Learning the basics from Case Studies


In this article, the nuances of learning from case studies is discussed. In the next seven articles, a central point of learning of each of the case studies will be discussed with specific reference to a huge number of real world Indian corporate Examples. That is, by placing such a central point in a wider context, the concept will be described in some detail.

Introduction

A case study is a very accurate, "as it is" presentation of all facts pertaining to a particular organization. It is a presentation that traces some background to the particular event(s) that have contributed to the present state of affairs. Case Studies prepared by the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, for example, are very comprehensive and can run into even one hundred pages or more.

A case study never has an end. The learning is always continuous. It is always open ended, since the events may develop into something positive or negative, depending on a huge variety of variables, that get played out in a very dynamic fashion, in the real world. In this article, the basic features of a case-study are discussed in some detail. In the next seven articles, a description of each of the seven variables, that are vital to any huge case study, namely (a) Promoters/Founders (b) Products,services and related information (c) creativity/innovation abilities (d) Business ethics (e) Contribution to Indian Management excellence (f)Building Management/Leadership pipelines and (f) Building continuity of excellence, will be discussed.

The aforesaid variables are inter-related. However, the focus will be on only one of the variables, with some examples, and some reference to the other variables in a limited context, in each article. The basic idea is to focus on one variable and discuss various aspects of that particular variable. For example, founders and promoters who have always gone beyond sheer commercial considerations and have had a big Vision have always been successful. This particular aspect,among other aspects, will be discussed in the second article,and so on.

In this article, the case-study features are discussed with specific reference to a) what is a case-study b) learning from the "what can happen ?" scenarios c) loop learning and e) global context learning.

What is a case study

A case study, as already mentioned above, is an "as it is" presentation,with narration of various events happening over a period of time. Normally, a case study will go up to five years in the past. This is because the dynamic inter-play of the variables involved does happen over a period of five years in the normal course of events, both national and international. The case study will obviously offer a number of clues as to how a present position, as described in the case study, has been reached. There is no right or wrong answer. The logical reasoning, based on a set of circumstances described in the case study, by itself, offers enough possibilities for the learner to dissect the case studies in different perspectives, opening up huge scope for debate and discussion in a class room situation or even in organizational contexts.

This context, however, can change over time. For example, the real estate industry, in India. There are a variety of factors as to why prices are not increasing in the big cities like Chennai or Bangalore. This in turn, brings down the profit margin of the builders. Even the biggest builders are resorting to huge advertisements to sell their products.

In this context, if we are take a single case study, presented in a business magazine, it is likely that we will get sufficient insight into the different variables that have contributed to the success or failure of the company, at this point in time. In other words, there could be sufficient data on Management strategy, positioning, special features of products and so on. This data has to be juxtaposed to the wider context of the industry and data should be collected from other sources too, to make the learning complete. Once this is done, the learner is left with some solid learning of the different variables as they play out in a very dynamic situation. One variable, for example, is the number of fresh buyers with high net worth. When this decreases, the spin off in terms of lack of fresh demand, will obviously hit the industry as a whole.

Learning from "what can happen? " scenarios

Since the business environment can always change for the better or for the worse, a case study offers a huge number of "what can happen?" scenarios. It is this aspect that is very interesting too. For, the different scenarios will offer enough learning, more so, when the additional data keeps flowing in.

For example, if there are two builders who have made a huge success in the low cost housing segment, it will become very obvious that they were able to play around with some strengths that helped them to reach out to middle class buyers. It could have been personalized attention. Or customization. Or the approach of the sales people. Or on-time delivery. Each of these variables, or a combination of a few other variables like good location, could have also contributed to the success of the particular builder. This is exactly the learning. When similar case studies of more success flow in, the learning becomes even better. The learner would have enough data to understand various points of view.

The "what can happen" scenarios can also be predicted from the case study, based on further reading and study of competitors, Government policy, the state of the target population of buyers and so on. This will vary from time to time and is also context-specific. .

The success of several low cost housing projects in three tier towns, for example, offers sufficient food for thought for the learner, to learn more about the changing scenario.

Loop learning

This is called learning related to the case study. For example, a big expansion of the real estate market will bring in expansion in the market for electrical goods, paints, cement and such of these raw materials that go into the building of flats and apartments and villas. The reports related to these developments have to be noted by the learner, so that the learning can be very comprehensive. The learning in different contexts will be complete when one learns about these industries too.

This is exactly what is called as loop learning. Of course, this learning will vary for different case studies. If one particular case study pertains to the growth of a small FMCG company in soaps and detergents, one has to study how far the competition is very active in these segments of the market. This company may not compete directly with the likes of Unilever Limited. Yet, it will have a big dent in some markets, particular low end markets where the buyers would prefer these low end products as "value for money" products. Hence, this loop learning will bring in new perspectives and make the learning very comprehensive.

Global context learning

Nothing happens in India alone. The global developments also have a big bearing on what is going on in our country.

The advent of multinational companies in every market or service is now telling. For example, the Indian on-line giant Flipkart has now been taken over by Walmart, the global giant.

This will have some effect on the likes of Reliance Fresh and Big Bazaar, who will revise their strategies. They will rework their strategies and this will have an impact in some other areas of concern to the entire industry and the growth of the industry itself.

The global developments do have a massive role to play in most Indian developments. Once the learner is able to understand the dynamics of these developments, he or she can obviously cement his or her learning in this global context and make the learning far better. Hence, in conjunction with all the learning, if the learner is able to zero in on further developments related to a particular case-study, which may speak of only one organization in the entire ecosystem of the particular industry the organization operates in, and go deep into learning all the developments on an on-going basis, the learning will be complete and perfect.

For example, solar energy is picking up all over the world. The Government policies regarding this vital industry are also available and everything is in favor of the industry booming in the next few years. One has to study the functioning of a single organization like Suzlon and then extrapolate the learning in the wider context of the entire ecosystem of the solar industry. The entire ecosystem also means the global context, for which enough material is available through the internet itself.

In the next seven articles, different aspects of seven variables pertinent to any case study, will be discussed one after one. In other words, one variable will be discussed with specific reference to the real world experiences -- what has happened, what is happening and what will happen, in each of the seven articles. When read together, this collection will form a wholesome idea of the entire case study learning, in the Indian context.

Conclusion

A case study offers a huge amount of learning experiences. There are too many variables involved in any situation. These variables also keep on changing. The wider environment changes too. As explained above, the case study offers a huge scope for learning in very dynamic context. The macro context, in turn, will throw sufficient light on the variables discussed in the case study. It is continuous learning of a tall order. When we discuss the other main variables in the next articles,the points of discussion will be inter-linked.


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