Friday, June 05, 2009

Designing the Case Competition

There is a risk in being trendy, to do something simply because others are doing it. In the matter of business schools, case competitions have become trendy, which means that in some cases the school does it without fully understanding the purpose or how to get the best results. The first order of business for any school whether they are considering creating a case competition or already run a competition, is to decide why you are doing it and what goals you want to achieve. The majority of schools performing case competitions seem to be doing a sloppy job of it.

After looking through the available information on case competitions, there appear to be three main types of competitions – intramural competitions between teams finishing their MBA studies, league competitions between schools, and open tournaments with sponsors and press events. The goals for each type of tournament are different, although it should be noted that there is no rule that a school cannot work to have all three types of competition.

The intramural competition is generally done as a capstone course for the BBA or MBA candidates, and as such focuses on grading their accumulated knowledge, skills and work on a project level. The key stakeholders for this level of tournament are the students, the faculty, judges, and the school’s dean and trustees. The optimal organization structure would plan for participant and judge orientation, along with modest logistical requirements. Goals and objectives for each group would be planned and published in advance, as well as the method for publishing results and feedback. In the ideal situation, the following sample schedule might be used:

December: Guidelines for the competition are published on the school website, focusing on real-world conditions and objectives rather than superficial. Judges are invited and given orientation reports, students sign up for the classes, the focus company is advised of the competition and invited to participate with observers.

January: Capstone classes begin, requirements and rubrics for the competition are included in the syllabus.

March: Individual work completes in each class, teams form up and begin

late April: non-tournament grading is completed, teams submit final documents for project

May, week of competition: Judges meet and are refreshed about company orientation and tournament objectives, and are presented with the project documents for the teams they will be judging. Company is forwarded recommended project papers through its observers or by mail if no observers.

Competition day: Teams present their cases as scheduled, to teams of judges familiar with both the focus company’s objectives and requirements, and the specific analysis and recommendations from the teams’ reports. Judging can take place, therefore, on the basis of how well the team has done its analysis, made effective recommendations, and sells the recommendations to the judges. Scoring on the basis of the rubrics published in December.

May, post-competition: Class grades, written evaluations and feedback from judges and awards, including individual honors, are formally presented. Participants are also asked for feedback about their experience and suggestions for improving the process. This feedback is reviewed twice, at the time of submission and again in planning for the next competition.

I leave it to the reader to decide how well this format would serve, and how well present competitions are planned and managed.

The interschool and sponsored competitions would be similar in form to the intramural event, except that the focus is on school competition as well as the teams. Also, given the higher profile a press element is to be expected, and this should be encouraged so as to produce goodwill and prestige for the schools involved. This is the academic equivalent of varsity sports, with direct and significant effect on the businesses which will hire these BBA and MBA candidates when they graduate. Again, I leave it to the reader to consider the potential for case competitions between schools and tournaments with corporate sponsors, and to consider the success of present efforts. I merely submit here that the process is new and undeveloped enough, that those schools which best plan and promote such competitions will make a name for themselves as stand-out schools with commensurate gains in reputation and enrollment. Despite calling this part 4 of 4, I will have more to say on case competitions.

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