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Case studies - Part 1: The problem
Tuesday, 28th February 2012
Case studies: all your users want them, but nobody wants to write them. Case studies are written examples of where the organisation has carried out a successful engagement, usually of high contractual value or strategic importance. They can be used for internal learning purposes and external marketing.
Case studies (aka credentials, qualifications or references) – all your users want them, but nobody wants to write them. It sounds somewhat dramatic to say that professional services organisations stand or fall on the quality of their case studies, but I would argue that they are absolutely business critical.
Case studies are written examples of where the organisation has carried out a successful engagement, usually of high contractual value or strategic importance. They can be used for internal learning purposes and external marketing.
Case studies alone do not win a new piece of work, but they are an essential component of proposal documents and pitches. They demonstrate that the company has a firm track record and can successfully deliver the required project, using experts in the field.
Firms looking to enter new markets may offer heavily discounted or zero fees to win jobs and build up their experience portfolio. This helps the crafty knowledge manager to demonstrate the financial value of case studies; always necessary to grab leadership attention.
In an ideal world staff would be able to pull case studies from a centrally accessible and easily searchable database. The database would contain current relevant case studies, tagged with a range of metadata including whether the case study had been signed off by the client for business development use.
Proposals would be developed in calm and timely fashion, with writers secure in the knowledge that they can tap into the whole range of the company’s current and relevant experience at the push of a button.
I have never seen this happen.
Organisations struggle with what is seemingly a basic logistical problem for one simple reason: “What’s in it for me?” Busy client-facing staff are full steam ahead on an engagement the minute that the job comes in. Writing up a case study is way down the to-do list, and unless somebody asks them for it they are unlikely to prioritise it.
Business development staff will have a stack of old proposals sitting on their hard drives and will often just pull and rewrite the same case studies. This is fine if what they have collected fits the bill, but if not, they have to email out to colleagues and ask them to write up case studies on the fly.
So – what’s wrong with that? Well apart from the irritation of mass email bombardment, it means significant amounts of time wasted tracking down case studies. This time could be spent polishing and adding value to the proposal. The ad hoc approach means that proposal writers cannot be certain that they are getting a) the full selection of the firm’s experience in this area and b) a high quality description of the project.
It is a stressful reactive way to work and if someone on leave has a key document on their laptop you can guarantee that they’ll have their break interrupted.
So – that’s the problem. In my next post, I will run through some thoughts on what you can do about it.
View Part 2 »
By Sarah Dillingham
Sarah Dillingham has a long track record in delivering successful knowledge management programmes. Her background includes City professional services and central government. She is fascinated with the way that people interact with technology to collaborate (or not!) and the growth of mobile.
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