Finding Case Studies Online

Article excerpt

OK, fans, it's quiz show time. What do the following requests for information have in common? Focus please, if you will, on the type of information required rather than the technicalities of the search.

* My company is beginning a Total Quality Management (TQM) project. We're probably not going to apply for the Baldrige Quality Award, but we do want to position ourselves as a "Baldrige-type" quality company. To do so, we need to adhere relatively strictly to the requirements of the Baldrige Award. I have been asked to gather information so that we can build a database to benchmark several of our business functions, starting with marketing.

* I am writing my thesis on the critical success factors of small and medium-sized businesses. I want to investigate whether the size of the business makes a difference in how people view these success factors. I plan to develop a questionnaire, but first I need background information from the literature. I want to build a database of examples of perceived critical success factors ranked by the size of the company.

* A renowned business book author came into our library yesterday. We buy all his books, and I was awe-struck that he thought we could help him. The new book he's researching will be on the role of strategic planning in large corporations, studied over time. He wants to build a database of companies that have had articles published about their strategic planning processes, then track the performance of these companies from the time the article was published to the present.

* The president of my company is giving a speech to the local chamber of commerce. The topic is "Environmental Trends and How They Affect Our Industry." He wants some case studies so that he can cite specific (positive) instances. Unfortunately, he's not sure of exactly which points he wants illustrated with a case study. I think the best approach is to set up a database with the case studies I pull from online databases. He can pick and choose at will after I dump it to his computer.

* Our MIS department wants to track the literature on client-server architecture to put into a database so that they can study technology trends over time. They think this will help them make better purchasing decisions both in terms of technological developments and of supplier reliability. They particularly want articles featuring specific companies and their experiences in installing client-servers.

Yes, contestant number one, what is your answer? That they all involve general management-type concerns? That is true, but not specific enough. In fact, the client-server architecture question is likely to be answered from technical literature rather than general management literature. General management is not the most important common element of these requests.

Contestant number two? You note that all five requests involve a database waiting in the wings to be built? Correct, but that is not the common informational element in these requests. For the database-building component of these requests, I refer you to Susanne Bjorner's OUTPUT OPTIONS column on page 38.

And, finally, contestant number three? Your answer is that when all five requests are boiled down to the essentials, they are asking for case studies. That's it, fans, that's the correct answer. Case histories, benchmarking (a.k.a. "best of breed" or "best practices"), examples, or case studies--you could call this a sub-genre of management searching. After all, any Harvard Business School student gained that M.B.A. through the case study method. Other universities use the case study method as well. Corporate training programs frequently use Harvard's published case studies. In fact, many business school texts are nothing but case studies. Tom Peters seems to simply stitch case studies together to prove the points he makes in his best-selling books.

According to the Library of Congress MARC file, there are almost 6,000 titles with either "case study" or "case studies" in the title, and 22,617 with "case studies" as a subject heading. …