Case Studies

Posted on by Brandon Klein


Case Studies is a reading module used to bring leading practices to the attention of the group. These leading practices are identified by listing the issues the group needs to confront in creating its solution.

Sometimes these issues are so divisive or deep-seated that participants cannot see their way around them. It helps when they can read about real-life companies that have overcome those issues or turned them into competitive advantages.

Cases can be based on one company. They can also be based on a leading practice like Mass Customization or Branding with examples from several companies.

The case studies format allows for a wider and deeper scan into one issue than would be possible with a Trade Show module. In a Trade Show, leading practices can be presented, but the Case Studies module provides the context — the stories about the companies that have made those leading practices part of their success.

It also has a different dynamic, with team members extracting learnings, teaching each other about them and then applying them to the objective their event.

Of all the reading modules, Case Studies stretches participants the least. This doesn't mean it is less valuable. In the past, it was not unusual to do both Metaphors and Case Studies during Scan.

Case Studies is also sometimes called Leading Practices.


Traditionally, this is a two-part module: Read being part one, Dialogue & Apply being part two. Each team is given a separate body of material to read about.

During the Read portion, each team member works individually, reading as much as he or she can in the time allotted. By the end of Read, the team should have covered all or most of the material collectively.

In Dialogue & Apply, the team shares what it has learned and then applies it to the objective of the event.

Sometimes the report out is done in the form of a skit, in which case the learnings from the module are captured on hypertiles before the skit assignment is distributed.

Critical Success Factors

Issues List. The facilitator works to identify a list of issues based on his or her conversations with the sponsors. Sometimes the sponsors are involved in creating the list. The facilitator can also extract the issues from the scribing, documentation, and notes created during meetings with the sponsors. This list forms the basis for selecting case studies topics. It is advisable to have an issues list that exceeds the number of teams in the module by at least one or two issues.

Good Readings That Address The Relevant Issues. Once the issues are known, then the case study topics can be identified. For a case study to be a good one, there must be adequate articles/books available to support it. The researcher works to pull these together and the facilitator reviews each set of material to evaluate whether it is adequate. If not, then another case can be substituted or that issue can be eliminated from the list.


Start Writing

The advice presented here assumes that you are writing assignments tailored to each team's case study. If you're not doing this, then you are using a generic assignment that fits all of the teams.  It is pretty easy to adapt one of these examples or draft one from scratch.

On the other hand, if you are writing assignments tailored to each team, then most of your effort will focus on the questions designed to get participants to extract the key learnings from the case and apply them to the solution they are trying to create.

If you prefer, you can also include an introduction paragraph in the Read assignment. This paragraph provides an entree into the subject of the case study. Including these is not a critical success factor for the module, but you will find it done occasionally. Whether you do this or not is entirely a matter of choice. Know that it does add to the work required to complete these assignments. Doing it well also calls for a fairly good level of familiarity with the case study subject matter.

The case study assignments will also include a number of logistical elements — i.e., instructions for what to do, the time frame of the assignment, the goal of the team's work, etc. These should not take much time to draft. Once you have them right, they can pretty much be copied from one assignment to the next.


The questions frame and direct the participants' work. Sometimes these questions are only included in the module's second assignment (Dialogue & Apply). Other times there are questions in both assignments. In the latter case, the questions relating to key learnings will be found in the Read assignment, and those geared toward applying the key learnings will be found in the Dialogue and Apply assignment.

Key learning questions. Three to four questions is a good range to work within. If the key learnings questions are in the Read assignment, then they are sometimes generic or very nearly so (e.g., How did the organizations approach the implementation of ERP Systems? What did they do that you would consider to be leading practices? How were they able to establish these leading practices? What "Ah-hahs" strike you as you read?)

Other times, the questions are more specific (e.g., What is Intel's product development strategy? How does Intel operationalize that strategy so successfully? How does it keep a stream of new products in the pipeline in an industry that is changing daily? What role does outside help play in their strategy? How do their production processes change to accommodate their production requirements?)

In order to ask specific questions like that, you need to have an understanding of the case and how it relates to the relevant client issue. Usually, it is difficult to get that understanding unless you already have some experience with the case and/or with the client. That is why it can be helpful to discuss the case with the facilitator or with a knowledgeable engagement team member.

In fact, case study assignments are often times best given to an engagement teeam member to draft. Remember, however, that they usually have little understanding of the DesignShop process, so you must provide them with a good model and clear guidance for what to do.

Apply questions. Design these questions in such a way that they get participants to consider how they would apply their key learnings to their solution, project or company. The questions should also get them to address the implications of doing this, the difficulties involved, and the changes that the company would need to make to do so successfully. It is also often good to ask what aspects of the leading practices would not make sense to adopt. You can also ask what differences exist between their situation and the situations of the companies they read about.

Once again, in order to generate good questions you must understand the case, the learnings it is intended to drive, and the relevant issue the company is facing.

You also may find that one or more of the apply questions would be good to ask in all of the case studies. In fact, this is often the case.

Adapting existing examples. 46 examples of case study assignments are provided here, catalogued by topic and by company. This is by no means an exhaustive selection. You may or may not find an example that suits your needs. On the other hand, you are certain to find an example that you can adapt.

Treat the axample as a starting point — a foundation upon which to build. Cut and paste the example into your assignment template for the event. Then change the simple things, such as the name of the case study, the name of the client, the name of any project associated with the event, the time the team has to complete the assignment, etc. Doing these simple things up front will ensure that you don't overlook them.

Then look at the Read assignment and see whether it needs to be adapted. Is the name of the case mentioned anywhere in the body of the assignment? Is there an introduction paragraph? If so, do you want to eliminate it and make the Read assignment generic? Or do you want specific questions geared to key learnings?

When it comes to the questions, if you have a good example it is likely that you can adapt the questions so that they apply to your assignment. The more examples you have to work with, however, the better. Perhaps there are Scenarios or Build-A-There assignments available in this website that deal with the issue associated with this case study. You may be able to pick and choose good questions from some of them. It can also be helpful to look at the Take-A-Panel questions to see if any of them resonate with this case study topic. This will give you a good starter set, which you can then iterate.

If you took good notes during the sponsor walk-through, you may have found that the facilitator mentioned some of the key questions that get at the essence of each case study. If not, ask the facilitator to speak to this when you sit down with him or her after the sponsor walk-through (or before if the walk-through is scheduled late in the day). If there is not time to talk through it with the facilitator, then you can review some of the readings and try to come up with a starter set of question, which the facilitator and sponsors can then iterate later.

Don't spend an inordinate amount of time on the Case Studies assignments. Because they are so "on topic", the critical element is the selection of readings. assignment is important, of course, but does not have to be as carefully crafted as some of the other assignments you will be working on (Metaphors or Syntopical Readings, Take-A-Panel, etc.)


Team Approach

The main challenge with the Case Studies module is collecting a robust set of readings for each of the cases. It is best to get as much of this done before the event. To do this, the facilitator must identify a straw set of case topics and work with the researcher to provide some definition for each.

It is very difficult to pull together a set of cases at the last minute (during the prep day). You really don't want to go there, if for no other reason than the facilitator will need to review the readings and provide additional guidance so taht the researcher can fill in any gaps. Moreover, the writing team will find it much harder to draft questions for the assignments if there is not a good set of case material to review.

Before the event. The pre-event facilitation team (facilitator, AR, PF) can identify a preliminary list of case topics in advance of the event. Collaborate with the engagement and/or sponsor teams in this effort.

Make sure that the engagement and sponsor teams understand that this is only a preliminary list. It very well may change at the event.

Distribute this list to the researcher as soon as feasible, so that he or she can pull together a preliminary set of readings before the event. Also distribute the list to the event krew. That way, whoever ends up working on the case stidues assignments will have had a chance to consider the topics.

It is sometimes even possible for the facilitator to get together with the researcher and review the preliminary sets of readings before the event.

At the event. If the case studies module is used, then preparing for it is one of the main responsibilities of the researcher on the prep day. The earlier the researcher can get together with the facilitator, the better.

The sponsor walk-through eats up a major block of time during the day. It is a good idea if the researcher can sit in on the walk-through and continue searching for readings in the back of the room. But this is not always possible.

After the walk-through, you simply have to corner the facilitator and get them to read through the case readings. More readings may need to be pulled together. A new case topic may have emerged during the walk-through. And the production team may need to make copies of articles. Every minute of delay simply complicates the situation.

As far as the writing team goes, there are a couple of things that will help them prepare to create the case study assignments. First, listen carefully during the initial circle-up and the sponsor walk-through. Overviews will be given about the client, its situation, and the objectives of the event.

Second, look over examples of case study assignments. 

Then, if you are actually working on the case studies assignments, review the readings as you do so. Glancing through the articles will enable you to recognize some of the key points. This can suggest questions that will prompt the team to find what is important in the case. Be careful, though. Your questions should not lead them to answers, but help them to draw their own conclusions.

Before you begin working on the Case Studies module, discuss it with the facilitator(s). Each facilitator has his or her own ideas and preferences when it comes to specific assignments. Ask questions. Repeat back to them what you think they have said. Then get to work.

A note about pre-writing of case studies. Pre-writing of case studies can can certainly be helpful.

First, as with all assignments, pre-writing enables you to get the assignments into a template so that you can focus your effort at the event on the sections of the assignment that benefit from iteration.

Second, you can get a good draft done on any case with which you are familiar or for which there exists a good example.