Most MBA programs, and some undergraduate programs, use the case study method of instruction. Students are given a case study to analyze. These case studies are written by professors at top business schools as educational tools. The case study method was introduced and perfected by Harvard Business School, and many, if not most, of the case studies in use in business schools around the world come from HBS. Case studies provide students with experience in problem solving across many organizations and industries. Effective case analysis is a key element to being successful in business school. With case studies, there is no "right" answer. The professor is interested in how the student approaches and comes up with solutions to problems. Different students may come up with different answers, all equally correct. As with many things, it's the journey that counts.

Step 1

Read the case lightly at first to get a general feel, then read it again and again before beginning your analysis. The purpose of reading the case multiple times is to become familiar with the case, not to find a magic answer hidden like an Easter egg in the text. There isn't one.

Step 2

After you've read the case like a story, now read it closely with your analytical hat on. Ask yourself, "What are the most important facts?" This is not a trivial task. Cases are loaded with facts; your challenge is to separate out the most important ones.

Step 3

Do a basic SWOT analysis: strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Do this both for the internal environment of the organization and the external environment. If this is a company analysis -- as compared to an industry, for example -- what is the current corporate strategy?

Step 4

Identify the relevant problem or problems.

Step 5

Come up with alternative courses of action, and evaluate each.

Step 6

Recommend a course of action. Specify how the solution is to be implemented. Be prepared to deliver a defense of your analysis in class.