How to Download and Analyze a Case
How to download the Harvard Business School Cases
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Outline for Case Reports:
Please follow this outline for all written case reports. Please note that this follows the discussion
1. Situation Analysis
2. Assumptions and Missing Information
3. Problem Definition
4. Development of Alternatives
5. Evaluation of Alternatives and Recommendation to Management
6. Appendix – Used for exhibits such as pro-forma income statements and other detailed
analyses. The Case Analysis Framework
The case analysis framework presented here is a synthesis of the frameworks used by your
professor and other marketing professors who use case analysis in their courses. It will provide a
solid structure to organize the diverse information presented in a case.
As you work your way through this framework, or a similar approach to case analysis, we offer
the following hints to increase your probability of success:
1. No one can analyze a case after reading it only one time, or even worse, doing the analysis
during the first reading of the case. You should read through the case once just to get an
understanding of the nature of the case. During the second reading, you can begin to structure
and classify the issues as they appear. A truly comprehensive case analysis will probably
require at least three readings.
2. Don’t get trapped into thinking the “answer” to the case is hidden somewhere in the case
text. There is never a single answer to a case just as there is never a single marketing strategy
that is appropriate for all situations. Each case is unique. Looking for tricks or shortcuts is not
3. Make an effort to put yourself in the shoes of the decision maker in the case. The use of role-
playing as part of the analysis can be very useful. It helps you gain some feeling for the
perspective of the key parties at the time the case took place. After you have done several
analyses, you will likely come up with your own additional procedures or guidelines that
assist you with this process.
Step 1: Situation Analysis
The material presented in a case is much like the communications we have in our daily lives.
Usually our conversations involve the selection of a topic and then the discussion of that topic,
and so it is with cases. The problem is that we end up with bits and pieces of information that by
themselves are not very useful, but once organized, can be quite valuable in our assessment of
the situation. The first step in the framework helps you organize the pieces of information into
more useful topic blocks.
The process of assessing a situation is widely accomplished through the use of SWOT Analysis
(strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats). Looking at an organization’s strengths and
weaknesses is the first half of Step 1. This involves looking at the organization’s internal
environment. Strengths are those aspects of the internal environment that can help the firm
address a present problem, issue, or opportunity, while weaknesses are negative factors or
deficiencies that do not allow the firm to reach its full potential. One topic that should be
addressed is the content and appropriateness of the current marketing or sales plan. Is the plan
current? Do the key parties understand and utilize it? Was it developed with input from all levels
of the organization? The organization’s financial condition may also present strengths and
weaknesses. Is it in a solid position, and does it have, or can it acquire, needed funds at a
reasonable cost of capital? Other possible strengths and weaknesses might include managerial
expertise, human resources, product reputation and customer loyalty, patents and trademarks, age
and capacity of production facilities, channel relationships, and promotional programs (sales force, advertising program, publicity, and sales promotion efforts). These are all issues that we
want to consider in terms of both the present state of the firm and identifiable trends.
Students assessing a case situation see the importance of considering the organization’s internal
environment fairly naturally. The aspect of SWOT analysis that gives students the most difficulty
is the external environment where all opportunities and threats reside. These are issues that exist
outside the boundaries of the firm. All opportunities and threats will exist at their present levels
even if the organization in question does not exist. Technology, competition, the macroeconomic
environment, regulation, and social and cultural trends are all issues that affect the success of an
organization’s strategies, but the organization has only limited influence on them.
Because the power to affect the external environment significantly is usually absent,
management must view the factors and forces present in the external environment as issues to be
considered, but not usually controlled. Managers should take steps to minimize the exposure to
threats and to take full advantage of the opportunities. You might think of opportunities and
threats as currents in a river. It is much easier to find a river whose currents will help take you
where you are going than to try to make headway going against the force of the river.
You may get hung up on several points when conducting a SWOT analysis. First, while a factor
will usually fall into only one of the four categories, this is not always the case. A factor can be
both a strength and a weakness, or an opportunity and a threat. For example, excess capacity in a
factory would be a weakness from a production efficiency standpoint. But, it could be a strength
if the firm is looking to introduce a new product because it will not have to build a new factory.
The second and more serious issue is the difficulty in identifying opportunities. There is a
tendency to confuse opportunities with possibilities. Something the company might do, such as
franchise its operations in an effort to expand, is not an opportunity. The mention of the
organization’s name in the opportunity is a clear indication that it is not an issue from the
external environment. Both threats and opportunities would be present even if the organization
did not exist.
Finally, you are accustomed to the material in a textbook containing accurate information that
should be believed and remembered. However, in some cases, you will find statements of
opinion that are often biased by a person’s motives and position in a firm. The organization’s
CEO who has just recently given approval to the firm’s strategic plan might say, “This is an
excellent mission statement that will effectively direct our firm’s efforts for the next decade.” Is
this really true? It might be, but it will be up to you to determine what is fact as opposed to
someone’s opinion. Opinions will need to be assessed in your case analysis to determine their
Step 2: Assumptions and Missing Information
As with life, it is neither possible nor realistic for cases to contain all the information a decision
maker might wish to have available. Usually a decision maker has only bits and pieces of
information. He or she must either fill in the gaps, or make the decision that the information is
not critical, fairly predictable, or simply too costly and time-consuming to justify collecting for
the decision at hand. A marketing manager might want to know the history of competitive
reactions to price cuts by his firm. This information may be present in company files. It also
might be available from trade sources or other noncompetitive channel members. In step two you will list important information not contained in the case, why that information
might be useful, and how you might go about acquiring it. This is more than just a wish list. The
items included here should considered thoroughly. The list should contain pieces of information
that would help shore up or fill gaps in your SWOT analysis.
Some of the information that is not available can be addressed through assumptions. One might
assume that if information about the firm’s advertising budget is not available, it would be equal
to industry averages. The same assumptions might be made for other costs and revenues. It is
critical that these assumptions be realistic and clearly identified before and during the case
analysis. This list should contain only those items that will be truly useful in enhancing the
quality of the decisions made. It should not be a list of things that would be interesting to know.
The quality of your analysis will depend on your coverage of the framework, the depth of your
analysis, and the degree to which you can defend your recommendations.
Step 3: Problem Definition
The identification and clear presentation of the problem(s) or issue(s) facing the company is the
most critical part of the analysis framework. Only a problem properly defined can be addressed.
Define the problem too narrowly, or miss the key problem all together, and all subsequent
framework steps will be off the mark. Getting a clear picture of the problem is one major benefit
derived from SWOT analysis.
The process of identifying problems is similar to the one people go through with their doctors. A
nurse or assistant comes in to conduct a strength and weakness assessment on you. Your vital
signs are taken and you are asked about any symptoms you may be experiencing. Symptoms are
observable manifestations or indications that a problem may be present. Symptoms are not the
problem themselves. If you have a temperature of 103 degrees, that is a symptom. If the medical
staff were to pack you in ice for several minutes, that reading would probably approach 98.6
degrees. Would that make you well? It might make your condition worse! The doctor uses the
information collected from you, with knowledge of the viruses and diseases that are present in
the external environment, to identify what has led to your high fever. The doctor will attempt to
diagnose the real problem, then prescribe treatment from a set of feasible alternatives (make
recommendations about what steps will help solve the problem) and provide you with a
prognosis (an indication of the things you can expect to occur as you are recovering).
The case analysis process is similar to the doctor’s analysis and treatment of a patient in several
basic ways. First, symptoms are the most observable indication that a problem exists. Many
students are very quick to start treating the symptoms found in a case, as opposed to digging
deeper to find the underlying problem(s). A symptom may be that sales are down from previous
periods. If this is how you define the problem, your answer might be to cut the price. This might
be an appropriate step, but not based on the analysis to this point. Sales might pick up, but will