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Effective Case Study Creation

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Most of us are pretty familiar with case studies.  They document wins, provide credibility when marketing your skill set and reassurance when selecting outside vendors to work with. A case study documents the factors contributing to the success or failure of a process or test approach implemented to create a solution.

It is extremely important that regular case study documentation is a part of the process in every organization, especially when various testing and learning has become a part of the process. Since case studies are the history of our achievements, when we don’t create them properly, we find ourselves either repeating mistakes, or missing opportunities.

There are several different types of case studies out there: Illustrative, Exploratory Cumulative and Critical Instance. Critical Instance case studies are the most common and very applicable for higher volume testing environments. Critical Instance case studies will not focus on general results, but provide answers to cause and effect scenarios– Great when constantly testing!

There are 7 guidelines that I have found helpful to consider when building a solid Critical Instance case study.  However, these rules could be applicable to all case studies:

Tell a Story:

Describe the plot – state of things, conflict. What was the problem, approach? How did we go about solving the problem? Big ending– what was the conclusion?  Did we have a successful conclusion, or was there a terrible twist at the end? Establishing a clear story is much easier to articulate from a marketing standpoint and will be easier to remember.

Document the Process:

List specific steps taken for how you implemented a process that tested your hypothesis, almost like creating directions to your house. (Don’t leave anything out.) Diligently doing this will also help you uncover variables that may have actually lead to the final result. It will allow anyone else to clearly repeat the process or avoid tactics that lead to failure.

Prepare analytic summaries with supporting data appendixes:

There needs to be supportive data summarized for each cause and effect throughout the process. This information can be referenced throughout your report, but ultimately needs to be sited in an appendix. This provides each effort with data supported credentials. Months or years from the actual documents, you can still identify specific details in the process where things started going right or wrong.

Summary – True or False:

Was your hypothesis proven or disproved? Present conclusions with a question and answer section in the summary. Support this “True or False” statement with a synopsis of data in distinctive graphic representations if possible. Raw data is boring. Large underlined numbers supported with line graphs or pie charts are helpful when wrapping up the story and presenting your conclusion.

Social Proof:

Follow the summary with a testimonial from individuals who you were building a case study for (client) or with (teammate). When presenting case studies, it is best to do this in video. Testimonials provide a nice personal perspective on the efforts, as well as some additional credibility. When winning, they give the case study more zest with a parting note. When losing, they can be insightful and discuss other ideas for follow-up approaches.

Present to your team:

Bring your team or department together and tell the story, on a monthly or quarterly basis. This will provide team members with additional learnings that make your foundation of knowledge stronger. It will also establish you as an expert and prepare you for any other presentations down the road – like for your client or boss.

Get Organized:

This is sometimes the most challenging step. Whether saving these by date, subject or specific test name, case studies need to be organized and easy to reference in the future. NOT being organized prevents them from being an effective tool for marketing to clients, or referencing in order to establish best practices. Quarterly summaries via PPT, spreadsheet documentation summaries, or simply creating folders specific to each documented case study (in sub categories) are all good ways to start.

These are yours to use as you please. I have found that a solid case study is an excellent tool for repeating or avoiding history. When done right, case studies are the key to confidence when making future decisions, as well as promoting yourself and your business. Are there guidelines that you follow when creating an effective case study?