Thoughts on ways to improve the management of professional services firms

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Creation and Use of Case Studies - Introduction

Most professionals use case studies and for a variety of purposes. They help us consolidate our own knowledge and to explain that knowledge to clients and others. They can be used to document approaches for later use, as a base for the development of new approaches and for training purposes.

Given this, there are real advantages in the adoption of approaches to the development of case studies that will enable us to create them efficiently and then use them to maximum effect. For that reason, this post provides a short introduction to their creation and use

Key Questions

All case studies have to address certain basic questions, so it is sensible to start by considering these. You can easily turn them into a table, thus providing a standard form.

1. What is the objective to be met?

2. How will the case study be used?

3. What form (remember, form follows function) should the study take (structure, format)?

4. What content should be included?

5. Are there any special features that should be taken into account

6. Have I achieved my objective?

Objective

Case studies can be used for a variety of purposes:

  • To document what was done, why, how plus lessons learned for later personal use or to share with colleagues or with a broader audience. This might be done for professional development reasons, to assist in carrying out future work or to form a base for further service development.
  • They may be used for marketing purposes to show one’s expertise.
  • They may be used for training purposes.

It is important to take the time to think through just what you want to achieve. It can be frustrating and time consuming to prepare material that later has to be significantly altered or even completely re-written to meet another purpose.

As a general guideline, if you expect that the material will be or might be used and re-used on an on-going basis, then it is better to start with a general case study approach. This should set out in a factually correct manner what has been done, why, how and to what effect. This content can then be amended to achieve your immediate requirement.

Time invested here is rarely wasted because it makes it much easier later to generate new material targeting particular needs. This includes both case studies and associated presentational material.

How will the Material be Used?

This question is important because it helps dictate the form the material might take. Key issues include:

Will you be using the material for your own internal purposes? If so, then you do not need to worry too much about format and presentation.

Will I be sharing the material with others? If so, how:

  • In presentations? Then do I need slides, handouts?
  • In written self-read form? Then the material needs to be designed for self study purposes.
  • On-line? On-line use has its own disciplines. In particular, because on line material is harder to read than the printed page, the volume of information per page need to be reduced to perhaps 60 per cent of that on the written page.

What Form should the material take?

This question needs to be considered along two dimensions:

  • One is the physical/electronic form. This is essentially determined by the answers to the previous question, the way the material will be used.
  • The second is the actual structure of the material such as headings, slides, the interfaces between material. This will be dictated in part by the objectives to be met and the way in which the material is to be used.

What Content should be Included?

The answer to this question depends in part upon the purpose to be met. That is, what information do I need to provide to achieve my objective?

In considering material to be used by others, another question has to be answered. What can I reasonably expect my audience to know?

This second question is very important since things that seem self-evident to you may not in fact be in the knowledge field of your audience.

Are there any Special Features that I need to take into account?

This step forces you to stand back and think again about just what you are doing. Are there particular confidentiality issues? To what extent am I using someone else’s material? If the material is to be run off by others, what printer will they be using? What are the special features of my audience? And so on.

Have I achieved my Objective?

At the end of the process, it is desirable to stand back and review just what you have done to ensure that you have in fact achieved what you set out to do.

At this point, it can be helpful to get one of your colleagues to review the material for you.

Note on Copyright

The case study material is drawn from an Ndarala Group Guide prepared for the use of member professionals and clients. It is copyright Ndarala but may be copied with due acknowledgment.

Posts in this Series

Creation and Use of Case Studies - Introduction

Creation and Use of Case Studies - Training 1

Creation and use of Case Studies - Training 2

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