Setting Up A Case Question

Setting Up the Case Question

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When it comes to answering a consulting case question, there are three stages to the answer: setting it up, solving it, and providing a recommendation.

The first stage is setting it up, and below we provide five (5) steps to setting up a case question:

1. Summarize the question

Give yourself time to think by writing down the question and considering the key facts. You can safely pause for up to 90 seconds or so in order to capture your thoughts on paper. When you have finished doing so, summarize your understanding of the question out loud.

2. Clarify vague information

Ask questions to help you understand the situation and clarify any unfamiliar concepts or vague information provided by the interviewer.

3. Determine the goal

Be clear about the objective of the case. Is the company concerned with maximizing profits, increasing market share, or something else? Does the interviewer want a “go/no go” decision, or a list of recommendations?

For example, you might say “From what you have told me I understand that the company wants a list of recommendations on how to maximize profits, are there any other objectives that I should be aware of?”

4. Structure the analysis

When answering a case question, structure is crucial. The interviewer wants to know not only that you can provide a coherent answer but that you can deliver your analysis in a “client friendly” way.

That means having a clear structure.

Select an appropriate framework for analysis. This will allow you to gather the right kinds of information. However, don’t nominate the framework by name, for example don’t say “I want to use the three C’s framework”. Instead, use the framework to identify the relevant issues and draw out a structure for the interviewer to see. A good way to do this is to use a tree diagram. You can then walk the interviewer through your structure and start asking for data or diving into the details.

5. State a hypothesis

If the case is broad and open ended, for example “profits have declined, what should we do?”, then it is helpful to state a hypothesis about the source of the problem.

For example, you might say “Profit is a function of revenue and costs. My hypothesis is that declining profits have been caused by falling revenue.” This will give your analysis a starting point, and allow you to drive towards a solution.

[For more information on consulting interviews, please download “The HUB’s Guide to Consulting Interviews“.]

Strategy Consulting is a Science

Good management consultants follow the scientific method

Strategy consulting scientific experiment

A GOOD scientific experiment will follow 7 steps.  The type of science can change: biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics, computing, management consulting – but the steps remain the same.

1. Aim

Clarify the questions that the organisation is trying to answer: Who, What, When, Where, Why, How?  For example, the organisation may come to you with two questions (1) why are we losing money? (2) what should we do about it?  You need to clarify these aims so that you can write down a clear objective:

  1. When we say “losing money”, are we talking profits or revenues? Answer: profits
  2. How much money did the company lose last year? Answer: $5M
  3. Are you aiming to break even, achieve a specific profit target, or gain market share? Answer: break even
  4. When do you want to achieve this objective? Answer: within 1 year

2. Background

Clarify the situation so that you can develop an initial hypothesis.  To do this you may need to ask a few questions.  For example:

  1. How long has the company been losing money?
  2. Are competitors also losing money?
  3. Have there been any recent changes that might explain the drop in profits?

3. Hypothesis

State an initial hypothesis based on the background information that you have.  This gives you a starting point from which to begin your analysis, and you can refine your hypothesis when new information comes to light.  For example, your initial hypothesis might be “that the company is losing money due to a drop in revenues.”

4. Method

Develop a structure for analysis that will allow you to refine your hypothesis.  To identify the source of lower profits you may want to can use the profit framework.

5. Experiment

Progress the analysis.

6. Discussion

Summarise the results of your analysis and update your hypothesis each time you discover something important.

7. Conclusion

Make a clear actionable recommendation.

[For more information on consulting concepts and frameworks, please download “The Little Blue Consulting Handbook“.]