November 7, 2019

How to Write Case Studies

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Case studies are an opportunity not only to review your previous work with your team but to create hard data that points to your team’s previous successes in a way that is easy to understand from an outside perspective. As a project manager, one of the strongest tools in your belt is going to be the Case Study.

Any organization worth its salt is constantly engaging in high-quality work that produces tangible results in some form or another. Your job as a project lead is going to involve turning project results into actionable data for your team, and a case study is an opportunity to do exactly that while also creating a form of marketing collateral for any potential clients looking to evaluate your credentials as a project manager.

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What is a Case Study?

A case study is a document written to examine the challenge, solution, and outcomes of a particular project. Typically, you will use a case study to examine, understand, and present the results of a project to potential clients or upper management looking to quantify the value of a finished project. A case study a simply a more formalized process of the sort of reflection you do in your everyday working life. Every time you learn from a mistake or reincorporate a small success into your future work, you’re employing the key tenets of a case study in real-time.

Writing a case study, then, is the formalized process of combing through the recent success (or failure, if you believe it was a useful teaching moment) of a project, and placing those ideas on paper to present to your team, or future clients for review. Writing a case study is an opportunity to understand and improve upon the work you have done in the past, while also presenting you and your team in a positive light to potential investors and clients.

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When to Write a Case Study

A case study’s utility lies in its scrutiny of a project with a great deal of available data. This is most likely going to be an internal project. That means that a case study is most useful to your colleagues and upper management. You’re going to be pouring over familiar information and re-living a project you most likely had a hand in.

When you’ve dedicated your time to a case study, you should have asked yourself a few questions ahead of time:

  • How will this serve my team in the future?
  • What can I learn from re-visiting this project?
  • How can these findings improve the work we do in the future?

If you can answer these questions in a way that is affirmative and appropriate for your team and your time, then feel free to pull the trigger on the study. These are a tool for re-examining and improving previous projects in the workplace.

Case Studies vs White Papers

The terms “case study” and “white paper” are often used interchangeably. Both case studies and white papers are used to help a reader understand a complex topic. However, a white paper is often written by a subject matter expert to help the reader better understand a core concept or idea.

The major difference between a white paper and a case study is the target audience and intent. If you’re writing a case study, more likely than not, you are going to be presenting your findings on an actual project, with data points gathered from what happened on a specific project or projects. White papers, on the other hand, explore a topic at a higher or more strategic level.

A case study can often be repurposed with minimal effort into an excellent white paper, but the reverse is often not the case.

How to Write Effective Case Studies

1. Select a Focus

Case studies are about focus above anything else. Your ultimate goal when writing a case study is to understand what made a project successful, then present those findings to the intended audience. Focus on a single project. If you find that it’s possible to focus on an even more granular aspect of a single project, such as an innovative process that saved your client money or saved your team a week of time, use that t as the kernel from which your case study will grow.

2. Gather and Organize Data

Any project that has made its way over the finish line will be chock full of data. Your job when writing a case study is to find that data, then give it context. While KPIs are important, ask yourself what other information is relevant to your reader? Emails with clients and team members, budgets, management plans, and many other documents in your digital paper trail are rife with data. Your work life is full of information perfect for rounding out the details of your case studies.

3. Organize the Information

Data is beautiful, but on its own it is useless. Make that information work for you by creating parsable categories to pull from once you’ve begun the writing process. Separate your KPIs from your quarterly goals. Keep your client conversations separate from your kanban records. Any organizational structure you feel comfortable with is better than none once you’ve exited your research phase.

4. Present the Challenge

Simply and concisely summarize the challenge your case study is scrutinizing. Try to state the challenge in a sentence or two. Think about what your project’s goals were. A solid statement of challenge presents the what, when, and why of a problem. Ensure you have a firm grasp on your challenge statement before proceeding with the rest of your case study

5. Construct Your Case Study

Your project may not have been executed in a linear fashion, but when producing a case study your job is to present your argument in an easy-to-understand manner. Your case study is more concerned with facts and data points than a literal retelling of the project’s most minute details.

Wrap Up

Remember, your goal here is to create an evidence-based post-mortem of sorts that either proves the approach you took, or identifies the lessons learned along the way. Let the evidence speak for itself and the case study will reveal itself with ease.

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