Problem-Solving in Business: CASE STUDIES

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  • PROBLEM-SOLVING DEFINED AND WHY IT IS IMPORTANT
  • SKILLS AND QUALIFICATIONS NEEDED IN PROBLEM-SOLVING
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  • Last Updated: Feb 8, 2024 1:33 PM
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Do Your Students Know How to Analyze a Case—Really?

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J ust as actors, athletes, and musicians spend thousands of hours practicing their craft, business students benefit from practicing their critical-thinking and decision-making skills. Students, however, often have limited exposure to real-world problem-solving scenarios; they need more opportunities to practice tackling tough business problems and deciding on—and executing—the best solutions.

To ensure students have ample opportunity to develop these critical-thinking and decision-making skills, we believe business faculty should shift from teaching mostly principles and ideas to mostly applications and practices. And in doing so, they should emphasize the case method, which simulates real-world management challenges and opportunities for students.

To help educators facilitate this shift and help students get the most out of case-based learning, we have developed a framework for analyzing cases. We call it PACADI (Problem, Alternatives, Criteria, Analysis, Decision, Implementation); it can improve learning outcomes by helping students better solve and analyze business problems, make decisions, and develop and implement strategy. Here, we’ll explain why we developed this framework, how it works, and what makes it an effective learning tool.

The Case for Cases: Helping Students Think Critically

Business students must develop critical-thinking and analytical skills, which are essential to their ability to make good decisions in functional areas such as marketing, finance, operations, and information technology, as well as to understand the relationships among these functions. For example, the decisions a marketing manager must make include strategic planning (segments, products, and channels); execution (digital messaging, media, branding, budgets, and pricing); and operations (integrated communications and technologies), as well as how to implement decisions across functional areas.

Faculty can use many types of cases to help students develop these skills. These include the prototypical “paper cases”; live cases , which feature guest lecturers such as entrepreneurs or corporate leaders and on-site visits; and multimedia cases , which immerse students into real situations. Most cases feature an explicit or implicit decision that a protagonist—whether it is an individual, a group, or an organization—must make.

For students new to learning by the case method—and even for those with case experience—some common issues can emerge; these issues can sometimes be a barrier for educators looking to ensure the best possible outcomes in their case classrooms. Unsure of how to dig into case analysis on their own, students may turn to the internet or rely on former students for “answers” to assigned cases. Or, when assigned to provide answers to assignment questions in teams, students might take a divide-and-conquer approach but not take the time to regroup and provide answers that are consistent with one other.

To help address these issues, which we commonly experienced in our classes, we wanted to provide our students with a more structured approach for how they analyze cases—and to really think about making decisions from the protagonists’ point of view. We developed the PACADI framework to address this need.

PACADI: A Six-Step Decision-Making Approach

The PACADI framework is a six-step decision-making approach that can be used in lieu of traditional end-of-case questions. It offers a structured, integrated, and iterative process that requires students to analyze case information, apply business concepts to derive valuable insights, and develop recommendations based on these insights.

Prior to beginning a PACADI assessment, which we’ll outline here, students should first prepare a two-paragraph summary—a situation analysis—that highlights the key case facts. Then, we task students with providing a five-page PACADI case analysis (excluding appendices) based on the following six steps.

Step 1: Problem definition. What is the major challenge, problem, opportunity, or decision that has to be made? If there is more than one problem, choose the most important one. Often when solving the key problem, other issues will surface and be addressed. The problem statement may be framed as a question; for example, How can brand X improve market share among millennials in Canada? Usually the problem statement has to be re-written several times during the analysis of a case as students peel back the layers of symptoms or causation.

Step 2: Alternatives. Identify in detail the strategic alternatives to address the problem; three to five options generally work best. Alternatives should be mutually exclusive, realistic, creative, and feasible given the constraints of the situation. Doing nothing or delaying the decision to a later date are not considered acceptable alternatives.

Step 3: Criteria. What are the key decision criteria that will guide decision-making? In a marketing course, for example, these may include relevant marketing criteria such as segmentation, positioning, advertising and sales, distribution, and pricing. Financial criteria useful in evaluating the alternatives should be included—for example, income statement variables, customer lifetime value, payback, etc. Students must discuss their rationale for selecting the decision criteria and the weights and importance for each factor.

Step 4: Analysis. Provide an in-depth analysis of each alternative based on the criteria chosen in step three. Decision tables using criteria as columns and alternatives as rows can be helpful. The pros and cons of the various choices as well as the short- and long-term implications of each may be evaluated. Best, worst, and most likely scenarios can also be insightful.

Step 5: Decision. Students propose their solution to the problem. This decision is justified based on an in-depth analysis. Explain why the recommendation made is the best fit for the criteria.

Step 6: Implementation plan. Sound business decisions may fail due to poor execution. To enhance the likeliness of a successful project outcome, students describe the key steps (activities) to implement the recommendation, timetable, projected costs, expected competitive reaction, success metrics, and risks in the plan.

“Students note that using the PACADI framework yields ‘aha moments’—they learned something surprising in the case that led them to think differently about the problem and their proposed solution.”

PACADI’s Benefits: Meaningfully and Thoughtfully Applying Business Concepts

The PACADI framework covers all of the major elements of business decision-making, including implementation, which is often overlooked. By stepping through the whole framework, students apply relevant business concepts and solve management problems via a systematic, comprehensive approach; they’re far less likely to surface piecemeal responses.

As students explore each part of the framework, they may realize that they need to make changes to a previous step. For instance, when working on implementation, students may realize that the alternative they selected cannot be executed or will not be profitable, and thus need to rethink their decision. Or, they may discover that the criteria need to be revised since the list of decision factors they identified is incomplete (for example, the factors may explain key marketing concerns but fail to address relevant financial considerations) or is unrealistic (for example, they suggest a 25 percent increase in revenues without proposing an increased promotional budget).

In addition, the PACADI framework can be used alongside quantitative assignments, in-class exercises, and business and management simulations. The structured, multi-step decision framework encourages careful and sequential analysis to solve business problems. Incorporating PACADI as an overarching decision-making method across different projects will ultimately help students achieve desired learning outcomes. As a practical “beyond-the-classroom” tool, the PACADI framework is not a contrived course assignment; it reflects the decision-making approach that managers, executives, and entrepreneurs exercise daily. Case analysis introduces students to the real-world process of making business decisions quickly and correctly, often with limited information. This framework supplies an organized and disciplined process that students can readily defend in writing and in class discussions.

PACADI in Action: An Example

Here’s an example of how students used the PACADI framework for a recent case analysis on CVS, a large North American drugstore chain.

The CVS Prescription for Customer Value*

PACADI Stage

Summary Response

How should CVS Health evolve from the “drugstore of your neighborhood” to the “drugstore of your future”?

Alternatives

A1. Kaizen (continuous improvement)

A2. Product development

A3. Market development

A4. Personalization (micro-targeting)

Criteria (include weights)

C1. Customer value: service, quality, image, and price (40%)

C2. Customer obsession (20%)

C3. Growth through related businesses (20%)

C4. Customer retention and customer lifetime value (20%)

Each alternative was analyzed by each criterion using a Customer Value Assessment Tool

Alternative 4 (A4): Personalization was selected. This is operationalized via: segmentation—move toward segment-of-1 marketing; geodemographics and lifestyle emphasis; predictive data analysis; relationship marketing; people, principles, and supply chain management; and exceptional customer service.

Implementation

Partner with leading medical school

Curbside pick-up

Pet pharmacy

E-newsletter for customers and employees

Employee incentive program

CVS beauty days

Expand to Latin America and Caribbean

Healthier/happier corner

Holiday toy drives/community outreach

*Source: A. Weinstein, Y. Rodriguez, K. Sims, R. Vergara, “The CVS Prescription for Superior Customer Value—A Case Study,” Back to the Future: Revisiting the Foundations of Marketing from Society for Marketing Advances, West Palm Beach, FL (November 2, 2018).

Results of Using the PACADI Framework

When faculty members at our respective institutions at Nova Southeastern University (NSU) and the University of North Carolina Wilmington have used the PACADI framework, our classes have been more structured and engaging. Students vigorously debate each element of their decision and note that this framework yields an “aha moment”—they learned something surprising in the case that led them to think differently about the problem and their proposed solution.

These lively discussions enhance individual and collective learning. As one external metric of this improvement, we have observed a 2.5 percent increase in student case grade performance at NSU since this framework was introduced.

Tips to Get Started

The PACADI approach works well in in-person, online, and hybrid courses. This is particularly important as more universities have moved to remote learning options. Because students have varied educational and cultural backgrounds, work experience, and familiarity with case analysis, we recommend that faculty members have students work on their first case using this new framework in small teams (two or three students). Additional analyses should then be solo efforts.

To use PACADI effectively in your classroom, we suggest the following:

Advise your students that your course will stress critical thinking and decision-making skills, not just course concepts and theory.

Use a varied mix of case studies. As marketing professors, we often address consumer and business markets; goods, services, and digital commerce; domestic and global business; and small and large companies in a single MBA course.

As a starting point, provide a short explanation (about 20 to 30 minutes) of the PACADI framework with a focus on the conceptual elements. You can deliver this face to face or through videoconferencing.

Give students an opportunity to practice the case analysis methodology via an ungraded sample case study. Designate groups of five to seven students to discuss the case and the six steps in breakout sessions (in class or via Zoom).

Ensure case analyses are weighted heavily as a grading component. We suggest 30–50 percent of the overall course grade.

Once cases are graded, debrief with the class on what they did right and areas needing improvement (30- to 40-minute in-person or Zoom session).

Encourage faculty teams that teach common courses to build appropriate instructional materials, grading rubrics, videos, sample cases, and teaching notes.

When selecting case studies, we have found that the best ones for PACADI analyses are about 15 pages long and revolve around a focal management decision. This length provides adequate depth yet is not protracted. Some of our tested and favorite marketing cases include Brand W , Hubspot , Kraft Foods Canada , TRSB(A) , and Whiskey & Cheddar .

Art Weinstein

Art Weinstein , Ph.D., is a professor of marketing at Nova Southeastern University, Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He has published more than 80 scholarly articles and papers and eight books on customer-focused marketing strategy. His latest book is Superior Customer Value—Finding and Keeping Customers in the Now Economy . Dr. Weinstein has consulted for many leading technology and service companies.

Herbert V. Brotspies

Herbert V. Brotspies , D.B.A., is an adjunct professor of marketing at Nova Southeastern University. He has over 30 years’ experience as a vice president in marketing, strategic planning, and acquisitions for Fortune 50 consumer products companies working in the United States and internationally. His research interests include return on marketing investment, consumer behavior, business-to-business strategy, and strategic planning.

John T. Gironda

John T. Gironda , Ph.D., is an assistant professor of marketing at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. His research has been published in Industrial Marketing Management, Psychology & Marketing , and Journal of Marketing Management . He has also presented at major marketing conferences including the American Marketing Association, Academy of Marketing Science, and Society for Marketing Advances.

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How the HBS Case Method Works

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How the Case Method Works

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  • Read and analyze the case. Each case is a 10-20 page document written from the viewpoint of a real person leading a real organization. In addition to background information on the situation, each case ends in a key decision to be made. Your job is to sift through the information, incomplete by design, and decide what you would do.
  • Discuss the case. Each morning, you’ll bring your ideas to a small team of classmates from diverse professional backgrounds, your discussion group, to share your findings and listen to theirs. Together, you begin to see the case from different perspectives, better preparing you for class.
  • Engage in class. Be prepared to change the way you think as you debate with classmates the best path forward for this organization. The highly engaged conversation is facilitated by the faculty member, but it’s driven by your classmates’ comments and experiences. HBS brings together amazingly talented people from diverse backgrounds and puts that experience front and center. Students do the majority of the talking (and lots of active listening), and your job is to better understand the decision at hand, what you would do in the case protagonist’s shoes, and why. You will not leave a class thinking about the case the same way you thought about it coming in! In addition to learning more about many businesses, in the case method you will develop communication, listening, analysis, and leadership skills. It is a truly dynamic and immersive learning environment.
  • Reflect. The case method prepares you to be in leadership positions where you will face time-sensitive decisions with limited information. Reflecting on each class discussion will prepare you to face these situations in your future roles.

Student Perspectives

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“I’ve been so touched by how dedicated other people have been to my learning and my success.”

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“The world desperately needs better leadership. It’s actually one of the great gifts of teaching here, you can do something about it.”

Alumni Perspectives

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“You walk into work every morning and it's like a fire hose of decisions that need to be made, often without enough information. Just like an HBS case.”

Celebrating the Inaugural HBS Case

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“How do you go into an ambiguous situation and get to the bottom of it? That skill – the skill of figuring out a course of inquiry, to choose a course of action – that skill is as relevant today as it was in 1921.”

6 Brilliant Case Study Examples for Small Businesses

Explore case study examples for small businesses. Discover strategies to tackle common challenges like managing expenses, building a brand, hiring skilled staff, staying current with trends, to ensure your growth and success.

6 Brilliant Case Study Examples for Small Businesses

Every business starts small.

The success of a business lies in its strategy to overcome any challenge during its journey.

If you are trying to take your business to new heights, start identifying challenges and create solutions.

The best way is to learn from sundry success stories.

There are several case studies of different businesses that can teach you which strategy to take for selling your product and attracting the target audience.

In this article, we will discuss some of the top case study examples that can assist in upscaling small businesses.

Let’s begin.

Challenges Faced by Small Businesses

As far as businesses go, there are always hurdles that need to be defeated. Starting a business is itself a big achievement for entrepreneurs, but the main challenge is maintaining one.

There are three common challenges businesses need to overcome. These include managing the expenses, hiring people, and following new trends to develop a customer base.

1. Increased Expenses

Every business revolves around money. There are different areas where businesses have to spend their money. But the issue is handling the financial hurdles. With an unplanned budget and financial advice, businesses will be spending more than they need to.

Keeping an eye on expenses is important because the expenses determine the profit the business will make.

However, it is not easy to reduce the expense. It’s affected by demand and supply. If businesses need to keep up with the market’s demands, then the chance of increasing expenses is 100%.

2. More and Skilled Manpower Required

Businesses don’t run themselves. They need manpower with skills to handle different departments. Generally, the number of employees in a small business ranges from 1 to 500 people. Getting this manpower is easy but getting a skilled one is difficult and time-consuming.

Whenever looking for manpower, businesses need to decide what skills they want in their candidate. The problem is candidates can’t always fulfill all the requirements. Besides, hiring manpower also increases the expenses.

3. Keeping Up With the Latest Trends

The market is fluid. It changes and introduces new trends. Small businesses need to keep up with the changing trends to keep their business growing. But this is where many businesses start to fall apart.

The thing about new trends is that businesses need to sell their products at the right time. It means they have to keep on studying the market to speculate their next products. If a small business fails to deliver during the peak of the trend, then it will suffer a heavy loss.

Solutions to Grow a Small Business

The best thing about businesses is that there is an attempt to find a solution for every challenge. It brings out the competition in the market, which is huge for surfacing different kinds of solutions a business can adopt.

1. Reduce the Expenses

When it comes to expenses, businesses are focused on spending huge sums on communication because communication is the key element of increasing customers and revenue. It’s not a big problem for big companies, but it is expensive for small businesses.

Fortunately, the cloud telephony system has removed the dilemma while making business budgets because cloud phone services are cheaper than plain old telephone services.

It reduces the initial cost of new businesses up to 90%. Recent surveys suggest that over 74% of businesses prioritize cloud phone systems as their urgent investment.

The same goes for marketing which is necessary to attract potential customers. Small businesses don’t have enough budget to advertise their products.

The best solution for this is using social media platforms like Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, etc. to promote and sell their products .

Case Study: Coffman Engineers

Coffman Engineers clearly states that although the cost of using a virtual phone number adhered to cloud phone is 50% more per employee, it still provides overall 25% more savings than plain old telephone service (POTS).

Coffman Engineers have been relying on cloud phones ever since their one office location faced a disaster. Now they have a disaster recovery feature built into their cloud phone system. It helped them to be ready for any disasters without losing communication with employees.

Not just that, they found all the necessary features bundled into one subscription package in a VoIP phone system. Such a facility enabled them to handle all their business communication using only one platform.

Key Takeaways

  • Small businesses must invest in cloud telephony for business communication.
  • Extensive use of social media to promote and sell your products/service.

2. Improve Employee Productivity

As we have already discussed earlier, manpower is a big challenge for small businesses. Hiring more employees doesn’t mean higher productivity. Businesses need to hire the right candidates to keep their expenses in check and improve productivity.

There are different tools available that can monitor what the employees are doing. Time tracking tools and workforce management tools are key components every business needs.

Especially in remote working scenarios, these tools are crucial to getting the full effort for the employees. Companies have seen a 35%-40% rise in productivity in employees working remotely with the use of tracking tools.

Case study: On The Map Marketing

On The Map Marketing , a digital marketing agency, used time tracking tools that showed that remote working employees tend to work more hours since they can work at flexible hours.

On The Map Marketing first started using the time tracking tool when they were opening their office in Riga, Latvia. The CTO of the company wanted the time spent on different tasks on his computer as well as managing the remote working employees.

Using a time tracking tool , they were able to track their productivity with a detailed report of their daily activities during office hours. It helped them calculate salary bonuses. They also found the productivity level of each employee to determine their value for the company.

  • Small businesses should use a time tracking tool to make sure employees focus on their office work.
  • Small businesses can track the performance of each employee at office locations or remote working locations.

3. Reward Your Customers

A business becomes successful when it can keep its customers happy. In efforts to upscale a small business quickly, the marketplace has seen a decline in the quality of products and services. It is a primary reason for customer dissatisfaction.

About 45% of business professionals rate customer experience as their top priority for growing a business.

Survey says more than 85% of buyers are willing to spend more for a better customer experience. Therefore, small businesses need to focus on improving their quality of products and services, which is a powerful indicator of customer experience.

Case study: Starbucks

Starbucks introduced a Reward Loyalty Program in which customers collect stars to get exciting rewards. This program drives 40% of Starbucks total sales .

By adapting the gamification method, Starbucks added a reward loyalty program to their already established app. This move drastically increased sales and digital traffic. They brought mobile payment, customer loyalty, and content partnership in one powerful app.

Customers started registering for My Reward via their app. They are given stars(points) in exchange for their interaction in the app or purchase made. The higher the number of stars a customer gets, the better rewards they get.

  • Small businesses can give different forms of rewards for more customer engagement.
  • Improvement in customer service can drive more sales and attract more customers.

4. Build Your Brand

Small businesses should learn to build their brand image . While marketing any product or service, the brand image is a key factor for understanding how people view your business.

A brand image must first include mission, vision, and values. It also requires a brand positioning statement that can set your business apart from the competitors.

It’s important to create a unique brand personality. For this, businesses need to design a good logo because customers are most likely to recognize a business looking at a logo. They will have to identify their target audience to craft a good brand image.

According to a study, around 89% of users stay loyal to a business with a good brand image .

Case study: Apple

Apple logo is a well-recognized design that reflects the brand value. Over the years, the Apple logo has gone through several design changes.

The most important rebranding of the company came when Steve Jobs changed the logo which impacted the overall personality of the company. Now, this logo is the most recognized logo in the world.

Looking at the Apple logo, customers can feel a sense of trust, reliability, and innovation . It is the main reason for the huge sales of all the Apple products across the globe.

  • Branding helps a business build strong relationships with prospects and attract them to be loyal customers.
  • Small businesses need to create a strong brand image to sell their products efficiently.

5. Prioritize on Partnerships

Partnerships and collaboration can lift the businesses to maximize their cost savings. It allows businesses to strengthen their programs using available resources and tools.

This has a direct effect on improving the efficiency of their operations. It improves the credibility of the business in the marketplace.

Case study: RENAULT & NISSAN

Renault and Nissan have a strong partnership in automobiles. Their partnership made a remarkable achievement of making up 10% of new car sales worldwide .

Renault and Nissan chose to make an alliance rather than a merger because an alliance has many stronger benefits than a merger would give.

With an alliance, they can access more geographical areas where foreign investments are restricted. These companies got better chances to enter each other’s territory where they were already established companies because of the alliance.

Although they faced numerous challenges including fluctuation in price share, they managed to resolve issues and succeed.

  • Small businesses can collaborate with other businesses to increase their chances of higher product sales and profit for everyone.
  • Partnership with other businesses allows all parties to take benefits from each other’s strong areas.

6. The Right Marketing Strategy

Every business requires to sell its product and services to the market. Without marketing, a business cannot compete in the marketplace. The first thing about marketing is knowing your target audience and competitors.

When small businesses know who they are competing against, it will help them to see how the competitors are executing their business and attracting their customers.

One such way is to grow your website traffic which can bring you more leads and eventually customers. And how do you increase your website traffic? SEO. If done right, Search Engine Optimization can drive huge traffic to your website to reach your marketing goals.

Case study: Zapier

Zapier used an SEO strategy revolving around long-tail keywords for generating organic traffic to their website. They created 25,000 unique landing pages for unique keywords.

Zapier had a structure and layout for each page including well-optimized human written content. They outsourced SEO content and focused on a playbook for the onboarding process and launched new apps so that they can get partners to write content for them.

On top of that, they also outsourced link building to their partners. These partners wrote valuable guest post content of Zapier on their site and gave a backlink to Zapier. It helped Zapier to get new users as well as drive their website traffic.

  • Small Businesses should improve their website traffic by adding more landing pages with relevant content.
  • Backlinks through guest posts on other websites can drive more website traffic and attract more prospects.

Now that you have a fair idea of the business challenges and solutions, there is a good chance of delivering a good strategy for growing your small business.

On top of that, the case study examples above will help you view how other businesses overcome their situation to take their business to new heights.

The most important aspect of upscaling a small business is understanding the customer’s needs. Therefore, you should design a persuasive marketing strategy to attract customers and compete with other businesses in the market.

And a good marketing strategy for any business must include social media. And to make the most of your social media marketing efforts try SocialPilot for free today.

Frequently Asked Questions

🌟 How do you upscale a small business?

Upscaling a small business is a very challenging process. Whether it's making a budget or hiring employees, you have to focus on things that are best for your business. Planning, targeting prospects, marketing strategy, etc. are crucial steps for upscaling businesses and competing with big companies.

🌟 What is a small scale business?

Small scale businesses or Small scale industries (SSI) provide products and services on a small level. Normally in the US, a small business consists of less than 250 employees. Also, it has small capital investments and less office space.

🌟 Why do entrepreneurs find it difficult to scale up?

New entrepreneurs find difficulty in scaling up their businesses because they don’t know what to do. Even if they know, they have to face many challenges like market research, finding loans, allocating space, etc. Also, legal matters are always a major concern for making changes.

🌟 Why is scalability important in business?

Scalability is important because it directly impacts business competition, profitability, brand image, and product quality. Since small businesses have huge growth potential and high return on investment (ROI), they have to properly focus on scalability.

🌟 When should you scale a business?

A small business should look for upscaling its business if it has achieved a minimum annual growth of 20% over 2-3 years with only 10 or more active employees.

About the Author

Picture of Sujan Thapaliya

Sujan Thapaliya

Sujan Thapaliya is the CEO and Co-founder of KrispCall . He has a wealth of computer, communications, and security experience. Through KrispCall, he aspires to make business communication safer, reliable, and more affordable.

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How Problem-Solving Case Studies Help You Market Your Business Few marketing tools are more effective than an anecdotal case study. Discover how you can create your own and increase sales.

By Robert W. Bly • Feb 18, 2020

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

The following excerpt is from Robert W. Bly's The Content Marketing Handbook . Buy it now from Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Almost any company can profitably market with case studies. And while case studies don't need to adhere to any one formula, there are general guidelines you should follow. The average case study is relatively brief: one or two pages long, or approximately 800 to 1,500 words. More complex or in-depth case studies can run 2,000 to 2,500 words.

An effective case study makes readers want to learn more about the product it features. It's a soft sell designed to lure your prospects into requesting more detailed information. If you've mirrored the reader's problem successfully, the case study will propel them deeper into the sales funnel and closer to buying.

You needn't be overly creative or reinvent the wheel when writing a case study. Most follow some variation on this outline:

  • Who's the customer?
  • What was the problem? How was it hurting the customer's business?
  • What solutions did they consider and ultimately reject, and why?
  • Why did they choose our product?
  • Description of how they implemented the product, including any prob­lems and how they were solved.
  • How and where does the customer use the product?
  • What results and benefits are they getting?
  • Would they recommend the product to others? Why?

Because case studies are told as a story, readers are more inclined to take an interest—especially if it holds some sort of benefit for them. Unlike sales presentations, case studies are all about showing, rather than telling, how a product or service works. Instead of presenting a pile of facts and figures, you tell an engaging story that vividly shows your product's effectiveness. And by using a satisfied customer as an example, you can demonstrate how well your product works. Since its benefits are being extolled by an actual user, the claims are more believable.

An equally strong selling point is the level of empathy a case study creates between your prospects and your satisfied customers. Prospects feel far more at ease listening to their peers than to a salesperson. They relate better, because they often share the same issues and problems.

Relating your customers' positive experiences with your product is one of the best ways to establish credibility in the marketplace. Giving your customers confidence in what you're offering dramatically increases the likelihood they'll do business with you.

Writing the Case Study

To prepare to write the case study, the writer interviews the person in the customer organization who's most involved in working with the product. Before the writer calls, the vendor salesperson or account manager handling that customer should contact the customer to make sure they're willing and even eager to participate.

During the interview, get as many good quotes as possible, include them in the case study, and attribute them to your interviewee. Quotes in published case studies can later do double duty as customer testimonials.

Often prospects answer questions vaguely, and it's up to the interviewer/writer to wring the specifics out of them. Whenever possible, get the subject to give you exact numbers so your claims and results can be specific. For instance, if they say the product reduced their energy costs, pin them down: "Did it reduce energy consumption by more than 10 percent? More than 100 percent?" They may give you a guesstimate, which you can use as an approximate figure: "The XYZ system reduced the plant's energy consumption by more than 10 percent."

Before you release the case study, get the person you interviewed to approve and sign off on it. Keep these signed releases on file. If your authorization to use the case study is questioned and you can't produce a signed release, you may have to remove it from your site.

Also, ask subjects of case studies whether they're willing to serve as reference accounts. That way, a prospect with similar needs can speak directly to the product user in a case study.

Using Case Studies in Marketing Campaigns

"Companies [can] usually multiply the value of a good customer story by using it in many different ways," says Casey Hibbard of Compelling Cases, a marketing firm that develops case study materials for technology companies. Here are some of her suggestions:

Treat case studies as fresh news . "Before a case study is republished on your website or distributed to sales reps, pitch it to the trade press," Hibbard advises. "Many publications now have sec­tions called "Case Studies' or "Technology in Action' specifically for this purpose—and many readers regularly troll these publications for real-world business and technology solutions."

Post them on your website . "Websites are an obvious place to post case studies," she notes. "But it pays to put some thought into where and how you present them. The best approach is to feature product-specific cases among other product information on your site, along with white papers and brochures that highlight each product. You can even go a step further by allowing visitors to search for case studies by industry to find one that best matches their situation."

Add a short version to the company newsletter . Case studies are popular content for enewsletters. In fact, Hibbard says one large software company with more than 300 products publishes an entire newsletter filled with customer stories. "Newsletter stories educate customers and prospects about the many ways that other people are using the product successfully," she says.

Create slides for sales presentations . "To punch up sales presen­tations, give the sales team slides with highlights from successful client implementations," says Hibbard.

Enter them in awards events . "One CRM software vendor submitted a particularly compelling case study for Aberdeen Group's annual "Top Ten CRM Implementations' list," she recalls. "The company was honored as one of the top ten and was then mentioned in at least a dozen follow-up stories."

Add testimonial quotes to your sales materials . "Make sure that quotes within the case study can stand by themselves if you choose to pull them as testimonials on your website or in collat­eral materials," she says. "I've also seen sales materials that feature "snapshots' of success stories, and that's very powerful."

Distribute them to prospects and customers . This is a terrific way to keep in touch, raise awareness about a new product or service, and even convert prospects into customers.

Give them to your salespeople . Salespeople like case studies. A case study is often more convincing than a brochure.

Present them . If your executives speak at meetings and conferences, a case study makes an excellent presentation. The content can easily be converted into slide decks, and the printed case study itself can be used as a handout.

Hand them out at trade shows . Case studies are a great way to break through the clutter of fliers and brochures that permeate trade shows. One marketer even had a case study enlarged and printed on a trade show exhibit wall.

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MBA Case Studies - Solved Examples

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Case i: chemco case.

  • ChemCo is a quality leader in the U.K. car batteries market.
  • Customer battery purchases in the automobile market are highly seasonal.
  • The fork-lift business was added to utilize idle capacity during periods of inactivity.
  • This is a low-growth industry (1% annual growth over the last two years)
  • Large customers are sophisticated and buy based on price and quality. Smaller customers buy solely on price.
  • There is a Spanish competitor in the market who offers low priced batteries of inferior quality.

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  • Established player in car batteries
  • Losing heavily in fork-lift truck batteries
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  • High quality product, but low end customers care more about price than quality
  • Mismanaged product diversification in a price sensitive market
  • Alternative 1: Establish an Off-Brand for the fork-lift business
  • Alternative 2: Educate the customer market about product quality
  • Alternative 3: Exit the fork-lift battery business
  • Establishing the firm's quality image
  • Increase in market share
  • Increase in sales
  • Cost of the product
  • Protect firm's quality image in the automobile industry
  • Redesigned product to reduce the cost of manufacture
  • Low price to enable it to compete with Spanish producer
  • Make use of the quality leadership in car batteries market
  • Offer reliability testing, extended warranties etc. to promote quality image
  • Set higher prices to extract surplus from these advantages
  • A passive strategy, not proactive
  • Recommendations: Alternative 1 is recommended in this case. Since the firm operates in an industry which has low growth, hence it can expand market share and sales only by taking the customers from other players. Hence, it needs to tackle the Spanish competitor head-on by aggressively pricing its product. At the same time, launching a low-priced product under the same brand name erodes the high quality image in the car batteries market. Hence, the best option is to go for an off-brand to target the fork-lift customers who are increasingly becoming price sensitive. This will enable the company to ward off the threat in short-term and build its position strongly in the long-term.

case study business problem solving

Case II: NAKAMURA LACQUER COMPANY

  • The Nakamura Lacquer Company: The Nakamura Lacquer Company based in Kyoto, Japan was one of the many small handicraft shops making lacquerware for the daily table use of the Japanese people.
  • Mr. Nakamura- the personality: In 1948, a young Mr. Nakamura took over his family business. He saw an opportunity to cater to a new market of America, i.e. GI's of the Occupation Army who had begun to buy lacquer ware as souvenirs. However, he realized that the traditional handicraft methods were inadequate. He was an innovator and introduced simple methods of processing and inspection using machines. Four years later, when the Occupation Army left in 1952, Nakamura employed several thousand men, and produced 500,000 pieces of lacquers tableware each year for the Japanese mass consumer market. The profit from operations was $250,000.
  • The Brand: Nakamura named his brand “Chrysanthemum” after the national flower of Japan, which showed his patriotic fervor. The brand became Japan's best known and best selling brand, being synonymous with good quality, middle class and dependability.
  • The Market: The market for lacquerware in Japan seems to have matured, with the production steady at 500,000 pieces a year. Nakamura did practically no business outside of Japan. However, early in 1960, when the American interest in Japanese products began to grow, Nakamura received two offers
  • The Rose and Crown offer: The first offer was from Mr. Phil Rose, V.P Marketing at the National China Company. They were the largest manufacturer of good quality dinnerware in the U.S., with their “Rose and Crown” brand accounting for almost 30% of total sales. They were willing to give a firm order for three eyes for annual purchases of 400,000 sets of lacquer dinnerware, delivered in Japan and at 5% more than what the Japanese jobbers paid. However, Nakamura would have to forego the Chrysanthemum trademark to “Rose and Crown” and also undertaken to sell lacquer ware to anyone else the U.S. The offer promised returns of $720,000 over three years (with net returns of $83,000), but with little potential for the U.S. market on the Chrysanthemum brand beyond that period.
  • The Semmelback offer: The second offer was from Mr. Walter Sammelback of Sammelback, Sammelback and Whittacker, Chicago, the largest supplier of hotel and restaurant supplies in the U.S. They perceived a U.S. market of 600,000 sets a year, expecting it to go up to 2 million in around 5 years. Since the Japanese government did not allow overseas investment, Sammelback was willing to budget $1.5 million. Although the offer implied negative returns of $467,000 over the first five years, the offer had the potential to give a $1 million profit if sales picked up as anticipated.
  • Meeting the order: To meet the numbers requirement of the orders, Nakamura would either have to expand capacity or cut down on the domestic market. If he chose to expand capacity, the danger was of idle capacity in case the U.S. market did not respond. If he cut down on the domestic market, the danger was of losing out on a well-established market. Nakamura could also source part of the supply from other vendors. However, this option would not find favor with either of the American buyers since they had approached only Nakamura, realizing that he was the best person to meet the order.
  • Decision problem: Whether to accept any of the two offers and if yes, which one of the two and under what terms of conditions?
  • To expand into the U.S. market.
  • To maintain and build upon their reputation of the “Chrysanthemum” brand
  • To increase profit volumes by tapping the U.S. market and as a result, increasing scale of operations.
  • To increase its share in the U.S. lacquerware market.
  • Profit Maximization criterion: The most important criterion in the long run is profit maximization.
  • Risk criterion: Since the demand in the U.S. market is not as much as in Japan.
  • Brand identity criterion: Nakamura has painstakingly built up a brand name in Japan. It is desirable for him to compete in the U.S. market under the same brand name
  • Flexibility criterion: The chosen option should offer Nakamura flexibility in maneuvering the terms and conditions to his advantage. Additionally, Nakamura should have bargaining power at the time of renewal of the contract.
  • Short term returns: Nakamura should receive some returns on the investment he makes on the new offers. However, this criterion may be compromised in favor of profit maximization in the long run.?
  • Reject both: React both the offers and concentrate on the domestic market
  • Accept RC offer: Accept the Rose and Crown offer and supply the offer by cutting down on supplies to the domestic market or through capacity expansion or both
  • Accept SSW: offer; accept the SSW offer and meet it through cutting down on supply to the domestic market or through capacity expansion or both. Negotiate term of supply.
  • Reject both: This option would not meet the primary criterion of profit maximization. Further, the objective of growth would also not be met. Hence, this option is rejected.
  • Accept RC offer: The RC offer would assure net returns of $283,000 over the next three yeas. It also assures regular returns of $240,000 per year. However, Nakamura would have no presence in the U.S. with its Chrysanthemum brand name The RC offer would entail capacity expansion, as it would not be possible to siphon of 275,000 pieces from the domestic market over three years without adversely affecting operations there. At the end of three years, Nakamura would have little bargaining power with RC as it would have an excess capacity of 275,000 pieces and excess labor which it would want to utilize. In this sense the offer is risky. Further, the offer is not flexible. Long-term profit maximization is uncertain in this case a condition that can be controlled in the SSW offer. Hence, this offer is rejected.
  • Accept SSW offer: The SSW offer does not assure a firm order or any returns for the period of contract. Although, in its present form the offer is risky if the market in the U.S. does not pick up as expected, the offer is flexible. If Nakamura were to exhibit caution initially by supplying only 300,000 instead of the anticipated 600,000 pieces, it could siphon off the 175,000 required from the domestic market. If demand exists in the U.S., the capacity can be expanded. With this offer, risk is minimized. Further, it would be competing on its own brand name. Distribution would be taken care of and long-term profit maximization criterion would be satisfied as this option has the potential of $1 million in profits per year. At the time of renewal of the contract, Nakamura would have immense bargaining power.
  • Negotiate terms of offer with SSW: The terms would be that NLC would supply 300,000 pieces in the first year. If market demand exists, NLC should expand capacity to provide the expected demand.
  • Action Plan: In the first phase, NLC would supply SSW with 300,000 pieces. 125,000 of these would be obtained by utilizing excess capacity, while the remaining would be obtained from the domestic market. If the expected demand for lacquer ware exists in the U.S., NLC would expand capacity to meet the expected demand. The debt incurred would be paid off by the fifth year.
  • Contingency Plan:  In case the demand is not as expected in the first year, NLC should not service the U.S. market and instead concentrate on increasing penetration in the domestic market.

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Case Studies

Problem solving, solution design, people engagement, business transformation.

Research by McKinsey found that 70% of business transformation projects fail.

At Energise we address this issue. Our track record of combining consultancy expertise, industry knowledge and an approach focused on long term benefits for clients has consistently delivered project success.

The key elements of our approach to increase project success are

  • Problem solving
  • People engagement

Which deliver successful business transformation

We are always happy to discuss our approach in the context of a prospective project to see how we can help deliver a successful transformation or re-energise an existing on one

Challenge: Parent utility company concerned on a Subsidiary change programme status 5 month prior to a ERP rollout and wanted a review on the transformation to assess readiness.

Delivered: Identified the real issue was the communication gap between the parent and subsidiary. Fixed the communication gap between subsidiary in the 3 week review, through building relationships despite being seen as the “enemy initially”. Identified key areas and practical solutions for improvements. Was then asked to build a plan and support the execution of the transition for this subsidiary and another in the run up to go live.

Business results: SAP went live with no major customer impact or service impact, which was no mean feat given it was during one of their operationally most busy period (storm season).

Challenge: To move a Romanian oil company from the communist era mindset to a modern company with improved performance and better control.

Delivered: a new business model including new process model and organisation structure (covering over 4000 employees). Worked with the HR and the operations department to implement a cultural change to create managers who were “delivering tasks from management” to “business owners managing their own assets”. A programme was delivered which started with the initial recruitment process of the new managers and then implementing the planning and budgeting process to deliver this cultural change and skills development.

Business results: accurate management information at board level for the first time ever, better communication between the headquarters and the field offices and visible increase in management capability.

Challenge: build global processes to support a new IT reservoir modelling tool with a global energy company that didn’t want new processes.

Delivered: within 3 months had all the technical directors and their teams enthusiastically creating processes that involved over 100 business people and the value of these processes were so highly prized they were rolled out before the tool implementation. The biggest challenge was ensuring all areas delivered together and different departments didn’t roll out processes too early!

Business results: New processes rolled out to over 2,000 users with an estimated benefit of over 100 FTE saving.

Challenge: To enable faster, more effective and better quality reporting to external investors with more robust internal controls for a European business with different reporting requirements.

Delivered:   Advised the business executives to set up project governance and project managed a business team split across multiple locations.  Worked with the IT team on the technology solution and database including parallel running through two reporting cycles as the tool was being developed. Delivered new processes, controls and IT database and reporting tool so the business could replicate their current reports and produce new analysis for internal use.

Business results: 50% saving in time checking and uploading data and up to a week in terms of quarterly report creation and the ability to do performance analysis on data which had been almost impossible previously.

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How To Solve Case Study? (A Strategy By IIM L Student That Works Every Time!)

Muskan Atar - IIM Lucknow

Table of content: 

  • Step 1: Identify the problem statement

Step 2: Propose solutions with a pinch of creativity

Step 3: establish the scale and impact of the solution.

“Case study competitions” - Something that is arguably one of the most valuable parts of your MBA life. But this may be daunting for many. Maybe you’re not sure which case competitions to participate in, so you pile too much on your plate. Maybe you’re not sure about the right way to solve a case study. In this article, we’ll break down everything you need to know about acing a case study competition, from scratch! 

A case study competition can be an academic or corporate competition in which participants come together to solve either a real-world case or a framed case that is presented. We present to you Muskan Atar, who will walk you through her tested strategy to solve case study competitions and win them in style!

Hero Campus Challenge S8 Winners Take Us Through Their Road To Victory

Framework to solve case studies

After participating in 7-8 case competitions, I realized I had been unconsciously solving it using the same framework. It is very similar to the framework used for product management cases. Hence, it didn't disappoint me. 

Step 1: Identify the problem statement 

Case competitions like Accenture Strategy Case Connect and Colgate Transcend provide an exact problem statement with the expected outcome. But, in most cases, we must dive deep to break down the problem statement and identify the potential causes. 

Like, for Colgate Transcend, the problem statement was (summary) -

Should Colgate diversify into Electric Tooth Brush (ETB) Segment? If yes, then how?

Here, we identified the problems through secondary research (reports from consultancy firms) and primary research (customer surveys). The problem statement identified were:

  • Low awareness of ETB 
  • Low willingness to pay
  • High competition from existing players

How to solve case study

After identifying the problems, we need to establish whether solving them is actually worth it or not. We did this by:

  • Expected Sales, Market Size, and Expected Growth Rate of identified customer segment
  • Increasing willingness to upgrade life (Market Trend)
  • High adaptability to technological changes (Market Trend)

How to solve case studies

Other methods of identifying problem statements are Focus Groups, Customer Interviews, Journey Analyzers, BCG matrix, Value Chain Analysis, PESTEL, SWOT(W part), Porter's Five Forces, Annual Reports, etc.

How to solve a case study

Given the short time for case competitions, I think the most efficient method is first-hand experience. Rather than starting from scratch, it is better to identify the problems as a customer and collect more data on the same.

Further, this data can be represented in the form of - Customer Personas, Key Insights, Trends, Customer Decision Making Journey, etc. 

If you have identified the right problems, your half work is done!

Before even thinking of solutions, set the KPIs based on the problem statement.

Like, in Accenture Strategy Case Connect, the problem statement was (summary) -

Should a large-scale oil refinery firm diversify into EV charging stations? If yes, suggest an execution strategy 

After establishing that the firm needs to diversify, we set the KPI for the solution as - Increment in business generated due to portfolio diversification.

Accenture Strategy Case Connect Case Study

Then, we did a VRIO analysis to identify the competitive advantage (CA), available resources, and capabilities of the firm. SWOT analysis can also be done to get a bird's eye view. 

MBA Case Study

Key insights were:

  • The firm has an established infrastructure across the nation (CA)
  • The firm is cash-positive (resource)
  • Lack of EV charger manufacturing capabilities

Based on the above insights, we decided mode of entry as a strategic alliance with EV charger manufacturers to minimize the entry risk and cost of development. 

MBA case study

We represented the solution in the form of a business plan that covered the roles of stakeholders, partners, customer value proposition, and a phase-wise rollout plan for the future.

MBA Case study solutions

After setting the KPIs and VRIO analysis, in case you struggle to create solutions, you can do:

  • Competitor benchmarking to get a reference
  • Research strategies implemented by outside-India players
  • Study recent technological trends and their application
  • Understand the current focus of the firm through annual reports, recent acquisitions, and news headlines

How to solve the case study

Other ways of representing the strategies are Ansoff Matrix, Portfolio Strategy, Market Mapping, 4Ps, Marketing Funnel, GTM, Mock-ups, etc.

How to solve the case study

Above all, you should always suggest solutions that reduce customer efforts. If you try changing consumer behavior by increasing efforts, they will exCHANGE you with your competitors.

Competitions like the HCCB Case Challenge provide an exact budget. For others, you must look at financial reports and funding rounds to estimate the budget. Then, you can utilize the data to calculate ROI using guesstimates as accurately as possible (use published data).

You can also do a cost-benefit, NPV- IRR, break-even point, cash-flow analysis, etc. I prefer showing profitable unit economics to envision scale and impact.

In PM/Marketing cases, you can also show whether customers accept the solution or not. If 90% of customers are facing a problem, doesn't mean that 90% will accept your solution.

Like in Myntra Stylbiz, we had to suggest solutions for the 18-25 customer segment such that Myntra becomes the most engaging and preferred destination. We showed results of UAT (using Figma) that indicated the likelihood of customers using the solution. This data also helped to estimate the increase in sales, purchase frequency, and new customers. 

Myntra Stylbiz case study

I have also seen participants running marketing campaigns on social media on a small scale. 

Myntra stylbiz MBA Case study

More than thinking big, focus on thinking real. 

For more, check out her post. 

If you'd like to submit your story, click here .

Whatever your concern, we have broken down everything you need to know about case study competitions , from scratch:

  • Challenge Yourself With These B-school Competitions
  • Case Study Competitions- Details, Winning Strategies, And More!
  • Cheat Sheet To Crack Hiring Challenges And Case Competitions
  • How To Win Business Case Competitions: The Secret Revealed
  • Why MBA case competitions are worth the hype!

Muskan Atar - IIM Lucknow

In pursuit of being a good product manager, she started participating in Case Competitions during her MBA. It gave her a mention in Forbes D2C Top 100 Competitive Leaders, but more than that it helped her build problem-solving and team-building skills. It also helped her become insensitive to results, and make a rational sense of them. Apart from PMing, she likes to write, watch movies, crack lame jokes and eat really good food.

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The Ultimate Guide to Acing the McKinsey Case Interview (Problem-Solving Interview)

the image is the cover for the mckinsey case interview or problem solving interview article

Last Updated on September 13, 2023

The McKinsey case interview, also called the Problem-Solving Interview by the firm, is a crucial and defining element of the consulting recruitment process for one of the world’s most prestigious management consulting firms. This unique type of interview assesses a candidate’s analytical, problem-solving, and communication skills, as well as their ability to think critically under pressure. With a reputation for being challenging and rigorous, the McKinsey case interview is often seen as a significant hurdle for aspiring consultants to overcome. Forbes ranked McKinsey’s interview process as the most difficult across all firms globally and the case plays a crucial role in that evaluation, besides the Personal Experience Interview .

Recognizing the importance of thorough preparation, this article aims to become the go-to resource for candidates worldwide who are seeking to excel in the McKinsey case interview and want to kickstart their McKinsey careers. By providing comprehensive insights, practical tips, and concrete examples, our goal is to equip you with the knowledge and confidence required to stand out in the competitive world of management consulting.

As former McKinsey consultants and interview experts, we have specialized in helping our candidates to effectively tackle this part of the McKinsey assessment. We found that the information on the McKinsey application process and specifically the case interviews is often wrong, outdated, or assumed to be the same as for every other consulting firm, and written by ‘experts’, who have never conducted an interview at McKinsey or even seen a McKinsey office from the inside.

As a consequence, the advice given can be detrimental to your recruiting success with the firm. In this article, we want to shed some light on this mysterious, often-talked-about, even more often misunderstood interview.

McKinsey’s Interview Process

Overview of the recruitment process.

The McKinsey recruitment process typically consists of the following stages:

  • Application submission: Candidates submit their resume, cover letter, and academic transcripts online.
  • Online assessments: Selected candidates may be invited to complete an online assessment, the McKinsey Solve Game (previously known as the Imbellus test, or Problem Solving Game/PSG)
  • First-round interviews: Successful candidates progress to first-round interviews, which typically involve two separate interviews, each consisting of a Personal Experience Interview (PEI) and a case interview.
  • Final-round interviews: Candidates who excel in the first round are invited to final-round interviews, which usually consist of two to three separate interviews with more senior McKinsey consultants or partners, again featuring a PEI and a case interview in each session.
  • Offer decision: Following the final round, the firm makes a decision on whether to extend an offer to the candidate.

the image provides an overview of the mckinsey interview process

The Personal Experience Interview (PEI)

The Personal Experience Interview (PEI) is a critical component of McKinsey’s interview process. During the PEI, the interviewer will ask the candidate to share a specific example from their past experiences that demonstrates one of McKinsey’s core values, such as leadership, personal impact, or the ability to deal with change. Candidates should prepare concise and compelling stories that highlight their achievements, challenges faced, and the lessons learned. The PEI aims to assess the candidate’s interpersonal skills, self-awareness, and overall fit with McKinsey’s culture.

The Case Interview (Problem-Solving Interview)

The case interview is the centerpiece of McKinsey’s interview process. In this interview, the candidate is presented with a real-life or hypothetical business problem, which they must analyze and solve. The interviewer will assess the candidate’s ability to structure the problem, analyze data, generate insights, and communicate recommendations effectively. During the case interview, candidates should exhibit strong problem-solving, analytical, and communication skills, as well as the ability to think critically under pressure. Preparing for the case interview involves practicing a variety of cases, developing essential skills, and understanding the McKinsey case interview framework (more on that below).

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Understanding the McKinsey Case Interview

What is a case interview.

A case interview is a unique type of job interview that tests a candidate’s ability to analyze, solve, and communicate complex business problems. During a case interview, the interviewer presents a real-life or hypothetical business scenario, and the candidate is expected to analyze the situation, identify the key issues, and propose a strategic solution. The case interview format allows the interviewer to evaluate a candidate’s problem-solving, analytical, and interpersonal skills, which are essential for a successful career in management consulting.

Why does McKinsey use case interviews?

McKinsey & Company uses case interviews as a key component of its recruitment process for several reasons. First, the case interview format closely simulates the work environment and tasks that consultants face daily, providing the firm with a more accurate assessment of a candidate’s potential performance. Second, case interviews allow McKinsey to evaluate a candidate’s ability to think critically, structure complex problems, and communicate effectively under pressure—skills that are crucial for consultants who must deliver high-quality solutions to clients. Lastly, case interviews serve as a consistent and objective measure of a candidate’s capabilities, enabling the firm to compare candidates from diverse backgrounds fairly and accurately.

What is different in McKinsey’s interview format?

The McKinsey Problem Solving Interview is a typical case interview as it is employed by most consulting firms to test the analytical capabilities and communication skills of applicants. However, it comes with a twist. The interview simulates a client situation, where you are tasked to solve a specific business problem that they are facing. You will have to answer a succession of several questions rather than driving the case yourself as would be the case in other consulting firms. Within the interview, which is a dialogue between you and the interviewer, you need to structure problems, propose concrete ideas, gather information, spot insights in data and charts, solve quantitative problems, and communicate in a professional and calm manner.

The case is the hardest part for most candidates since it involves a number of different skills that need to be demonstrated consistently across all questions and across multiple cases in succession. Depending on the office, applicants need to go through four to six case interviews before receiving an offer. They need to convince the interviewers in all cases to start their McKinsey careers.

Types of cases you may encounter

During a McKinsey case interview, candidates may encounter a variety of case types that cover different industries, functions, and challenges. The following is just a selection of potential case problems that you would need to solve.

  • Market entry: Evaluating the attractiveness of entering a new market or launching a new product or service.
  • Growth strategy: Identifying opportunities for a company to grow its revenue, market share, or profitability.
  • Mergers and acquisitions: Assessing the feasibility and potential value of merging with or acquiring another company.
  • Cost reduction: Identifying areas for cost savings and efficiency improvements in a company’s operations or supply chain.
  • Pricing strategy: Determining the optimal pricing structure for a product or service to maximize revenue or profit.
  • Organizational restructuring: Evaluating changes to a company’s organizational structure or management processes to improve performance.
  • Operational improvements: Figure out and improve operational issues.

While the specifics of each case may differ, the core skills required to tackle these cases—such as structuring, data analysis, and problem-solving—remain consistent across all case types.

On top of that, McKinsey cases have become much more creative over the last couple of years, hence, using memorized and established frameworks will never serve you well . Rather it is important to approach every McKinsey case from a first-principles approach.

For instance, consider the following real McKinsey case example.

You are working with an operator of a specific type of machines. They break down at different rates at different locations. What factors can you think of why that would happen? Example of a McKinsey Case Interview Structure Questions

There is not a single memorized framework bucket that would work here. Let us look at an example answer for this prompt.

case study business problem solving

Less than 1% of candidates make it through the recruiting filters of McKinsey. You want to provide insights that the interviewer has not heard before and not be just like the other 99% that fail to impress.

What is the format of the McKinsey case?

A typical McKinsey case follows the PEI in a one-hour interview session. It lasts for 25 to 30 minutes in an interviewer-led format , meaning that the interviewer takes the lead and guides you through the case. Your role as the interviewee is to answer the questions asked by the interviewer before they will move on to the next question. While it is the interviewer’s responsibility to provide hints and move you through the different questions, you should take the lead within each question.

Depending on your performance and speed, you will be asked three to six questions . Only receiving three questions is actually a positive sign since the interviewer was happy with your answers to each question. Going above three questions usually happens when the interviewer wants to dig deeper into a specific question type to see if the quality of a previous answer to a similar question was just an outlier or can be confirmed with a second question. Most candidates need more than three questions to convince the interviewer, so don’t be scared when your case gets a little bit longer and consists of more than three questions.

Some offices also offer a McKinsey phone case interview as a first screening device, which follows the same structure as an in-person interview.

Is the McKinsey case interview different from a BCG or Bain interview?

While there are many similarities in McKinsey interviews and interviews with other firms, McKinsey interviews are interviewer-led, while other firms employ a candidate-led format .

McKinsey, BCG, and Bain cases have certain things in common:

  • The elements of the cases are the same. You will have to structure problems, interpret exhibits, and work through some calculations, come up with recommendations or implications, etc.
  • The skills that are assessed are the same. You need to exhibit strong problem-solving skills, creativity, ability to work under pressure, top-down communication, etc.

However, there is one key difference:

  • In interviewer-led cases, you take ownership of every question and go into greater detail here, while the interviewer guides you from question to question. In the interviewee-led case, you drive the whole case and have to move along, get the correct information to work with by asking the right questions, and analyze the problem to then deduct a recommendation

In a McKinsey case, the interviewer will guide you through a series of connected questions that you need to answer, synthesize, and develop recommendations from. There are clear directions and a flow of questions, which you need to answer with a hypothesis-driven mindset . These are arguably easier to prepare for and to go through since the flow and types of questions will always be the same.

For McKinsey case interview examples, check the available interviewer-led cases  here .

In a candidate-led BCG case interview or Bain case interview, due to the nature of your role as an investigator, it is much easier to get lost, walk down the wrong branch of the issue tree, and waste a ton of time. While the interviewers will try to influence you to move in the right direction (pay attention to their hints), it is still up to you what elements of the problem you would like to analyze. Each answer should lead to a new question (hypothesis-driven) on your quest to find the root cause of the problem to come up with a recommendation on how to overcome it.

What are the questions of a McKinsey case interview?

In the McKinsey interview you will have to answer  three different questions types  – broadly speaking:

  • Structuring (includes creating frameworks and brainstorming questions)
  • Exhibit Interpretation

Structuring

Structuring includes both the framework creation at the beginning of a case as well as answering brainstorming questions (usually at a later stage of the case).

A case interview structure is used to break the problem you are trying to solve for the client down into smaller problems or components. It is the roadmap you establish at the beginning of the interview that will guide your problem-solving approach throughout the case. A strong initial structure should cover all elements of the situation AND allow you to understand where the problem is coming from. Read more about case interview structure and frameworks here .

A common question would be:

What factors would you look at to understand the problem better? McKinsey framework question

Brainstorming has you come up with specific ideas around a certain topic (in a structured m anner). Read more about brainstorming here .

What ideas do you have that could decrease customer check-out time? McKinsey brainstorming question

Data interpretation

For chart or data interpretation , you are tasked to find the key insights of 1-2 PowerPoint slides and relate them back to the case question and the client situation at hand. Read more about exhibit interpretation here .

Case math questions have you analyze a problem mathematically before qualitatively investigating the particular reason for the numerical result or deriving specific recommendations from the outcome. Read more on how to ace case math here .

Now for  structure and exhibit interpretation , there is no right or wrong answer in a McKinsey interview. Some answers are better than others because they are

  • hypothesis-driven
  • follow strong communication (MECE, top-down, signposted)

That being said, there is no 100% that you can reach or a one-and-only solution/ answer. It is important that your answers display the characteristics specified above and are supported well with arguments.

As for  math questions , usually, there are answers which are correct (not always 100% the same since some candidates simplify or round differently – which is ok), and others that are wrong, either due to the

  • calculation approach
  • calculation itself

Now, for the interviewer, the overall picture counts. Mistakes in one area need to be balanced by a strong performance in other areas. McKinsey wants to see spikes in performance in certain areas and a good enough performance in other areas.

The most common example we see almost every day: You can be strong in structure and exhibit, yet make a small mistake in the math section – overall as you might consider 80% – and still pass on to the next round.

Be aware that in 99% of cases, there is no recommendation question in the end. The case just ends with the last case question. This is something many candidates are surprised by when they get out of their McKinsey interviews.

Mastering the McKinsey Case Interview Framework

In the sequence of questions that you receive, you need to demonstrate that you are able to

  • identify the ask;
  • structure the problem to investigate it;
  • analyze data related to it;
  • generate insight and recommendations;
  • communicate effectively.

Problem identification

The first step in tackling a McKinsey case interview is to identify the core problem or question that needs to be addressed. Carefully listen to the case prompt and take notes, ensuring that you understand the client’s objectives, the scope of the problem, and any constraints. Clarify any uncertainties with the interviewer before moving forward.

Structuring the problem

Once you have identified the problem, develop a structured approach to address it. Break down the problem into smaller, more manageable components using logical frameworks. Tailor the chosen framework to the specific case, incorporating any unique factors or considerations. Present your structure to the interviewer, explaining your rationale and seeking their input or approval.

Data analysis and interpretation

As you proceed with your structured approach, you may be provided with additional data or information by the interviewer. Analyze the data, using quantitative techniques, such as calculating growth rates, market shares, or breakeven points, to draw meaningful insights. Be prepared to make assumptions or estimates if necessary but ensure they are reasonable and well-justified.

Generating insights and recommendations

Based on your data analysis, develop actionable insights and recommendations that address the client’s objectives. Consider the potential impact, feasibility, and risks associated with each recommendation. Think creatively and strategically, incorporating both qualitative and quantitative factors into your decision-making process.

Synthesis and communication

Finally, synthesize your findings and recommendations into a clear and concise conclusion. Use the “top-down” communication style, starting with your main recommendation, followed by the supporting evidence and insights. Demonstrate strong communication skills by articulating your thought process and recommendations persuasively and confidently. Be prepared to answer any follow-up questions from the interviewer and engage in a discussion to defend or refine your conclusions.

  • Pyramid principle communication
  • How to communicate in a case interview

In this format, McKinsey assesses in a case interview six skills that you need to demonstrate consistently in every case interview.

What skills are assessed by McKinsey?

  • Problem-solving: Are you able to derive a MECE (mutually exclusive, collectively exhaustive) framework, breaking a problem down into smaller problems, and accurately covering all aspects of the problem?
  • Analytical rigor and logical thinking: Can you link the structure to creative thinking? Are you using a hypothesis-driven approach to your problem solving, i.e. have a clear picture of where you think the solution of the case is buried most likely? Do you qualify your thinking, follow your structure, tackle (likely) high-impact issues first, lead the interviewer, and ask the right questions?
  • Mental math and basic calculus : Are you able to structure quantitative problems and comfortably perform calculations? Can you derive the correct approach to calculate the desired outcome variable? Can you plug in the numbers and perform the calculations, relying on basic pen-and-paper math, shortcuts, and mental math?
  • Creativity: Do you think about a problem holistically, offering broad, deep, and insightful perspectives? Are you able to come up with different angles to the problem (breadth) and draft rich descriptions that qualify why these areas are important to investigate (depth)?
  • Communication: Are you able to communicate like a consultant? Are you following a top-down communication approach similar to the Pyramid Principle taught by Minto? Do all of your statements add value and do you guide the interviewer through your thinking?
  • Maturity and presence: Are you leading the conversation or are merely getting dragged along by the interviewer? Are you confident and mature? Are you comfortable with silence while taking time to structure your thinking?
  • Business sense and intuition : Are you able to quickly understand the business and the situation of the client? Can you swiftly interpret data, charts, exhibits, and statements made by the interview? Are you asking the right questions? Are you able to make sense of new information quickly and interpret it properly in the context of the case?

Now, these skills are assessed in a very specific interviewing format, which is not natural for most applicants and needs significant practice to become second nature.

the image shows a case interview evaluation sheet

Key Strategies to Excel in a McKinsey Case Interview

Using the mece principle.

MECE (Mutually Exclusive, Collectively Exhaustive) is a problem-solving principle that helps ensure your analysis is both comprehensive and well-organized. Apply the MECE principle when structuring your approach to a case by breaking down the problem into distinct, non-overlapping components while ensuring that all relevant aspects are covered. This method allows you to maintain a clear and logical structure throughout the case and reduces the likelihood of overlooking critical factors.

Applying the 80/20 rule

The 80/20 rule, also known as the Pareto Principle, suggests that 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. In the context of a case interview, this means focusing on the most critical issues or factors that will have the most significant impact on the client’s objectives. By prioritizing your analysis and recommendations, you can work more efficiently and effectively, demonstrating your ability to identify and address the most pressing concerns for the client.

Hypothesis-driven approach

Using a hypothesis-driven approach means forming an initial hypothesis or educated guess about the potential solution to the problem and then testing it using data and analysis. By starting with a hypothesis, you can guide your problem-solving process more efficiently, focusing your efforts on collecting evidence that supports or refutes your hypothesis. Throughout the case, be prepared to revise or refine your hypothesis as new information emerges.

Incorporating creativity and business intuition

While frameworks and structured approaches are essential, it’s also crucial to demonstrate creativity and business intuition during a McKinsey case interview. This means thinking beyond the standard frameworks and considering innovative solutions or unique factors that may be relevant to the specific case. Use your knowledge of industry trends, best practices, and real-world business challenges to inform your analysis and recommendations. By combining structured thinking with creative problem-solving, you can showcase your ability to deliver well-rounded, impactful solutions for clients.

Preparing for the McKinsey Case Interview

Most candidates prepare using generic frameworks. Alternatively, they are looking for a McKinsey case book PDF or a case study interview questions and answers PDF with the hope that the cases will be the same across interviewers and interviews.

Do not learn case-specific frameworks by heart , expecting them to work for every case you will encounter. There is no specific McKinsey case study framework or McKinsey case study book. It is much more important to learn the right approach that will help you tackle all types of cases. This is even more relevant for McKinsey interviews.

What you need to do is to study each individual question type and the associated skills in a case interview and learn how to approach it, regardless of the client situation, the context of the case, the industry, or function. Your goal should be to learn how to build issue trees, interpret charts, and perform math no matter the context, industry, or function of the case and follow our McKinsey case interview tips.

Many candidates ask if there is a specific McKinsey implementation case interview, McKinsey operation case interview, or McKinsey digital case interview. In fact, the cases are usually a mix of cases in a domain-relevant context as well as cases set in a completely different context to the role you are applying for.

Be aware that frameworks were applicable in the 2000 years, the era of Victor Cheng and Case in Point. McKinsey has long caught up on this and the cases you will get during the interviews are tailored in a way to test your creativity and ability to generate insights on the spot, not remember specific frameworks.

In fact, it will hurt you when you try to use a framework on a case that calls for a completely different approach. Also, it gives a false sense of security that will translate to stress once you figure out how your approach won’t work during the real interview – We have seen this way too often…

Developing the right mindset

Success in the McKinsey case interview starts with cultivating the right mindset. Being mentally prepared involves:

  • Embracing a growth mindset: Recognize that your skills can improve with consistent practice and effort. Stay open to feedback and learn from your mistakes.
  • Building resilience: Understand that case interviews are challenging, and you may face setbacks during your preparation. Stay persistent and maintain a positive attitude.
  • Adopting a client-first perspective: Approach each case as if you were a consultant working on a real client engagement, focusing on delivering value and actionable insights.

Learning the essential skills

To excel in the McKinsey case interview, it’s crucial to develop the following skills:

  • Problem structuring: Break down complex problems into smaller, more manageable components using frameworks and logical structures.
  • Qualitative and quantitative analysis: Interpret and analyze data to draw meaningful insights and make informed decisions.
  • Hypothesis-driven thinking: Develop and test hypotheses to guide your problem-solving approach efficiently.
  • Communication: Clearly articulate your thought process, insights, and recommendations in a concise and persuasive manner.

Studying relevant materials and resources

Leverage various resources to enhance your understanding of case interviews and management consulting:

  • Books: The most effective and exhaustive case interview preparation book is The 1%: Conquer Your Consulting Case Interview (shameless plug). It goes much deeper than the usual suspects which are outdated and provide faulty advice on case interviews.
  • Websites and blogs : Websites like StrategyCase.com offer the latest case interview tips, practice cases, and industry insights. You can check out more free articles covering consulting applications and interviews here .
  • Online courses: Enroll in case interview preparation courses to gain structured guidance and access to a wealth of practice materials. We have created several high-quality courses for all elements of the McKinsey interview (see below)

We are the highest ranked and most successful case coaches on the web and have helped 100s of candidates break into McKinsey. As former McKinsey consultants and interview experts, we have specialized in getting our candidates into the firm. We can help you by

  • tailoring your resume and cover letter to meet McKinsey’s standards
  • showing you how to pass the McKinsey Imbellus Solve Game
  • showing you how to ace McKinsey interviews and the PEI with our video academy
  • coaching you in our 1-on-1 sessions to become an excellent case solver and impress with your fit answers (90% success rate after 5 sessions)
  • preparing your math to be bulletproof for every McKinsey case interview
  • helping you structure creative and complex McKinsey cases
  • teaching you how to interpret McKinsey charts and exhibits
  • providing you with cheat sheets and overviews for 27 industries .

Reach out to us if you have any questions! We are happy to help and offer a tailored program.

the image is the cover of a case interview industry overview

Practicing with case partners

Regular practice with case partners is essential for honing your case interview skills:

  • Find practice partners: Connect with fellow candidates through online forums, social media groups, or local consulting clubs.
  • Set a practice schedule: Aim to practice at least a few cases per week, gradually increasing the difficulty and variety of cases.
  • Seek feedback: After each practice case, discuss your performance with your partner, and identify areas for improvement.
  • Alternate roles: Take turns playing the role of the interviewer and the interviewee to develop a deeper understanding of the case interview process.

Common Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them

Common mistakes.

  • Insufficient structure: Failing to break down the problem into manageable components can lead to a disorganized analysis and an inability to identify key issues.
  • Overlooking the big picture: Becoming too focused on the details and losing sight of the overall objective or client’s needs can hinder the development of effective recommendations.
  • Ignoring qualitative factors: Relying solely on quantitative data without considering qualitative aspects may result in an incomplete understanding of the problem.
  • Ineffective communication: Struggling to articulate your thought process, insights, or recommendations in a clear and persuasive manner can undermine the value of your analysis.
  • Failing to adapt: Sticking to a preconceived framework or hypothesis despite conflicting evidence may indicate a lack of flexibility and critical thinking.

Tips to prevent these mistakes

  • Practice structuring: Develop your ability to structure problems effectively by practicing with a wide range of cases and familiarizing yourself with common frameworks.
  • Stay focused on the objective: Periodically remind yourself of the client’s goals and priorities, ensuring that your analysis remains aligned with their needs.
  • Balance quantitative and qualitative factors: Recognize the importance of both quantitative data and qualitative insights in forming a well-rounded understanding of the problem.
  • Hone your communication skills: Practice speaking clearly, concisely, and persuasively, ensuring that your message is easily understood and well-received.
  • Embrace adaptability: Be open to revising your approach, framework, or hypothesis in response to new information or feedback, demonstrating your ability to think critically and flexibly.

McKinsey Interview Course

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We take pride in our results: an impressive 9 out of 10 candidates who complete our one-on-one Ready-for-McKinsey Interview Coaching program receive an offer. This track record has earned us consistent recognition as the best McKinsey and MBB coaches on several platforms.

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the image is the cover for the florian smeritschnig case coaching program, the best on the internet

In summary, acing the McKinsey case interview requires a deep understanding of the interview process, mastery of essential skills, and the ability to apply effective problem-solving strategies. By embracing the MECE principle, applying the 80/20 rule, adopting a hypothesis-driven approach, and incorporating creativity and business intuition, you will be well-equipped to tackle any case interview challenge.

Remember to invest time in preparing for both the Personal Experience Interview and the case interview itself, using the wealth of resources and practice materials available. Focus on developing a structured approach, honing your analytical and communication skills, and staying adaptable throughout the interview process.

As you embark on your McKinsey case interview journey, stay confident and persistent in your efforts. By applying the tips and strategies shared in this article, you will be one step closer to achieving your consulting career aspirations. We wish you the best of luck in your journey toward success at McKinsey.

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Florian spent 5 years with McKinsey as a senior consultant. He is an experienced consulting interviewer and problem-solving coach, having interviewed 100s of candidates in real and mock interviews. He started StrategyCase.com to make top-tier consulting firms more accessible for top talent, using tailored and up-to-date know-how about their recruiting. He ranks as the most successful consulting case and fit interview coach, generating more than 500 offers with MBB, tier-2 firms, Big 4 consulting divisions, in-house consultancies, and boutique firms through direct coaching of his clients over the last 3.5 years. His books “The 1%: Conquer Your Consulting Case Interview” and “Consulting Career Secrets” are available via Amazon.

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AI moves quickly, but organizations change much more slowly. What works in a lab may be wrong for your company right now. If you know the right questions to ask, you can make better decisions, regardless of how fast technology changes. You can work with your technical experts to use the right tool for the right job. Then each solution today becomes a foundation to build further innovations tomorrow. But without the right questions, you’ll be starting your journey in the wrong place.

Leaders everywhere are rightly asking about how Generative AI can benefit their businesses. However, as impressive as generative AI is, it’s only one of many advanced data science and analytics techniques. While the world is focusing on generative AI, a better approach is to understand how to use the range of available analytics tools to address your company’s needs. Which analytics tool fits the problem you’re trying to solve? And how do you avoid choosing the wrong one? You don’t need to know deep details about each analytics tool at your disposal, but you do need to know enough to envision what’s possible and to ask technical experts the right questions.

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