It’s been a while since I posted on the way to structure a case study. But it sure hasn’t been a while since I’ve written one! As every industry seems to be morphing into something new, case studies are more relevant than ever before. Folks might not recognize the vocabulary from your industry, but they will understand problems that have been addressed. Being able to explain a business issue you’ve addressed, with explanation of your approach, and the business impact you achieved is the best way of illustrating relevance.
In written PowerPoint decks, websites, resumes, or other prose, you’ve got space to explain the situation (or challenge) you were addressing in the case study. You’ve got time to link your approach in that case to a core business approach (or framework as consultants call them). And you’ve got space to show business results. You don’t have that kind of time when talking about work that you’ve done – the average attention span these days is less than 5 minutes, so you need to get to the point!
When verbally explaining your work, think of it as telling a story. Your situation is setting up a world and explaining the conflict in that world. Try to explain your situation in 60-90 seconds. In example, “Our team’s morale was at an all time low and I was asked to fix it, and quick. The low morale was leading to serious and very expensive retention issues, we were spending over $100k a year on sourcing new candidates.”
Your approach is the escalating conflict and the hero of your story, you, are deep in the battle against the conflict from the situation. For your approach, try to keep it to two-three minutes. For our example, “To better understand the morale issues, I recruited a team of popular employees from various parts of our departments, and of different demographics. All of the members of the team were known for being friendly and for getting along with others – I wanted people that other team mates would open up to. Each of those members were given a standard set of questions and were asked to conduct interviews in a casual set up so we could find out what the morale issues really were, and to see if there were solutions in the collective wisdom of our team. All findings were reported back to the central team in a set format, without individual interviewee names linked to the findings to promote objectivity. The full team looked at the findings and formed a set of recommendations.”
And the impact is the conclusion of your story – think of it as your happy ending. Try to tell your impact in 60-90 seconds – and remember this is meant to be like a happy ending to your story. For example, “The approach seemed to be right – not only did we find some quick wins, but the full team felt listened to. We got a lot of feedback from the team noting that they appreciated being part of the process to make our workplace better and that they felt more connected to the company as a result. More importantly, our retention numbers improved by 40%!”
It’s never bad to have 2-3 work stories in your back pocket for proposals, job interviews, or general presentations. Since they are best when told tightly, rehearse them! And rehearse them again! Your future audiences will thank you – and the future version of you will thank you for the amazing discussions these case studies prompt!