How a Candidate Led Case Should Flow

I can usually tell within the first 5-10 minutes of giving someone a case how it’s going to go. How is this possible you ask? It’s really simple; there’s a certain flow that you feel with people who are experienced.

It’s hard to describe, but the best way to put it is that you can tell there’s a certain process that they’re following. You can tell that they know all of the steps, know how to do each step properly, and that they will reach the answer given enough time.

Today’s post, then, will describe each step of the case cracking process, why you do it that way, and how you can improve each step of the process.

Steps of the Case Cracking Process

1. Repeating the initial prompt, clarifying the original objective, and asking any clarifying questions.

2. Structuring the Case.

3. Identifying the Problem Through Process of Elimination

4. Pivoting.

5. Proposing a Solution.

6. Concluding.

Repeating the Initial Prompt

Now, you might ask yourself. Why in the heck are you supposed to do this? Why would you bother repeating what you heard or clarifying the objective? That seems like a pointless waste of time.

But you’d be wrong.

Once you become reasonably proficient at cases, the number one way you can screw up is by misunderstanding some part of the initial prompt or the objective. This could manifest itself as:

1. You trying to improve revenues when you’re actually supposed to improve profit.

2. You trying to improve profit when you’re actually only trying to improve revenues.

3. You doing a calculation incorrectly because you copied down the wrong numbers at the beginning.

4. You not being able to do a calculation because you missed out on an important number at the beginning of the case.

And so on, so forth..

Bottom line, don’t ever think you can skip repeating the prompt and clarifying the objective. And try to quantify the objective if you can. Anything to make it more concrete.

The other thing you should do is ask some clarifying questions. Usually, I use this time to figure out how the industry works. If that sounds basic, here is another point where you can screw up. Most of the time, understanding how a business works in the real world is actually a liability during cases, because in a case it may work very differently. (Yes, I do realize the irony of this statement, just go with it).

It’s always good to clarify how your client’s business works.

Structuring the Case

I’ve already written a couple of posts about how to structure a case. You can find them here and here. For the sake of brevity I won’t repeat myself.

However, I do want to take some time to point out another common mistake. Many times, people memorize a framework and repeat the whole thing verbatim for every case they do. I don’t think this is a good idea, because you end up wasting a lot of time asking questions on things that may not be relevant in this particular case.

instead, what I’d do is what I recommend in that article about building hypothesis trees. Figure out all of the likely hypotheses, build a tree, and figure out what information you’d need to confirm / deny each hypothesis.

Identifying the Problem

Once you have your initial structure set up your goal is to identify what the problem is by process of elimination. Don’t forget that the real challenge in a case is identifying the problem, not the solution.

So you’d walk through the case by eliminating hypotheses one by one, until either you isolate the problem or you stumble upon some strange piece of information that changes your approach. See this article for some guidance on how this should look. The way it should sound is:

“It looks like based on the initial information the client’s sales are dropping because we’re selling less product. I’d like to start my analysis by examining the distribution channels we’re using to see if there’s been any shift in the channels customers are using.

What are the channels we use, and has there  been a shift of customers to any new types of channels?”

If you figure out what’s causing the client’s issue, you can then proceed to potential solutions. If you find something unexpected, it’s time to pivot.


Pivoting is the most fun part of cases. Usually, you have to pivot because you find some key piece of information / analysis that completely changes your approach.

The classic example is the case when you’re being asked to improve profit. Usually, price wars are out of the question because that’ll lower your profit, but if you find out your cost structure is substantially lower than your competitors it still might be worth doing.

Either way, pivoting usually is a good thing. It means you’re getting closer to your answer. If you need to structure the problem again, do it.

Proposing a Solution

Once you isolate the problem it’s time to propose a solution. Usually, this is pretty easy to do because there’s only a few practical solutions that will fit your particular situation. If you need help brainstorming, read this article.


When you get to the conclusion part of the case, take some time to think through it. The mistake many people make is they try to repeat every single thing they learned and did. It’s too much, Just keep it short, sweet, and action oriented. See this article for how to do it.


A case has the following six steps:

1. Repeating the initial prompt, clarifying the original objective, and asking any clarifying questions.

2. Structuring the Case.

3. Identifying the Problem Through Process of Elimination

4. Pivoting.

5. Proposing a Solution.

6. Concluding.

Probably most of the time will be spent identifying the problem. It usually take a bit of process of elimination to box the problem in, but feel free to pivot when necessary if you think there’s another, more promising path.

Good luck!




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