Linking theory and practice
how to write a project managment case study
As project management practitioners, we embrace the body of knowledge as proven approaches to our trade. According to the Project Management Institute (PMI), “PMI global standards provide guidelines, rules and characteristics for project, program and portfolio management. These standards are widely accepted and, when consistently applied, they help you, your global peers and your organization achieve professional excellence.” (PMI, http://www.pmi.org/PMBOK-Guide-and-Standards.aspx) To fully understand the numerous tools and techniques in the body of knowledge, we need to see them applied to real-world situations.
The case study method is a proven practice to document real organizational situations and to share lessons learned. It is also a platform to advance the understanding of new methodologies and an approach to knowledge management. By using real experiences, project management practitioners can illustrate the links between the theoretical and actual events, bringing the body of knowledge concepts alive.
A case study, in its purist form, is a detailed story illustrating a real situation, capturing organizational complexities, allowing an outsider an inside look at organizational issues. The case study method provides practitioners and researchers with a platform to discuss, to evaluate, and to develop critical thinking skills leading to conclusions and possible solutions for project management process issues. The case study involves the learner in the decision-making process; thereby he or she becomes an active participant in the ‘story.’
This paper consolidates information about writing case studies by providing details from five publishing houses: GlobaLens, Ivey Publishing, The Case Center, The National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science, and The Society for Case Study Research. These organizations were selected because they promote the Case Study Method, accept manuscripts, provide resources for the aspiring author, and are possible targets for case studies about the art and science of project management. This list is not intended to be exhaustive, but a primer for project management scholars and practitioners to consider how writing case studies to capture project management methodology will advance the industry.
Publishing House Dossier
The following publishers specialize in the case study method and provide resources to the aspiring author. Project management focused cases are underrepresented, which may suggest an opportunity for those who seek to advance project management.
Organization: GlobaLens Case
Case study publisher at the University of Michigan
Mission: “GlobaLens publishes and distributes high-quality, cutting-edge business cases and other teaching materials for business schools around the globe. A division of the William Davidson Institute at the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business, GlobaLens offers a large catalog of international business and social impact materials, in addition to core business cases.” (http://www.globalens.com/about.aspx)
GlobaLens publishes electronic cases with teaching notes and other educational material.
What is a Case?
“• Portrays a business dilemma faced by a person in an organization
• Simulates a real situation and makes the student a participant, not merely an observer
• Focuses on an actual or hypothetical business scenario with all its complexity, misconceptions, and too little or too much information…” (http://globalens.com/faq.aspx#faqdef1)
Resources for Writing Case Studies:
Once you register, GlobaLens provides cases and teaching notes.
Organization: Ivey Publishing
Richard Ivey Business School
Mission: “Why Ivey Publishing? Ivey Publishing is the leader in providing business case studies with a global perspective. With over 8,000 products in our own collection, Ivey Publishing adds more than 350 classroom-tested case studies each year. Virtually all Ivey cases have teaching notes. Clear, concise, and current, Ivey cases are lauded by the academic community as meeting the rigorous demands of management education by responding to the ever changing needs of business and society.” (https://www.iveycases.com/PublishCases.aspx)
Ivey Publishing selectively accepts cases and teaching notes for publication from authors outside of the Richard Ivey School of Business.
What is a Case? “What is a business case study? A business case study “is a description of an actual situation, commonly involving a decision, a challenge, an opportunity, a problem or an issue faced by a person (or persons) in an organization” (Erskine, J.A. and Leenders, M.R. (as cited by Ivey Publishing). Cases contain relevant data about the issue available to the key person in the case, plus background information about the organization. Cases may vary in length from one to more than 40 pages, but normally range between three and 20 pages of text, and one to 10 pages of pictures or exhibits.” (https://www.iveycases.com )
Resources for Writing Case Studies:
Ivey provides a series of resources including a detailed description of the expectations and process, Case & Teaching Notes Guidelines, a book series published by Ivey Publishing, and an information video series.
Organization: The Case Centre
Mission: “The Case Centre is an independent, not-for-profit organisation dedicated to promoting the case method in business education and sharing our world-leading knowledge and expertise in case teaching, writing and learning.” (http://www.thecasecentre.org/educators/aboutus/organisation/history)
The Case Centre publishes peer-reviewed electronic cases with teaching notes.
What is a Case? “Case studies recount real life business or management situations that present business executives with a dilemma or uncertain outcome. The case describes the scenario in the context of the events, people and factors that influence it and enables students to identify closely with those involved. Management cases are generally written by business school faculty with particular learning objectives in mind and are refined in the classroom before publication. Relevant documentation or audio-visual items and a carefully crafted teaching note often accompany a case.” (http://www.thecasecentre.org/educators/casemethod/introduction/whatis)
Resources for Writing Case Studies:
The Case Centre offers workshops on case study teaching, writing, and research. The website provides a list of books and articles for case writing.
Organization: National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science Hosted by: University of Buffalo
Mission: “The mission of the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science (NCCSTS) is to promote the nationwide application of active learning techniques to the teaching of science, with a particular emphasis on case studies and problem-based learning.” (http://sciencecases.lib.buffalo.edu/cs/)
NCCSTS publishes peer-reviewed electronic cases with teaching notes.
What is a Case? “So what is the essence of case studies? I decided to keep it simple. “Case studies are stories with an educational message’” (Herrid, 2013, pg xii).
Resources for Writing Case Studies:
The NCCSTS website contains an extensive bibliography on case study teaching; a variety of articles on getting started, writing cases, teaching with cases, and other topics; and access to their case collection. They offer a five-day summer workshop and a two-day fall conference to train faculty in the case method of teaching science. These workshops culminate is participant practice teaching their original material in front of a class of students and peers for the purpose of intensive critique and review.
Organization: The Society for Case Research
Mission: “The Society for Case Research (SCR), founded in 1978, facilitates the exchange of ideas leading to the improvement of case research, writing, and teaching; assists in the publication of written cases or case research and other scholarly work; and provides recognition for excellence in case research, writing and teaching.” (http://www.sfcr.org/)
SCR publishes three scholarly journals, the Business Case Journal (BCJ), Journal of Case Studies (JCS), and the Journal of Critical Incidents (JCI).
What is a Case? “All cases and critical incidents submitted to SCR for presentation or publication must be descriptions of real situations in actual organizations. SCR does not accept fictitious cases or critical incidents.” “Decision cases require analysis leading to action recommendations to resolve a crisis and/or long-term problem depicted in the case. Descriptive cases require analysis to understand the dynamics of a situation but do not require any recommendations for action. Critical incidents must have a decision focus.” (http://www.sfcr.org/docs/SCR_Manuscript_Guidelines_for_Authors.pdf)
Resources for Writing Case Studies:
The SCR website offers a newsletter, a description of each journal's mission and publication process, detailed manuscript guidelines, and an example case with teaching note. The SCR annual conference venue includes panel discussions to critique submissions (case study with teaching note, critical incident with teaching note, embryo case) for intense peer review. A three-day workshop for new and experienced case writers to develop skills is also available.
Common Core Themes: Best Practices for Case Development
While each publisher evaluated has specific criteria for case study submission, there are several common themes that emerge across all five publishers’ requirements.
Learning outcomes. Since many case writers are subject matter experts, the organizational situation is often described through the lens of the expert. To ensure the case is meeting the needs of the learner, crafting learning outcomes before writing the case study may guide the author early in the case development process. Learning outcomes typically take on an action format, such as ‘After discussing the case study, the student will be able to (select a verb that best fits the learning level and define the learning point).’ For example, ‘After discussing the case study, the student will be able to analyze conflicts of cost, time, schedule, quality, and personnel and recommend strategies for resolution.’ (Note: most of the publishers recommend a review of ‘Blooms Taxonomy of Learning’ when preparing to write the learning outcomes.)
Teaching Notes. A Teaching Note is an accompanying document written for the instructor teaching the case. It affords the case's author a voice to coach others in its use. It may provide additional background about the organizational issue; sample discussion questions and answers, and if there is a ‘best answer’ or ‘what really happened’ to conclude the case.
Sensitivity to the organization represented. As a case author, your goal may be to provide an exact account of the facts. The lead character may have personal integrity flaws, or be placed in a conflict situation or ethical dilemma. Whichever the circumstances, respecting the organization is critical to case study credibility. Some publishers provide suggested strategies to involve the organization early in the case development process. To respect intellectual property, permissions, and other legal matters, all publishers require some document to be signed by the organization represented in the case study.
One Size Does Not Fit All
Just as a comparison of publisher criteria resulted in a list of common themes, differences also became evident.
Degree of fact. When comparing the publishers’ criteria, some demand that the entire case be 100% factual with no room for embellishment. This approach is typically categorized as a Business Case and some publishers operate in that market. Other publishers will accept fictional accounts of organizational situations. These cases could start with the theoretical, and a creative story is written to illustrate the application of such theory.
Structure and length. Most publishers offer a suggested format. Some are very specific, even providing the major headings, content required and suggested page count for each section. Other publishers are less descriptive, offering the author the opportunity to create a case format to support the learning outcomes.
As project management continues to define itself as a discipline and refine the published standards, we need an approach to learn how to apply those best practices in the workplace. A case study is a proven method to apply the theoretical in a real world setting and to develop critical thinking skills, both required to advance the field. It is also a platform to advance the understanding of new methodologies and a sound approach to knowledge management.
An Introduction to the Case Method. Retrieved from http://www.thecasecentre.org/educators/casemethod/introduction/whatis
Erskine, J.A., & Leenders, M.R. (as cited by Ivey Publishing). Retrieved from https://www.iveycases.com/
GlobaLens case study publisher of the University of Michigan. Retrieved from http://globalens.com/
GLOBALENS PRODUCT DEFINITIONS. Retrieved from http://globalens.com/faq.aspx#faqdef1
Herreid, C. F. (Ed.). (2013). Start with a story of the case study method of teaching college science. Buffalo, NY: National Science Teachers Association.
Ivey Publishing. Retrieved from https://www.iveycases.com/
National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science. Retrieved from http://sciencecases.lib.buffalo.edu/cs/
PMBOK® Guide and Standards. Retrieved from http://www.pmi.org/PMBOK-Guide-and-Standards.aspx
Publish Cases with Ivey. Retrieved from https://www.iveycases.com/PublishCases.aspx
Submission Requirements for Publication Consideration. Retrieved from http://www.globalens.com/
Society for Case Research MANUSCRIPT GUIDELINES FOR AUTHORS. Retrieved from http://www.sfcr.org/docs/SCR_Manuscript_Guidelines_for_Authors.pdf
The Case Centre. Retrieved from www.thecasecentre.org/
The Society for Case Research. Retrieved from http://www.sfcr.org/
©2013 Tracey M. Richardson
Originally published as a part of 2013 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – New Orleans, Louisiana
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