I recently told a friend that I learned more from case competitions than I did in most of my classes put together. Of course, that sentence is laced with a little bit of smug hyperbole, but the premise is largely sound – case competitions have taught me many of the things an MBA programme is supposed to teach you – applying theoretical concepts to a real-world problem, evaluating a given situation along every possible dimension, even in the absence of complete information, making sharp, concise presentations, and of course, doing all of this against a short deadline with a thousand other things to do. Reaching the finale of IIM Bangalore’s Numero Uno from among 1800 participants gave me a serious case of the imposter syndrome – the other presentations were simply so much better. Their analysis was so much deeper, the tools they used so much more sophisticated. I was stunned when my name was announced as the winner, but less so when the judges gave the reasoning. “The problem,” they said, “is that you have gotten so deep into the analysis that you forgot to apply 360 degree common sense solutions to a business problem.” That, I realized, I could do. Winning NITIE’s Enpower 3.0 competition (with my dearest friends Suyash Kumar and Utkarsh Nagar), coming third in IIM Indore’s Management Studio, and winning IIM Calcutta’s OpsWorld competition told me that there was something I was doing right. Hence the desire to pen down this article, with some of my learnings.
Excluding the initial quiz round, a case competition usually has three critical elements – solving the case, preparing the presentation, and (if you make It to the finals), presenting your solution to the judges.
Solving the Case
Case competitions revolve around the all-important case – a problem statement (long or short) that you must solve. In preparing the case for XLRI Jamshedpur’s Clockspeed Case Competition, I learned one very important lesson – the solution to a case doesn’t revolve around extremely detailed quantitative analysis. It requires what I call the CEO’s Eye. The first step while reading the case is to identify the most critical issue – what would be the CEO’s primary pain point? Once you can put yourself in the CEO’s shoes, life gets easier, because then you can think of solutions as a CEO would – keeping all stakeholders in mind, minimizing the cost needed to bring about whatever change is required, and doing all this staying true to the company’s vision and values.
In virtual case competition finales, your presentation would be shared on a Zoom screen with the jury panel. Nobody likes looking at a cluttered or unattractive presentation. On the other hand, a presentation without all the necessary analysis would not get you into the finale in the first place. Solution: Learn to own every pixel of the screen – know what to leave blank, what to write where, but actual spend time thinking of the design and the aesthetic. If your presentation is pleasing to look at, that definitely aids your effort. There are plenty of templates available online, but they will be of no use unless you actually plan your slides out. The templates are the tool, not the master.
The all-important national finale, with you and about 10-12 other teams or individuals, all presenting to a jury panel. The most critical element here is often overlooked – the script! Have a script ready – don’t try to come up with clever things to say on the spot. With enough practice, you’ll get used to being able to read seamlessly off the screen. This keeps you focused and within the time limit. Also, don’t simply read off the slide, but focus on the key insights in each slide. Why is that slide there at all? If you find that a slide has no insight, you suddenly know that it can easily be excluded.
Case competitions are a lot of fun, teach you most of the key elements of business, and allow you to test your mettle against students from all over India. Also, winning the prize money doesn’t hurt either!
I hope sincerely this article was of help to the readers, and at the very least gives you enough confidence to go out there and participate!