How do you set yourself apart from other candidates when applying for a new role?
How do you demonstrate your passion and initiative to your prospective employer?
How do you demonstrate your skills and knowledge when you might not have the experience?
Write a case study! How, pray tell, do you create a case study that will get you hired?
What Is A Case Study?
A case study is a research method involving an up-close, in-depth, and detailed examination of a subject of study (the case), as well as its related contextual conditions. A case study requires you to investigate a problem, examine the possible solutions and propose a solution using supporting evidence. Case studies are commonly used in academic journals and conferences and are widely used to convey a succinct distillation of the research that has been conducted. Case studies can use a formal academic research methodology but can also use a less rigorous approach outside of academia and specific to the environment in which it is being conducted.
There is a great wiki page “Case Study” which gives a great overview of case studies. It’s well worth a read before drafting your own. In the article it states, there is a difference between the subject and the object of the case study. The subject is the “practical, historical unity” through which the theoretical focus of the study is being viewed. The object is that theoretical focus – the analytical frame. For example, if you are interested in the growth of an app’s user base as a theoretical focus, then the user on-boarding sequence might be the subject, the lens, the case study through which the theoretical focus, the object, could be viewed and explicated. Within the context of Product Management, your aim is to use the case study to show your knowledge and application of the fundamental principles of Product Management. In addition, a case study is designed to demonstrate results and insights that are interesting, unusual, or revealing to the reader; not the status quo.
Things To Keep In Mind Before You Begin
My assumption in this step is that you’ve already chosen an organisation you’d like to work for. Once done, read EVERYTHING you can about the organisation. Well, not everything, but you need to read A LOT to be able to understand the organisation so you can choose a problem they might be facing then write a case study for it. While reading, take notes, highlight interesting sections and extract potential problems the organisation or their customers might be facing. The more you know, the more passion and initiative you will show. You don’t want your reader to think:
“We already know this. This is obvious. There’s little value here.”
#1: When I was doing my research I found a whole page of customer testimonials which led to short case studies. This gave me a wealth of information on who their customers are, what problems they were currently solving and how they were solving them. From there I was able to apply Product Management knowledge and experience to extract insight on how other pains, gains, jobs to be done (jtbd).
#2: Create a document to take copious notes about everything you read, watch or listen to. At the bottom of the document, create a “Potential Issues” section. As you’re researching, make notes of all the problems you find. My assumption is you’ll find a lot of small issues and a lot of issues throughout the business. What’s important is to find a problem that can highlight your Product Management experience that is of high enough value to the organisation. If they have one large product, choose one or two features. If they have several products, choose one where you can add value.
#3: If possible, get access to the product they are offering. For my case study there was no immediately visible way to log on and gain access. There was one form in the footer of the page that, when filled in, provided me access with a demo account. Bingo! Now I could get a better understanding of the solution they were building and how it was going to solve their customer’s problems.
#4: Identify the person you’ll be sending the case study to. See if you can quote them via a blog, video of them actually stating the problem statement you’re writing the case study about. This will make it much more personal and let them know you’ve done your homework. In my instance, the Founder/CEO had written all the blogs and had a detailed description of the organisation in his LinkedIn profile.
#5: While not always possible, storytelling is an excellent way to communicate key points throughout your case study. If you’re looking to solve a customer’s problem, storytelling might be easier as you could tell the story from the point of view of the customer using the organisation’s product.
#6: Using numbers and images helps you tell a better story and is part of best practice when creating PowerPoint presentations. Nobody wants to be given a 50 page slide deck full of 12 font text. Nobody! Ever!
#7: Buy a professionally designed PowerPoint template. Presentation matters. Tiny details matter. First impressions matter. Don’t leave these to chance. You want the person reading the case study to know the quality of the work you’re capable of and how you will deliver work internally and, possibly, to their clients.
#8: Before you put pen to paper, choose a writing style that showcases some of your personality but also matches the ethos of the organisation. For my case study I read every blog article on the organisation’s website and discovered the founder/author had a casual, humors and slightly sarcastic tone to his writing which was perfect as that also matches my writing style.
#9: While you are writing the case study to show off your Product Management skills, keep in mind that the people reading the case study may not be familiar with all the PM lingo and jargon. Keep the language simple and understandable.
#10: This should go without saying but… check and double check your spelling.
The ultimate aim of the case study is for the reader to think:
“This is really good work. I’d like to chat to [YOUR NAME HERE] to see how we might utalise their skills in our organisation.”
Critical to the success of your case study is to have a well written problem statement. If you create a poorly worded problem statement, you will create poorly researched case study. The way you write a great problem statement, as mentioned above, is to read as much as you can about the organisation and gain insight to their pains, gains and jtbd. The rest of the case study will answer this one problem statement. I wrote a blog “Project: ProofPop – Research Phase Part 1” where I provided a detailed problem statement for a customer segment I was researching along with internal, external, quantitative and qualitative research. The problem statement fro that blog is:
“My name is John. I am an eCommerce store owner. I spend money and effort on different marketing channels and tactics to drive traffic to my eCommerce store but visitors are not converting into paying customers. This problem hurts me because I’m spending money on marketing and not making sales. If this continues I may have to shut down my eCommerce store. This problem occurs all day every day.”
The above mentioned problem statement is very comprehensive and is most likely too detailed for a case study. I wanted to include it so you could see what a comprehensive problem statement looks like then simplify it to meet the needs of the case study. Below, is a simpler version of a problem statement that would be more suitable for a case study:
“How would you help eCommerce store owners who drive traffic to their store via paid advertising but are not converting visitors to paying customers?”
This will be written at the end of the case study. It is a summary that gives the reader an idea of the overall context. The executive summary is also designed to make sure you and the reader are on the same page. Never assume your reader knows what you know even if you’re providing a case study about the organisation they work for. You could be providing new market or customer insights that they had never thought about or a new way of approaching a problem they hadn’t heard of yet.
As mentioned above, you need to read as much as you can about the organisation so a) you can write a great problem statement and b) you can produce great results. As a Product Manager, the better you understand the problem, the more accurate your problem statement and the better your potential solutions and recommendations will be. In addition, you’ll always be looking at internal, external, qualitative and quantitative data to make informed decisions about what is the most valuable benefit or feature to deliver next. Within this section, it’s important to highlight what you’re focusing on, what might be working or not working and why this is the case.
When writing this case study, it’s highly unlikely you’ll have access to any of the organisation’s internal data. Having said that, I was going through the interview process for a Product Manager role and speaking directly to one of the Product Managers in the organisation. To demonstrate my initiative and passion, I asked if I could interview members of the product team I serendipitously met earlier that week at a networking event, to ask them about their pains, gains, jtbd. My plan was to then use this information in the interview to demonstrate I understood the organisation like no other applicant. The Product Manager loved the idea and thought it was a very clever approach. So, it’s unlikely you will get access to an organisation’s internal data but, with a little hustle, you might be able to get enough to make you really stand out.
Without access to an organisation’s internal data, external quantitative and qualitative data are probably your only options. Source include an organisation’s website, blog, all social media channels, SlideShare, google the organisation’s name, google the product’s name, review the founder/CEO on LinkedIn, download any brochures or white papers the organisation might have as part of marketing campaigns.
If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, and if the data allows, you might be able to contact a few of the organisation’s clients. You can find them by looking at testimonials on the website, case studies, comments on the organisation’s blog post, comments and followers on their social media channels. That said, use good judgement here. Some companies might think you’ve taken amazing initiative while other companies might think you’re stepping on their toes and messing with their client base. After reading through all of BabbleWire’s data, I extracted a theme where I thought I could provide some insight and value.
- To help bring Australia Posts’ core learning development team to the forefront of learning design, we delivered our predictable learning design program. The program, delivered over two-weeks in two of Australia’s capital cities.
- The program would be web-based, practical, and available for the entire organisation to consume. It would be supported by the services and programs necessary to assist anyone identified in the process as being a victim of domestic or family violence.
- The training was able to be implemented Australia-wide in record time, removing the need to fly-out trainers for external sessions. BabbleSnap is now a platform integrated into the learning culture of the Endeavour Foundation and drives their new flexible, agile training methodology.
- Our ongoing work with BHP allows us to continually tailor to the unique needs of the organisation and this dynamic division.
- The program utilised external coaching to help drive individual skills development, creating a group of leaders highly effective in the skills relevant to their individual role.
The main challenge I discovered was scalability for three reasons:
- They deliver content to companies in-house, over weeks, in different cities. This requires a lot of organisation and resources.
- There is a consistent mention of creating customised content to meet the needs of the customer. While this may be a unique selling point, “customisation” is very difficult to scale. Automation, standardisation, processes and procedures on the other hand are much easier to scale
- There is a web-based version, an Android app and an iPhone app. Here, there needs to be a framework that allows the organisation to deliver the highest valued benefits and features to the organisation and it’s customers across all thee channels in a rapid and controlled way
Possible Solutions And Reasoning
In this section it’s important to provide a few solutions to the problem statement and a the reasons why you think these solutions may resolve the problem. It’s important to support your potential solutions with the evidence gathered from your research. Lastly, the solutions need to be in line with the organisations vision, mission, business strategy, product strategy, product roadmap and existing portfolio. There is some leeway for creative thinking, innovation and new ideas but it shouldn’t be way out there, off the chart, un-implementable (if that’s a word). The solutions I came up with are as follows:
- Users will be generating content for their own organisation. While companies may vary, some of the problems employees face may be the same. Provide companies and employees the ability to share user generated content with the wider BabbleSnap community. Allow companies and employees of the BabbleSnap community to up/down vote content. This will help the community at large as well as provide BabbleWire invaluable insight into common problems and solutions across different companies, industries, countries and sectors. This information can be monetised by creating additional and/or more advanced programs to solve the most common problems that have been verified by BabbleWire’s customers and users.
- The creation of learning programs is done via audio, video and/or text. Each piece of the program i.e. the audio, video and text could be categorised and kept in a “content repository.” This content could be provided to companies or employees to aid in the creation of self-generated content. A lot of content may only need to be created once or modified slightly for new clients. Over time BabbleWire will generate an extensive database of content to quickly and easily develop programs.
- Use Agile software development to deliver the project as it allows an organisation to continually deliver the highest value to the organisation and its customers, obtain feedback from users quickly for continuous improvement, build a product that solves a customer’s needs, increased project control, reduced risk and return a faster ROI.
Of the possible solutions you’ve suggested, choose one or two that is most likely to solve the problem statement keeping in mind any possible organisational constraints. Justify your reasons why this particular solution wins the day. Finally, suggest the next three steps the organisation should take to make this happen. These should be short and simple. The steps are designed to make it easy for the reader to move from the case study to the next phase. You don’t want to make them think too hard. You just want them to think “yep, that works. I can do that.” The steps should not be a mini project plan of how to get things done. The two recommendations I made were:
- With the creation of the BabbleSnap web portal, Android app and Apple app, the need for a sound application of Agile software development is essential to reaching project goals on time, on budget while also delivering the agreed upon outcomes for BabbleWire and it’s customers.
- Customer Development, analytics of cohorts and user behaviour is a costly and time consuming but essential part of Agile and building the right software for customers. Providing customers and users the ability to share and up/down vote user generated content provides two major benefits:
- More users are helped more often by higher quality content
- Customer development is easier and more accurate with users self selecting what they believe to be the best content.
As you can see there’s a LOT of work that goes into creating a case study. But, if done well, it should, at the least, get your foot in the door so you can then dazzle the interviewer/CEO/Founder with your personality, passion and initiative.
As always, if you have any questions, feel free to reach out or feel free to comment below.