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Good reasons NOT to do a case study

The case study is the favorite default style for many business professionals, particularly the more technical types. Many of these people truly love their work and believe in it passionately. And that’s wonderful.
But while they may have found that sharing the details of their work to be conversation-killers at dinner parties, they haven’t yet found that out about case studies. This means that the resulting case study can be of interest only to their competitors, who may delightedly exclaim, “So THAT’S how they did it! We’ll try that next time on one of our projects.” By contrast, case studies may be deadly dull for clients, who really do not care about the ins and outs of how your firm does its work -- that’s why they outsource these projects rather than treating them as a core competency and keeping them in-house.

That being said, do case studies have a positive value? Oh yes. Case studies can:

  • 'Credentialize’ your firm, showing that it can and does succeed on particularly thorny problems
  • Convince a prospect that you can produce results in their industry, in their geography, or on their scale of project
  • Provide reassurance to people within the prospect organization who want to hire your firm -- and need reasons to persuade their higher-ups

Making case studies engaging and suspensful

A good case study can be as gripping as a well-written detective novel -- “We faced this problem and tried one solution; it didn’t work so we tried another that didn’t work either, but the third time we tried an innovative technology that solved the problem.”

But to provide real value to prospects, case studies must be prepared in a way that informs the firm’s prospective or current market about something they want to know about.

For example, a few years ago I worked with a hydrologist based in the Vancouver area, who was helping to manage the water impacts from a now-closed underground copper mine. The precipitation that flowed through the mine picked up metals and salts on its way, and as the water poured out from the lower levels it had nowhere to go other than into the nearby ocean. Accordingly, this mine was one of the largest point sources of metals contamination on the North American Pacific coast.

My client’s firm provided part of the solution that caused the mine water to be treated, so that several years after the measures were installed, normal flora and fauna are returning to the formerly barren stretch of coast.

The hydrologist wanted to demonstrate his abilities to find solutions to several aspects of the problem -- the mine water, the mine waste that was generating acid rock drainage, the social and economic solutions for the residents of the former mine town, and the overall brownfield remediation.
I worked with him on four articles -- two in mining publications, one in a magazine for municipalities, and one focusing on infrastructure renewal. All were co-authored with a member of the provincial government’s contaminated-lands department, which was the client organization.

Points to cover in an effective case study

Be sure to cover these points:

  1. The initial situation, and the problems/issues involved
  2. The nature of the intervention, including what was found to not work -- and what did
  3. Problems and challenges encountered
  4. The eventual result
  5. Lessons learned

A case study can position your firm as being able to deliver solid results for clients, able to follow a procedure, and willing to follow through.

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