The case competition is the flagship of a business school’s curriculum, where if the candidates live up to their promise and ability, and if the program is properly administered, the school, students, and the business world in general all gain from the experience. Unfortunately, there is a real risk that the competition will fail in at least one major respect, and miss the accomplishment of its potential. Strategic and tactical planning and execution are paramount, not only for the competing teams but also for the school and even the judges.
Let’s stop here and consider what the case competition means to each stakeholder. For the students competing, at one level it represents a grade in a capstone course, a chance at some personal glory and just maybe the right kind of attention from a potential employer. It certainly never hurts to be able to boast on your resume that you beat out other teams for a tournament win. But the tournament is also important for the school, and properly done for business as well. While some business schools make their name on the strength of their alumni and the renown of the overall school, case competitions have allowed some schools to demonstrate excellence in comparison with other schools in head-to-head academic tournaments. Developing a top-notch case competition format, therefore, is a way for even a small school of modest resources to set itself apart and above its rivals. As for business, consider if you were a CEO of one of the companies chosen for a competition focus. You might very well take interest in the recommendations of several teams of MBA candidates, especially given that the advice is free and thorough. One obvious step I would recommend for any school sponsoring a case competition, is to submit the winning cases to the focus company. There would be no obligation, and the potential for goodwill and a future sponsorship is well worth the effort.
All of these results presuppose, however, that the final product of the teams, especially the winners, will be something the school and the MBA candidates are proud to stand behind. To that end, style must be reduced significantly in importance, and the actual substance of the analysis and recommendations must be much more strongly emphasized, taught, and rewarded. The teams, faculty, and sponsors must be clear about what is desired, how it will be judged, and feedback during case preparation and after the presentations must be clear, ongoing, and complete.