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Case Competitions: A Guide to Issue Analysis
Written by Vivian Nguyen
Date Published: 19/09/2020
Vivian Nguyen is a fourth-year student studying a Bachelor of Commerce and Law. Vivian was the 2019
UNSW Business Society Vice-President (Internal) and 2018 Careers Director. She has experience working in industry as an Analyst and Project Manager at a consulting firm. Her consulting experience further includes being a UNSW Consulting Club International Case Competition Squad Member since 2018 and even representing UNSW internationally at the Heavener International Case Competition 2019 in Florida, USA.
What is your approach to issue analysis?
Issue analysis is all about illustrating your understanding of the business problem and the key issues within a case. Setting up a clear, logical issue analysis will be crucial in providing a solid foundation to introduce your strategies and implementation later on. Your issue analysis should consider the root causes of the business problem and ultimately reflect the decision-making process behind the selection of your chosen strategies.
You may have heard of the MECE methodology (mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive) which is widely used in industry and a fool-proof starting point to roadmap your ideas. It’s an effective way of segmenting information into categories that are MECE, which allows you to have a deeper understanding of the issue whilst avoiding overlaps of solutions or categories. The MECE methodology is especially great for profitability cases, where you can start from the basic ‘Profit = Revenue – Costs’ equation to formulate your framework. For example, you can then split your ‘Revenue’ category into ‘Units sold’ and ‘Price per unit’, and ‘Costs’ category into ‘Fixed costs’ and ‘Variable costs’ in order to find key drivers and evaluate which one your strategy aims to focus on. Building issue trees such as these are not only great to develop a robust problem-solving framework, but also helps to smoothen work distribution amongst team members. The MECE framework is also used in decision trees and hypothesis trees, which similarly map out potential decisions, outcomes and hypotheses of a business problem.
A range of popular frameworks have the MECE methodology at its core, including the 5Cs and Porter’s Five Forces. Using these frameworks will ensure you are comprehensive and structured in your approach to issue analysis.
What should student consultants include in this section?
As issue analysis aims to dig into the root causes of the business problem, this section should provide any helpful, relevant information surrounding the business problem. For instance, conducting Porter’s Five Forces analysis will help to provide insight into the forces driving a firm’s competitive environment, which is important when considering profitability. Essentially, you should demonstrate some sort of understanding of factors affecting a firm’s business environment. However, these factors should remain relevant to the overall objective of the case and provide a logical basis for the strategies to be introduced later on.
Industry trends should be addressed in your issue analysis, as they will demonstrate a contemporaneous understanding of the business problem and provide context for your strategies. Consumer trends can be useful to analyse particularly for B2C industries. These trends should fundamentally provide a basis and segway into your strategies by explaining the issues your strategies aim to address. Don’t forget to back up your research of industry and consumer trends with statistics from reputable sites!
What is your biggest piece of advice for students looking to get into consulting/ case competitions?
Case competitions can definitely be an intimidating and challenging experience for students who are new to consulting. The idea of having to put aside considerable time, solving a case under time constraints and the pressure of presenting in front of a panel of scary judges might not sound like the most appealing idea! However, my biggest piece of advice would be to make the most out of the consulting opportunities at university. I think we’re quite fortunate at UNSW where case competition culture has been widely embraced and is quickly growing, and there are numerous opportunities out there for students. Whether it be signing up to a society case competition, case crack or joining a consulting society, I personally have felt that I’ve been able to learn the most by doing. Don’t worry if you don’t even make it past heats on your first case comp - it’s all about the learning process! Learn what your strengths and weaknesses are and take opportunities to build on your skills. Ask for feedback from judges you have presented to, or even friends and family you might practice presenting in front of. Don’t take your failures too seriously and have fun in the process! Even the most seasoned consultants have only gotten to where they are today through countless failed competitions. Once you understand that case comps are not all about winning, you’ll truly have a rewarding experience.
What is your favourite experience in consulting to date?
The most memorable part has definitely been meeting other participants all over the world during international case competitions. It’s so surreal being in the same room as students from universities all over the globe, all gathered for the same purpose and sharing the same passion for case competitions and problem-solving. Forming friendships with the participants and keeping in contact even after the competition has been really great. However, my favourite experience has probably been watching the finals of the Heavener International Case Competition in America, the energy in the room was just so crazy! Being there in person made all the difference.