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Identifying problems

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The Problem Identification section is the most important section of the case study report. In it, you will need to:

  • identify all the major problems in the case in terms of the management concepts you have studied;
  • focus on the underlying causes of problems, not just their symptoms;
  • link each problem identified to both relevant theory and evidence from the case study (i.e. integrate theory with your analysis);
  • reference all non-original work.

Before starting on the tasks below, read the Case Study Summary. Please note that the Summary does not contain all the events discussed in the original. If you prefer, you can go straight to the full case study - Lawton, Langridge, Lypton and Lawless, Solicitors. For further advice you can also consult the Notes on the Case Study Method.

Ordering and presenting information

Good writing in Management, as in other subject areas, requires the structured presentation of information. The normal pattern for this in English is Introduction - Body - Conclusion, and this structure broadly applies in the Problem Identification section as well.

As your focus is the solution of a managerial problem, the body of the Problem Identification section will also need to cover the following information:

  • theory (theories, concepts, issues raised by other writers/experts)
  • case evidence
  • your own comments (ideas about, or evaluation of, the problem).

The table below shows how this information is incorporated within the Introduction-Body-Conclusion structure. Notice how the Body includes two stages:

Problem identification

Introduction 1 - Introductory Stage
  • identifies the problem arising out of the case study
  • usually introduces some initial theory as background to the problem identified
Body 2 - Case Evidence Stage
  • introduces case evidence to illustrate the problem identified
  • may also incorporate further theory
3 - Commentary Stage
  • comments on the problem presented through interpretation, discussion of possible outcomes, etc.
  • is based on student's own thinking
  • can also incorporate theory
Conclusion 4 - Conclusion Stage
  • makes a concluding general statement about the problem before moving on to the next section or sub-section

Remember, you can use theory anywhere within any stage.

(Adapted from Notes on the Case Study Method: Department of Management, Monash University)

Case Study Summary

Lawton, Langridge, Lypton and Lawless is a large Sydney legal firm. Among its staff are 22 data entry clerks who work in the Word Processing Centre (WPC). Their job is to process the large volume of legal documents produced by the firm's solicitors. WPC clerks are carefully selected and must have a TAFE diploma or Year 12 with good passes in business subjects. When they join the firm they receive a week of training in specialised legal documents, and extra training sessions are held regularly to ensure they keep their knowledge up-to-date.

The firm occupies 10 floors of a new building in the centre of Sydney. The WPC is located on the 35th floor and has wonderful views around the city and harbour. The centre is very well equipped with excellent furnishings and a very pleasant staff room. The firm is able to attract good quality workers because it offers above average wages and many other benefits. However, all is not well. Senior staff and solicitors have complained to Arthur Lawton, the Managing Partner, that they need to check the work of WPC clerks who work as relief secretaries, because of the frequent errors made. They also believe that these workers are unreliable and lack initiative. Personnel records show that WPC staff do not stay with the firm for very long, despite the opportunities for promotion.

None of the solicitors know the workers in the Centre very well, but all praise the hard work and service provided by Mrs Blakely, the WPC supervisor, who has worked with the firm for over 20 years. Indeed, they tend to see the problem as the result of something wrong "with young people today." When Mr Lawton raises the matter of the WPC's problems, Mrs Blakely reacts a little angrily. She defends her clerks, saying that despite the errors, they do complete a lot of work. She admits that many of them find the job boring, as it mostly involves keying in information. The clerks also, often come to work late, chat at every opportunity, and generally don't work too hard. To stop this, she keeps a firm eye on them but she believes she can't be too hard or they will leave the firm.

Mrs Blakely then explains the WPC system. The work to be done arrives from each solicitor and is allocated to the clerks on a daily basis. To ensure they know what to do, she goes over each piece of work with them before they do the job. When information needs to be clarified, Mrs Blakely goes to the relevant solicitor herself and then passes the information on to the clerks. She collects the output when the job is finished and returns it to the solicitors.

Her job however, also means she liaises with solicitors on other floors, so she is often away from the Centre. Mrs Blakely agrees that the workers do not perform very well as relief secretaries, but thinks this is because the work is more complex than they are trained to do. She says the solicitors do not help the relief secretaries enough and expect them to know everything straight away.

When questioned, the WPC clerks say they like working for the firm and would like to earn promotion, but find it hard to stay interested in a job that is so repetitious and boring. Most say they get sick of seeing the same faces everyday as they are isolated on the 35th floor and have no contact with other staff, except with each other and Mrs Blakely. After trying to improve efficiency through the use of piped music - an experiment which fails - Mr Lawton turns to you, as an external management consultant, for advice.

MGM 1300 INTRODUCTION TO MANAGEMENT

Semester One, 1996

GROUP CASE STUDY

Using the Case Study Method analyse the problems, generate solutions and make recommendations for the following case.

DUE DATE: Tutorial, Week 11, Week Beginning May 20, 1996

Lawton, Langridge, Lypton and Lawless, Solicitors

Peter Lawless looked over his desk at Arthur Lawton and frowned. "Look, Arthur, I need a new secretary now. I thought the idea of the Word Processing Centre was, that we recruited talented people and trained them there, so they were ready and available when we need them. We spend a lot of money on the Centre and I hear on the grapevine that the work is often sub standard, and now you're telling me that there is no one there really qualified to be my new secretary. What's going wrong! I have had Kathleen Pearce temporarily for the past two weeks, but if she is the best qualified person in the Centre, then it's not doing the job. Her skills are fine, but she has no initiative and doesn't have much of a clue about what we do in this firm - and she has worked here for 18 months! She is a nice girl, but she is not up to it."

Arthur Lawton sighed. "Obviously something is not working. We do recruit well trained, bright, young people and hope that one to two years in the WPC will teach them all they need to know about our firm, and I believe Kathleen Pearce is the best qualified there. I am afraid you will have to persevere with Kathleen. There's nobody else."

Arthur Lawton and Peter Lawless are senior partners in the legal firm of Lawton, Langridge, Lypton and Lawless. Arthur is also the Managing Partner responsible for handling the administration of the large firm which consists of 25 partners and 48 employed solicitors, plus approximately 80 support staff working in the Sydney office.

Twenty two of the support staff are data entry clerks who work in the Word Processing Centre. Their job is to word process the large volumes of legal documents produced by the solicitors, together with their long reports, etc. Only well qualified people are employed, usually with a TAFE diploma or Year 12 with good passes in business subjects. When they join the firm they receive a week of training in the specialised legal documents and extra training sessions are held regularly to ensure up to date knowledge of legal documents.

The firm occupies 10 floors of a new building in the centre of Sydney. The Word Processing Centre is located on the 35th floor and has wonderful views around the city and harbour. The office is very well equipped with modern, ergonomic furniture and equipment, excellent furnishings, and a very pleasant staff room. The firm is able to attract good quality workers because it offers above average wages and many benefits such as a superannuation scheme, health scheme, social club and other non salary benefits.

After his discussion with Peter Lawless, the Managing Partner, Mr Lawton, feels it is time to find out why the centre is having problems, so he asks around the firm, having talks with other partners and solicitors. He discovers that, although the centre is very productive, there are several concerns. Most solicitors feel they must check each piece of work carefully because there are often errors made. Not necessarily typing errors, but careless errors such as the wrong names or facts keyed into documents. As the clerks are well qualified and trained by the firm, there is a belief that the error rate is unacceptable. None of the solicitors know the workers in the Centre very well, but all praise the hard work and service provided by Mrs Blakely, the supervisor, and suggest that there is something wrong "with young people today". Mr Lawton's personnel records also suggest that the turnover rate in the centre is also unacceptable. Only three clerks in the Centre have worked for the firm for more than eighteen months, with the majority staying only 12 months or so, despite careful selection of excellent staff.

The partners of the firm each have their own secretary, and it is the firm's policy that these secretaries be recruited from the Word Processing Centre workers. Three to five of these vacancies arise each year, with workers from the Centre also relieving when the secretaries are on holidays. Although this opportunity for promotion attracts new workers to the firm, it does not seem to keep many of them long enough to take up the chance. There have also been complaints that, when a clerk has been used as a relief for a secretary, they have proved unreliable if left to their own devices and they lacked initiative.

Mr Lawton then talks with Mrs Lorraine Blakely, the supervisor, about the Centre. She has worked with the firm in various administrative capacities for over 20 years and is greatly liked and admired by all the partners and lawyers in the firm. They found her very pleasant and helpful to deal with and always efficient in getting their work through the centre in a short time. She enjoys her job, particularly dealing with the solicitors in the firm, most of whom have worked with her for years. They believe that she is very efficient and they all like to deal with her on a regular basis.

Mrs Blakely reacts a little angrily when Mr Lawton brings up the matter of the WPC's problems. She springs to the defence of her "girls", saying that although there are errors made, they do get through a lot of work. She does admit that, she believes not many of the clerks like their job very much as they find it boring, as most of the work is simply keying in information into the forms provided on the firm's computer network. She finds that they will come late to work, chat with each other at every opportunity, take long breaks and generally "slack off". To stop this she keeps a firm eye on them, but on the other hand, she tells him, you can't be too hard on them or they will leave quickly, and it is very hard to get good people to stay long. She insists that she must keep her "girls" happy if they are to be productive and stay with the firm, and she doesn't know what to do to keep them with the firm longer or help them to be better secretaries. She states that the trouble is that young people these days don't want to work, but just want to have fun and there is nothing that she can do about that.

Mrs Blakely explains the WPC's system to him. The work to be done in the Centre arrives from each solicitor with a request sheet with details of what is required. Mrs Blakely then allocates work to the clerks each day. To ensure they know what to do she is in the habit of going over each piece of work with them before they do the job. There is often a need to clarify some issue with the solicitor. When this is the case, Mrs Blakely goes to the solicitor herself and then passes the information on to the clerks. She collects the output when the clerks have finished and returns it to the solicitors.

She emphasises again to Mr Lawton that she does keep a stern eye on the workers to ensure that they are not wasting time. She insists that tea and lunch break times are strictly adhered to, and discourages chatting during working hours, although as her job means she must be liaising with solicitors on other floors, she is not in the Centre quite a lot. She agrees that the workers do not do very well when they relieve a secretary, but feels it is all so strange to them, much more complex work than they have been used to, but her staff are the best available, and the solicitors just need to put a bit of effort into helping them to learn the job. She says the solicitors do not help their new secretaries enough and expect them to know everything straight away. She suggests to Mr Lawton that she could check every piece of work before it leaves the centre, though this would slow the turnaround time considerably.

When questioned about their job the clerks say they like working for the firm, would like to earn promotion, but find it hard to stay interested in a job that is so repetitious and boring. Most say they get sick of seeing the same faces every day as they are isolated in the WPC on the 35th Floor and have no contact with anyone apart from each other and Mrs Blakely. Peter Lawless's temporary secretary, Kathleen Pearce, who is the longest serving clerk, tells Mr Lawton that, although she loves working with so many people her own age, and Mrs Blakely is a lovely boss, always friendly and helpful, she feels like she is still in school, with someone always watching what you are doing and telling her what to do. She has stayed with the firm because the conditions are good and she hopes to achieve promotion. She does, however, express doubts about her ability as "eighteen months of straight keying have made me forget most of what I learned in TAFE and I don't seem to have learnt much about what the solicitors do working in the WPC".

Mr Lawton decides to install a piped music system, believing this will add interest to their day's work and aid concentration. The workers are very pleased with this and even say that it speeds up their work. Unfortunately six months later the error rate has even increased, the turnover is still high, and Kathleen Pearce, after six months as secretary to Peter Lawless is just beginning to show more confidence and initiative in her job. Although Peter is happy with her now, he feels he has wasted a lot of time and energy in helping her settle into the job and he tells Arthur Lawton that he believes the problems with the WPC would not be solved by the piped music.

Mr Lawton has approached you, an external management consulting firm, to help them identify the real problems, to suggest some possible solutions and make recommendations. Your brief is to examine and analyse the case material and to produce a report, based on the problem solving case method, for Mr Lawton.

MONASH UNIVERSITY

FACULTY OF BUSINESS AND ECONOMICS

DEPARTMENT OF MANAGEMENT

MGX1010 MANAGING PEOPLE AND ORGANISATIONS

Notes on the Case Study Method

The use of case studies is a widely accepted means of bringing theoretical concepts and practical situations together. It is not possible to take a class into an organisation and observe the subject matter of management or organisational behaviour in real life - hence a written case study outlining a real, or realistic, situation is the best available alternative.

When reading and studying a case study it is possible to take two different approaches. The first of these is the 'analytical' approach where a case structure is examined to try to understand what has happened and why. In this approach you do not identify problems or attempt to develop solutions. The second approach is the problem-oriented method. In this approach a case is analysed to identify the major problems that exist, the causes of and possible solutions to the problems and finally a recommendation as to the best solution to implement.

In this course we mainly utilise a 'PROBLEM SOLVING' case study method. As with most things in the management area there is not 'one best way' to analyse or write up a case report. Everyone develops their own methods of sorting and sifting through the information and presenting their findings. However, in this subject we have a set format which we would like you to utilise when presenting your case reports. This format is outlined briefly below.


Some General Issues:

In a case study it is crucial that you integrate relevant theory from the course and evidence from the case. Failure to attempt to integrate theory will lead to severe mark reduction or failure.

Referencing of all non-original material is essential. You will lose marks for poor referencing. The Faculty of Business and Economic's Q Manual should be used as a guide. This is available in the library, for sale in the bookshop and on the web (see Unit Outline for address). The Q Manual should also be used as a guide for correct presentation of written material.

Check your completed work for internal consistency, for example make sure that you attempt to solve the key issues you have identified., Don't say 'X' is the major problem and then recommend a solution to 'Y'.

Try not to be overly descriptive. Remember you are trying to identify, analyse and solve the problems of the case using the relevant theories from the course - not just repeating what the text book, or case information, has said.


PRESENTATION OF WRITTEN MATERIAL

The following notes are to be used as a guide to students preparing the case studies for assessment in MGX1010.

GUIDELINES

  • A high standard of presentation is required. Typing, or word processing, of all is expected.
  • Work that is submitted in an illegible or untidy fashion may, at your tutor's discretion, be returned unmarked or with marks deducted for poor presentation.
  • In no circumstances should an assignment be written/typed on both sides of the paper.
  • Work should be double or 1.5 spaced.
  • A margin of 30mm should be left on both sides of the page. This provides adequate room for examiner's comments as well as creating an uncluttered presentation.
  • All quotations should be enclosed within inverted commas. The exception is quotations of two or more sentences which run to four or more lines. These should be single-spaced and indented from the main body of the text. In these cases inverted commas are unnecessary (see Q Manual).
  • Assignments should be bound firmly into a cover, such as a manilla folder, plastic folder, ring binder, etc. Please do not use envelope folders or submit loose sheets. It should be possible to read every page without undoing any fastenings.
  • Every assignment must be clearly identified. The following details must be on the front of all assignments:
    • Name:
    • Student Number:
    • Assignment Name:
    • Subject Code/Name:
    • Lecturer/Tutor:
    • Due Date:
    • Date Submitted:
  • It is recommended that students KEEP A COPY OF ALL WORK SUBMITTED. While it is extremely rare for student work to be misplaced, it does sometimes occur. The onus is on you to prove that a piece of work was submitted.
  • Grammar, spelling and punctuation are matters which should not be neglected. Failure to take care of these matters causes confusion and ambiguity. Ask someone to read and comment critically on your work prior to submitting it; can they understand what you are trying to say? If not, re-write it!

PROBLEM SOLVING CASE FORMAT FOR PRESENTATION

1. Title Page

2. Table of Contents

3. Executive Summary

This section should comprise a brief overview of the case, giving a brief background and noting any important assumptions made. (You will not have all the information you would like - so you may need to make some assumptions). As well as this, you should give a synopsis of your case report, noting very briefly the major problems identified and the recommended solutions. One page is enough.

4. Problem Identification and Analysis

In this section you should identify all the major problems in the case in behavioural terms, ie. in Management/OB related terms (it is not a marketing or an accounting case). Try to get to underlying causes of problems, not just symptoms. Seek advice from your tutor on the layout of this information.

You should link each problem identified to relevant theory and also to actual evidence from the case. Remember you MUST integrate theory and reference all non-original work.

5. Statement of Major Problems

In most case studies you will identify a number of problems - too many to actually 'solve' in the number of words allowed. Hence it is crucial to make it very clear which are the major two or three problems or key issues, that must be solved first. Therefore this section is just a short concise statement of what problems you are going to solve in the remainder of the case. Half a page is adequate.

Having once identified the key problems, you can continually check back to ensure that you are actually attempting to solve them and not some other minor problems you identified. This section is crucial to a good case report.

6. Generation and Evaluation of Alternative Solutions

While most problems will have a very large number of possible solutions it is your task to identify and evaluate a number of the more appropriate (at least 2-3 for each major problem identified).

Each alternative solution should be briefly outlined and then evaluated in terms of its advantages and disadvantages (strong and weak points). Note: You must evaluate alternatives. It is not necessary to make a statement in this section as to which alternative is considered best - this is the next section. Do not integrate theory in this section and do not recommend theory. Practical solutions to the problems are required.

7. Recommendation

This section should state which of the alternative solutions (either singly or in combination) identified in section six is recommended for implementation. You should briefly justify your choice, explaining how it will solve the major problems identified in section six. Integration of relevant theory is appropriate here.

8. Implementation

In this section you should specifically explain how you will implement the recommended solutions. Theory cannot be implemented; you must translate it into actions.

What should be done, by whom, when, in what sequence, what will it cost (rough estimates only) and other such issues.

Remember if a recommended solution cannot be realistically implemented then it is no solution at all.

9. Appendices (if any)

10. Bibliography/References

This will contain an alphabetical list of all the references you have cited in the body of the report. Do not include details of any sources you have not cited. Ensure the style used is correct and consistent.

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