a game of certainty, and using cases to evaluate how theory can be put into practice is one way of experiencing the role of senior operations managers.
Case studies also give you with the opportunity to work in groups and to gain experience in presenting your ideas to others. Tutors sometimes call on students as a group to identify what is going on in a case study, and through group discussion the issues in and solutions to the case problem will are considered. In such a situation, you will have to organise your views and conclusions so that you can present them to your group and possibly as a presentation in class. Your colleagues may have analysed the issues differently from you (discuss is useful), and they will want you to argue your points before they will accept your conclusions; so be prepared for healthy debate. This is how decisions are made in the real world. You should consider impressing by the insights and alternatives that you have considered. You will influence not dictate.
Tutors may assign groups, to analyse a case and present their ideas before the whole class. The group will probably be responsible for a twenty-to-thirty minute presentation of the case to the whole class. That presentation must cover the issues involved, the problems facing the organisation, and a series of recommendations for resolving the problems. Also, you will be asked to finish by considering the learning points in this case.
The discussion then will be thrown open to the class, and you will have to defend your ideas. Through such discussions and presentations, you will experience how to convey your ideas effectively to others. Remember that a great deal of management time is spent in similar situations, presenting their ideas and engaging in discussion with other managers, who have their own views about what is going on and what we should do next.
If you work in groups to analyse case studies, you also will learn about the group processes involved in working as a team. When people work in groups, it is often difficult to schedule time and allocate responsibility for the case analysis. There are always group members who shirk their responsibilities and group members who are so sure of their own ideas that they try to dominate the group's analysis. Most business negotiations take place in groups, however, and it is best that you learn about these problems now with an emphasis on operations issues.