Case Study Method: Why & how the best business schools use it

The case study method, popularised by Harvard Business School has been adopted by almost all the top MBA programs in the world. For your bachelors degree (engineering, commerce, science, etc), the teaching was almost fully dependent on the lecture method. In contrast, management colleges spend less than half of the time on lectures.

Carnegie Mellon Tepper MBA rules with around 50% and for the Harvard MBA, this number drops to under 5% (read the table below for details). Case studies, on the other hand, have been enjoying the limelight in B-schools for ages (Harvard HBS professors spend 80% of their time on case studies) and that’s not going to change soon.

If you are applying to B-schools, you’d better make yourself familiar with the concept of case studies. Read up on a few case study examples and try your hand at cracking them.

All about Management Case Studies

In short, case studies are a miniature version of a business situation used in MBA programs to facilitate learning.

The percentage of case study dependency ranges from 20% to 80% in the top business schools in the world. It gets varying degrees of support from the other methods of teaching – lectures, group assignments, experiential learning (internships, real world assignments would fall in this category).

How the best business schools use Case Studies

Business School Case Study Lecture Team
Harvard Business School 80% 10% 5%
Western Ontario (Ivey) 75% 10% 5%
Virginia (Darden) 74% 6% 10%
IESE Business School 70% 10% 10%
UC-Berkeley (Haas) 50% 20% 17%
UNC (Kenan-Flagler) 50% 20% 15%
Dartmouth (Tuck) 45% 23% 20%
Stanford GSB 40% 20% 15%
Pennsylvania (Wharton) 40% 20% 25%
Columbia Business School 40% 38% 15%
Yale School of Management 40% 34% 10%
Georgia Tech 40% 25% 25%
IE Business School 40% 20% 20%
Indiana (Kelley) 35% 25% 20%
Texas-Austin (McCombs) 35% 35% 15%
MIT (Sloan) 33% 25% 20%
Duke (Fuqua) 33% 33% 24%
Northwestern (Kellogg) 30% 30% 25%
London Business School 30% 30% 15%
INSEAD 30% 30% 20%
Cornell (Johnson) 30% 30% 20%
UCLA (Anderson) 30% 40% 15%
Vanderbilt (Owen) 30% 40% 30%
SMU (Cox) 30% 25% 25%
ESADE 30% 30%
New York (Stern) 25% 25% 25%
Michigan (Ross) 25% 20% 15%
Notre Dame (Mendoza) 25% 27% 22%
Emory (Goizueta) 25% 30% 20%
Maryland (Smith) 25% 25% 20%
Georgetown (McDonough) 25% 30% 25%
Oxford (Said) 25% 40% 25%
Carnegie Mellon (Tepper) 20% 50% 10%
USC (Marshall) 20% 48% 25%

Source: Bloomberg Businessweek | Poets & Quants

Case Study format

Typically a case study presents a vague sounding management problem for a specific business. Often it may be an issue that the top brass of the company (CEO, CFO level) is facing.

This is followed by a whole lot of objective and subjective data. This could include a brief history of the company on which the case study example is based, the financial data (balance sheet, profit and loss account). There could also be a whole lot of supporting data about the size of the company (for example, thenumber of employees, locations, products).

Often, at the first glance the sheer volume of data might be overwhelming. The challenge for you, is to cut through the data and filter out the information that’s relevant for the case.

Examples of Case Studies

A case study on marketing could focus on entering a new market, or tackling the influx of cheaper competing services, or working on the optimal pricing for the existing products of a consumer goods company.

Finance case study examples could talk about evaluating the cash flow status for a company and defining a strategy to improve the accounts receivable (AR) policies, or you might be thinking about the best mix of debt and equity for the company.

Case studies on operations may include improving the efficiency of a manufacturing unit, working on the right mix of inventory and finished goods, or the decision to re-engineer the supply chain management system and reduce the dependency of global raw materials.

The fun starts when you move to strategy case studies, where the problems and the potential solutions can span across domains from finance to marketing and everything in between.

Want to check out some real case studies and examples from the best business schools?

Here’s a list of free and paid case studies from: Harvard | Stanford | London Business School | IMD | Darden

Harvard Business School Case Study

If you are curious to get a peek into how the best in the business use the case study to facilitate management learning, check out this video.

The professor in the video might seem to have consumed a few extra cups of coffee before the session. But apart from being energetic, it does help if the professor has the ability to get the class energised and engaged.

Active participation during case studies is highly encouraged and most students do. Why so? Coz class participation in case studies counts towards grading. If Coffee Anna is happy with what you say, you get extra points.

The flipside is that this may seem like torture for introverts and folks who don’t like their voices echoing in the class with a few hundred pair of eyes dissecting their every move, waiting to pounce in with a counter-argument.

Love it or hate it, if you are preparing to join bschool, get mentally and intellectually ready to grill and be grilled. And this is the easy part. Doing business in the real world gets tougher.

Over to you now. What is the one top reason why you’d like or dislike it?

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Sameer Kamat //
Sameer Kamat
Founder of MBA Crystal Ball. Author of Beyond The MBA Hype & Business Doctors. Here's more about me. Connect with me on Google+ | Twitter | Facebook | Linkedin


  1. hnp says:

    Hi Sameer,
    1. How were the % calculated or sourced from, for the “case study method” %, and the other method %s ?
    2. Why do some of the schools’ % contributions not add up to 100%, eg. Stanford?
    3. Could you please include or point me to % based breakup of pedagogy similarly, of ISB and the IIMs ? (e.g. ISB and IIM-A use case study – and I’d like to know, how much)

  2. Sameer Kamat says:

    @hnp: As mentioned just below the table, these were sourced from a survey done by Poets & Quants. Some schools have additional ways of grading students that haven’t been included in these 4 columns. That’s why they don’t add up to 100%
    We don’t have similar data for the Indian bschools. If you happen to find it anywhere it’ll be great if you could come back here and share.

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