Rex C. Mitchell, Ph.D.

You should read these notes at the beginning of the semester and then study in depth specific sections as you work on various assignments during the semester. As you start work on each of the case briefs, you should review the Case Briefs section below. As you work on the full-length written case report, you should follow the format given in the Written Case Analysis Reports and Case Report Headings sections, and make use of the suggestions in those sections plus those in the Case Report Grading Criteria and Common Failings sections. There also are three sections regarding the participation assignment(s), which include both your participation in class discussions and possible short written assignments to support a quality class discussion and to help your learning. In addition to the sections in this document, there is a link in the following list to a separate module on specific questions/topics you should prepare for the case discussions.

Please don't ask me what is expected on an assignment before you have carefully studied the appropriate section that explains it.

|Case Briefs |
|Written Case Reports | Case Report Headings | Case Report Grading Criteria | Common Failings |
| Class Discussions | Participation Grading Criteria | Written Assignments as Part of Participation Grade |


Each student will write three short written briefs on cases scheduled for discussion during the course. Everyone will do a brief on the Nike case, then one half of the class will do briefs on the Sun Microsystems and Lincoln Electric cases and the other half of the class will do briefs on the Terlato Wine and Vermont Teddy Bear cases. There are two major purposes for the assignments: (1) to give you additional practice in analyzing and developing conclusions from cases, and (2) to enrich our class discussions of each case by having part of the class be prepared in greater depth than usual.

A case brief is a short version of a full case analysis paper, containing four sections: (1) Current Strategies, in which you identify and critique their current strategies; (2) Diagnosis, with critical Issues, a S.W.O.T. table, and supporting discussion, (3) Recommendations, with a concise explanation of what the recommendations mean, why you are recommending them, and some major considerations in implementing your recommended strategies, and (4) answers to the specific questions given in the Questions/Topics for Specific Cases piece on my web site (if there are no specific questions for your case, then the fourth section is not needed).

Each brief (roughly 3-4 pages double-spaced or equivalent) must be handed in on the day we discuss that particular case in class. Late reports will not be accepted. The report should be clear, organized, and typed. No report covers, please - just staple the sheets, but be sure to write your name, class time, and the case name on the first page.


Your major written case analysis reports should follow the format given in this section. (See a separate section regarding case briefs.) Each report should have six first-level sections, corresponding to #1-6 in the format below. The format is structured to present the results of using the strategic management process outlined in the Strategic Management Model Section (which should be used whether preparing for a discussion of a case or producing a written report). Your written reports should each be a business management report that communicates clearly the major features of your diagnosis and recommendations. You should be writing from the standpoint of a consultant to top management.

1. Executive Summary

This is a concise summary (about one page) of the major problems/critical issues and your recommendations for addressing these problems/issues. This summary should be self-contained, i.e., should provide a busy executive with the most important information from the report, even if he/she never reads the body of the report. This is NOT a preface that merely introduces the report. Write this section after completing the rest of your report, even though it is placed at the beginning of the report.

2. Internal Analysis

  1. Current Mission, Long-Range Objectives, Strategies, and Performance
    Identify or infer the organization's current mission, purpose, and key management values/philosophy. Identify (as well as the information allows) the long-range business objectives and strategies (especially corporate-level and competitive strategies). Merely describing their business activities is not identifying strategies. Focus particularly on identifying and evaluating the current strategies, since you may be proposing changes to these in the Formulation phase. Analyze the appropriateness of the organization's portfolio of businesses (for diversified firms). Identify and evaluate how well the current competitive strategies are working. Determine how well the organization has been performing (briefly, since more details will emerge later).

  2. Functional Analysis
    Scan and analyze each of the five major functional areas, particularly to identify the organization's strengths and weaknesses. Go beyond mere description to evaluate, how well is this working? Add value by including evaluation and conclusions . There are three main ways you add value beyond merely describing what the organization is doing: (a) which features you choose to mention; (b) which features you link together; and (c) the evaluative comments you add - e.g., what, how, and why certain actions and features have been found to be, or are likely to be, positive or negative for the company. Look for distinctive competencies, sources of competitive advantage, and major ways the organization creates value through its operations. Some possible topics are listed below under each functional area, but you are not required to write about all of these topics. Pick topics that are important for this particular situation, e.g., that represent strengths, weaknesses, distinctive competencies. You might reference your summary SWOT table here (usually would put it in an appendix).

    (1) Marketing: product mix, customer segments, pricing strategy, distribution, promotion (note connections between this and the business environment analysis in the External Analysis section)

    (2) Financial: draw conclusions about their financial condition from analysis of profitability, liquidity, leverage, activity, and investment community relations. You need comparative financial information (industry averages or figures for key competitors) to make sense of the organization's financial data and trends. It is vital that you present conclusions, including your overall assessment of their financial condition, not just numbers and graphs.

    (3) Production/Operations: locations and capacities of facilities relative to needs, output allocation (what is done where, when, in what cycles), labor/capital intensity, efficiency, aging & obsolescence, inventory levels, quality objectives and results

    (4) Technology: technology strategy, technological position, how this position was obtained and is maintained, extent and thrust of R&D, industry trends and competitor strategies (note connections with the External Analysis)

    (5) Organizational: everything else, including top management and key staff resources, board of directors, employee/labor relations, organization structure, reward systems, culture

3. Analysis of the External Environment
Scan and analyze important factors, trends, and probable future conditions to identify key opportunities and threats. As with the Internal Analysis section, it is vital that you go beyond mere description and add evaluation and conclusions. You might reference your summary SWOT table again in this section.

  1. Business/Competitive Environment
    Industry structure and competitive environment (use Porter's 5-force model). Include industry growth trends, key success factors, value chain. Identify key stakeholders. Evaluate the relative strength/importance of the forces and focus primarily on the important forces, which should have more discussion than the less important forces.

  2. General Environment
    Identify and discuss principal features and trends in the four major aspects of the general environment: technological (note connections with the technology topic under Internal Analysis), political/legal, economic, social/cultural. Treatment of some may be brief, but think about all four. It is OK to use things likely to be common knowledge about the environment (at that time) to supplement the specifics that may be in the case.

4. Integration of Major Strategic Issues

In this section, integrate the major findings from your analysis in the previous two sections, with a SWOT table and presentation of the Critical Issues. Your report must include a comprehensive SWOT table. You can either put it in the text in this section or in an appendix. If in an appendix, then refer to it here and in the sections on Internal Analysis and External Analysis, plus provide a summary of highlights from it at the beginning of this section. State clearly the major critical issues you have identified, summarize the reasons that led you to choose these as the major critical issues, and explain what is the issue. One good way to present them is in a numbered list of critical issues, each captured in a concise, meaningful phrase, followed by a paragraph to explain just what is the issue and to summarize why this issue is one of the critical few. You should be presenting a small number (typically two to about five) of issues (not actions, solutions, or objectives) that you think should receive particular attention by top management at this time. You may also discuss other issues, but please make it clear which you have chosen as the critical issues. Critical issues are usually major problems, weaknesses, or threats, but will more likely involve the interaction of several of these (e.g., a firm's current market position being challenged by an innovative competitor). Consider both short- and long-range issues.

5. Alternatives & Recommendations

This is an extremely important section of the report, which should be developed with much attention. It often is neglected or short-changed. It should have two or three subsections (at least the first two, with the third when necessary):

  1. Corporate Level Strategy

  2. Competitive Strategy

  3. Other Strategies (if necessary - to address critical issues not already covered in the first two subsections)

In each of these subsections, you should (a) briefly summarize their current strategies (you will have identified them in more detail in the earlier section on current mission, objectives, & strategies), (b) provide and evaluate a rich range of strategic alternatives available to the organization and (c) present your recommendations. The alternatives should be ones that can be considered reasonable in the context of your analysis/diagnosis, and that you think are worth serious consideration. This does not mean listing every textbook strategy, but does require identifying a range of alternatives for this particular business situation. Your evaluation should provide a balanced critique of the alternatives, as each relates to this particular situation, for example: issues and problems addressed and why; problems created; and how the alternative relates to the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats of this business situation; and practicality. Be sure to consider implementation implications.

Then, you should clearly present your recommended strategies , including the rationale for your choices. Make very clear the distinction between strategies you considered and those you are finally recommending. These recommended strategic actions can involve replacements for, or changes in, current objectives and strategies. Check to ensure that your various recommendations are compatible. Explain how your recommendations have addressed all the critical issues you identified.

6. Implementation

Identify major implementation issues and present a specific implementation plan (for one of your major strategic recommendations that involves change). Note: you should have presented and explained your recommended strategies in before you start on implementation. The implementation plan should identify major barriers and issues in implementation, and then describe key action steps necessary to implement a/the strategy changes you are recommending. The plan should be as specific as is reasonable in light of available information and space limitations, and should demonstrate awareness of the major implementation barriers and issues.

7. Appendices

Include copies of key research material you used, including industry financial data (with sources cited); details on financial analysis; and anything else that would clutter the main text. Be sure that any appendices are referenced in the body of your report.

In addition to following the format above, you should keep in mind as you prepare your report:


It is important that you have multi-level headings in your case reports, that (a) are consistent and (b) are intuitively reader-friendly. There are many workable formats; however, the following is one I often use (i.e., first-order headings are centered, all bold caps, followed by a blank line before the text starts; second-order headings are left-adjusted, all bold caps, followed by a blank line before the text; third-order headings are left-adjusted, with bold initial caps, and text could start either on the next line or after a blank line). Applied to a case report, the headings look like this:










OTHER STRATEGIES (only if needed)


APPENDICES (optional)



For each of the components below, I will consider the criteria summarized under each heading below (and elaborated upon in the earlier report section) plus consideration of (a) depth and scope of analysis, (b) extent to which you interrelated, integrated, and added value to the various pieces of information in the case to develop insights and sound conclusions, rather than merely describe what was already stated in the case, (c) appropriate use of models and concepts from the field of strategic management and from various courses in your program, and (d) quality of your conclusions and recommendations, heavily determined by your supporting logic and rationale.

Component 1. Internal Analysis: Identifies, analyzes, and evaluates the mission, major objectives, current strategies (especially corporate-level & competitive), organization performance, and the five functional areas (including functional strategies where significant).

Component 2. Analysis of the External Environment: Analyzes and evaluates relevant elements of the general and competitive environments, and their implications for the organization and its strategies.

Component 3. Integration of Major Strategic Issues: Integrates the major findings in the analysis to identify clearly and discuss the critical issues that must be addressed by management, and for which recommendations will be made. Clearly states and describes the critical issues (as issues, rather than actions). Shows clearly (here and/or in earlier sections) why these were chosen as the critical few issues. Includes a comprehensive SWOT table (usually in an appendix, but well integrated in the text).

Component 4. Alternative Strategies: Presents and evaluates alternative strategies, including major strategic options open to the organization, that can be considered reasonable in the context of this analysis. Provides a logical and balanced analysis of the options.

Component 5. Recommendations & Implementation Plan: Proposes specific recommendations and a plan for implementation. Gives recommendations for Corporate Level Strategy, Competitive Strategy, and (possibly, if needed) Other Strategies (when needed), and shows how all the critical issues identified are addressed adequately by the recommendations. Clearly presents the rationale for choices of the recommended strategies. Demonstrates in-depth understanding of what the recommendations mean. Anticipates major implementation issues and barriers, then identifies a credible series of action steps to deal with them.

Component 6. Report: This is a competent business report from the writer, as a consultant, to the CEO of an important client organization. It communicates clearly and is appropriate for the CEO of the organization. The report is organized well, it is internally consistent, and there is a logical flow of analysis and points. It is well-written, edited, and proofread, resulting in correct grammar, spelling, word usage, punctuation, etc.. It makes effective use of multi-level headings (clearly formatted to show the hierarchy) and data displays. (Fancy production values are not a factor in the grade.)


The following suggestions were derived from the most-common and serious failings and weaknesses I find in students' case reports. Please keep these important points in mind and avoid the common failings that generated them as you write your major case reports:
  1. It is vital to have a good section on current mission, objectives, strategies, and performance. The most important aspect of this section is to identify and evaluate their current strategies. Merely describing their business activities is not identifying strategies. You should always try to identify (a) their major corporate-level strategies (including lines of business, growth objectives and major growth strategies, market scope including geographic) and (b) their fundamental competitive strategy (i.e., one of Porter's four). Don't talk about old strategies except as relevant to understanding their current situation.
  2. In both your internal and external analysis sections, it is vital to add value with evaluation and conclusions, rather than just describe what they are doing. (Write the report to the CEO of the company, who knows better than you do what they are doing currently.)
  3. Include a solid analysis of the external competitive environment, using Porter's 5-force model. Note that this is a model to help you and your reader understand what is important in the external competitive environment of the industry, not just the company in question, and definitely not dealing with what is happening inside the company. You should assess and state the relative strength of each of the five forces, to identify what is important in determining the competitive environment of this industry at this time. You should explore and write more about the important/strong forces than the relatively weak/unimportant ones in a given situation. The Rivalry Among Existing Competitors is almost always an important force.
  4. Provide an extensive SWOT table, with entries that are clear, but don't have to be in prose sentences.
  5. Present a clear, numbered list of Critical Issues, framed as issues (rather than objectives or actions), with a short phrase to summarize an issue, followed by a paragraph to explain the issue further and to summarize the major reasons it is one of the critical few issues. Don't include past issues or hypothetical future ones.
  6. In the Alternatives & Recommendations section, include a good range of alternative strategies and a balanced evaluation of them to lead up to and support your final recommendations. Many of the best papers did this effectively by (a) briefly summarizing the current strategies, (b) discussing and evaluating alternatives, and (c) presenting clear recommendations within each of the two or three sub-sections specified in the report format (Corporate Level Strategy, Competitive Strategy, and Other Strategies). There are always both potential advantages and disadvantages of any strategy, and it is important to identify and think through both in your evaluation. [This part of the report is often ignored or seriously neglected.]
  7. Discuss your final recommendations in detail to show understanding of their implications and implementation issues. Step back and ask yourself, are my recommendations really going to accomplish the changes this company needs?
  8. Explain how your recommendations address all your Critical Issues
  9. Ensure that you have both strong front sections (dealing with diagnosis) and strong back sections (dealing with alternatives, recommendations, and implementation). Neglecting either area is a major fault.
  10. Your Executive Summary should contain (a) a numbered list of your critical issues (CIs), preferably each presented in a pithy summary statement, followed by an explanation of what is the issue and why it is one of the critical few, and (b) a summary of your major recommendations. Anything else is optional.
  11. Watch writing mechanics, especially possessives (including its, not it's) and frequently misused words such as ensure and assure, lose and loose, affect and effect. Organize the report well, using the specified subheadings and a format that makes it easy for your client to differentiate visually among the different levels of headings.


Your preparation and involvement in class discussions and activities is an important element in both your learning and that of your peers. Therefore, both preparation prior to class and regular, active participation in class discussions (whether in the full class or in smaller groups) are vital, expected, and rewarded. It is important for each participant to have the important facts of the case and an analysis well in hand before the discussion begins. Showing evidence of prior analysis and thinking plus contributing to the progress of the overall case discussion are valued, rather than taking up a lot of "air time" with monologues loosely connected to the flow of the discussion. Occasionally, you may be asked to show preparation by writing in-class, briefly and informally, something from the reading assignment.

The instructor is a discussion leader, not a lecturer or major contributor of facts and analysis. The students will present the analyses and solutions, as well as critique them. Students are expected to be well-prepared to present analysis and discuss any aspect of each case on its scheduled date. Active, constructive dialogue and debate are expected. Occasionally, you may be asked to show preparation by writing in-class, briefly and informally, something from the reading assignment.


1. Showing evidence of adequate preparation (e.g., have read and understood the assigned material, have done case analysis and brought specific diagnostic conclusions plus recommendations)

2. Contributing to the joint learning of the class (through appropriate, relevant comments that relate to and build on what others are saying. (This means that a shy person with fewer, but good and relevant, comments may demonstrate greater contribution than a verbally fluent, aggressive extrovert who offers frequent comments that are often impromptu and marginally connected to the flow of the class discussion.) On the other hand, I can't know of your preparation and contribution to joint learning when you don't say anything!


There may be various short written assignments that will be factors in your participation grade; in such an event, the assignments will be given in class. These may include:

1. Find an article that describes an organization's current strategies and/or changes in strategy. Then write up (one page maximum) (a) the key elements in the strategy, and (b) a critique of the strategy, including potential advantages and disadvantages/problems of the strategy. Turn in a copy of the article with your written page. Such an assignment is intended to help you (a) recognize strategies and (b) think critically about them. If this type of assignment is given in this course, you should make use of the Critical Thinking module.

2. You will prepare and turn in various portions of the first written case as we go through the material (a critique of current strategies, a short financial analysis, a Porter five-force analysis of the industry environment, a SWOT table, and critical issues).

3. Others to be given during the course, some of which may be in-class, unannounced.

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Last modified August 15, 2009 Copyright 1984-2009 Rex Mitchell