The power of a case study

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By locating the Clemson MBA program in downtown Greenville, Clemson has clearly signaled its intention to foster closer working opportunities with the Upstate business community. Any such opportunities will be viewed as being attractive only if they simultaneously meet the expectations of the business community, the students in the program, and the university faculty and administration.

One such opportunity that is currently being explored consists of creating a forum where MBA students can work on real business projects connected to the business community.

Since it is standard pedagogical fare in business school for courses to include case studies for learning, what if the MBA program proposed that its students look at concluded projects from the business community to study all the various business components of the project and summarize the findings in the form of a written case study?

In a new MBA executive class that will launch this fall, corporate case study development, students teams construct their own case studies, tapping into the powerful industries in South Carolina. Producing these documents will require inquiry, writing, research, and analysis. Students in the class, which we will instruct, will document the success of organizations as well as make recommendations for further actions. Included in the case will be:

  • The purpose of the case study
  • The client’s statement of the business problem
  • The desired outcome — what were the stakeholders hoping for?
  • The critical issues in the case and why each issue was important
  • The solution — clearly stating the solution that was adopted
  • A list of stakeholders and what is at stake for each of them
  • A list of possible solutions to the problem
  • The original plan for implementing and communicating the optimal solutions
  • The results

 

The ambition is high in that it seeks to provide MBA students with a more comprehensive experience that covers multiple business disciplines — much as they would be called to do in the real business world, which they aspire to join upon graduation. In their MBA curriculum, this kind of work is typified by the variety of case studies they discover and from which they are expected to extract valuable and relevant learning for use later in their professional life.

For the students, such an exercise will provide them the opportunity to apply what they are learning in the MBA program. For the business community, such an exercise will provide them with an opportunity to have an unbiased and objective view of its concluded project(s) delivered as a written case study, which could serve as a lesson to instruct future projects.

It is sometimes lamented that businesses do not always do a good job of learning lessons from their work — only to end up repeating previous mistakes. It is well known and sometimes lamented that students today are insufficiently prepared to communicate effectively in the business world.

By providing a platform in which the business community can receive an output and documentation it often does not generate on its own, while giving MBA students an opportunity to examine and study projects, applying the skills they are acquiring to real-world projects under the guidance of Clemson’s MBA faculty, we will be able to meet the expectations and needs of all the stakeholders.

Top: Photo from Flickr, via Creative Commons.

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