A case study is an in-depth analysis of a business situation. In an MBA case study, students not only analyze a scenario, but they also make decisions about how they would react if they encountered that situation in the business world. This curriculum type puts the emphasis on participation rather than instruction; in fact, professors can simply act as moderators, steering student-dominated discussion and debate, asking appropriate questions and judging the class’ performance.


The purpose of the case study method is to expose students to real life business conflicts, forcing them to deal with problems that they may one day face. Given a situation, they must identify the problem, consider how it arose and decide on which course of action to take. In order to deal with an MBA case study, students must take context into account, bearing in mind the economic and political climate, and how these outside aspects affect a specific corporate situation. Furthermore, because discussion of these case studies often places students in groups to work together in crafting the best solution, this method encourages teamwork and collaboration. By forcing students to make measured decisions and consider a problem from multiple points of view, the case study method molds them into decisive leaders and team members. These advantages have made MBA case studies essential to business schools across the country. In fact, some business schools have made case studies the dominant part of their curriculum.


Two famous MBA case study examples revolve around the analysis of two large companies. The first deals with Lincoln Electric Co., a manufacturer of welding tools. Although a brief search turns up several cases dealing with Lincoln Electric, one of the better known ones dates from 1975 and examines the company’s marketplace strategy in the year 1974 and the management practices they implemented. The goal of this study is to teach students about corporate strategy and management philosophy, and to interpret a company’s autobiographical narrative.
Another popular case study comes from a more modern company: Google. A Google case study published in 2010 examines Google’s past actions and then goes a step further, asking students to choose a follow-up plan for Google’s future. At the time of the case study’s publication, Google’s recent strategy had made it a powerhouse, threatening the popularity of other sites, such as Yahoo, that delivered similar services. What, the study asks, should be Google’s next step? For example, the company could concentrate on optimizing its search engine, and improving its algorithms and targeted advertising, which is this company’s “core competence.” Or Google could move beyond its core competence, perhaps branching into the traditional territory of other companies, such as news delivery portals Yahoo and MSN, or commercial intermediary eBay, or software giant Microsoft. By considering all of these different options for Google’s future, students learn how to analyze future prospects in different areas of online entrepreneurship, as well as how to ensure that a company’s strategic plans remain in line with its culture and mission statement.


For more information on the MBA case study method, try some of these resources. The Case Method at the Harvard Business School: Papers by Present and Past Members of the Faculty and Staff. This 1954 book contains a wealth of information on the case method, starting with its philosophy and how that philosophy has changed over the years since its implementation at the Harvard Business School. It goes on to provide case study examples and commentaries as illustration of the MBA case study philosophy. Globalens provides syllabi of well-known case studies. Although the full studies cost about $7 apiece, brief descriptions are available by searching here at the website of the Ross School of Business at University of Michigan.To actually watch video of a case study class in action, explore some of the resources on how Harvard’s Professor Garvin teaches the MBA case study of R.R. Donnelley & Sons.If you’re interested in trying out a case study yourself, try this list of links to free case study examples online.