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practical case study (six metaphors of organization)

This case study is the central individual project for each student within the course. This study serves to help synthesize the material covered in the course. It should bring the essence of the lectures and readings of the course. It should demonstrate the student’s thorough understanding of at least six of the “metaphors of organization” studied within the course (see below) and a capacity to apply these in depth to a chosen case study.

The following are general instructions for completing the project. You will find a rubric for the grading of the paper in Blackboard, under Assignments, “Practical Case Study”.


In this course, you will examine a number of different ways of viewing organizations. Each way provides a lens that highlights different aspects of organization. These ways of viewing, or metaphors, should be explored in depth within the analysis.

The purpose of this case study is to create an opportunity to apply the ideas and concepts discussed in class and the readings in the analysis of a real organizational situation. The situation may be drawn from your own experience or from some public event on which information is readily available in newspapers, reports, etc. Your choice of organization and situation will be an important one, and will call for considerable judgment and discretion on your part in deciding whether it is feasible to use it for the purposes of the case study.


Be sure to maintain a professional stance in relation to matters which are sensitive and confidential, and disguise the source of your project (unless it is drawn from public records)
through use of appropriate pseudonyms. Confidentiality and the general conduct of the project are entirely your responsibility, so proceed with caution and ethical care.

If you have no other way to identify an organization, you may choose a complex, real life organizational problem/situation as described in a detailed case study or written about in at least multiple sources in the press (for example in Fortune, the Economist, Sloane Management Review, Wall Street Journal, or through a case clearing house such as the Harvard Business School Press. It should not be a case that you have studied in another course, and must be a unique submission with minimal similarity (less than 15%) to other cases or papers submitted via the Blackboard “Turnitin” system. (You will find a Turnitin link under Assignments in Blackboard for your case study.)

In essence, the case study invites you to do the following:

1) Identify an organizational situation that appears to be amenable to the kind of analysis and exploration used in this course: the situation must be sufficiently complex to generate enough material for the writing of a case that meets the specifications described below.
2) Find relevant information and data about the organization and situation.
3.) Consider the metaphors, images, concepts and general ideas discussed in class. Choose at least six of the metaphors to apply to your organization to help to make sense of the situation being described.
4) Write up the case study in a way that relates evidence to theory to provide an appropriate analysis and explanation of the situation described.

Successful organizational analysis rests in an ability to examine any given organizational situation so that its fundamental characteristics are made clear. It is not simply a question of spotting problems and applying appropriate solutions. Rather, it hinges on questions such as:

• What is going on in the situation that you are analyzing?
• How can you account for its characteristics and the way these may be changing?
• How can you make sense of the situation and arrive at an interpretation that allows you to say something concrete about it?

Elements of the Case Study

(a) Brief Summary: Introduction to Your Organization A brief account of the situation being investigated, providing sufficient information for the reader to understand the nature of the organization and its context. This section should include relevant background information as well as a clear statement of the focus of your case study. For example, it is appropriate to provide information on the age, size, and history of the organization, the product or services it provides, and the general nature of its environment. The purpose of this is to orient the reader, so that he or she can acquire an understanding of the industry or sector with which you are dealing, and the general trends it is facing. Following a general introduction, you should focus in on the specific situation of the organization that demands—or did demand– attention.

(b) Analyze the organization using at least six metaphors from the course. Here explain and demonstrate your thorough understanding of the metaphors. Present the organization in terms of the six metaphors, applying these to bring out the critical issues and challenges of the situation. Demonstrate your understanding of the metaphors and their relevance to the case (if you find that they do not appear relevant, choose other metaphors. If you cannot find six that are relevant you should choose a different focal organization!).

The different metaphors that we discuss in class fit different situations. Which metaphors or combination of metaphors best accounts for your situation, and helps you understand and produce the analysis or “storyline” by which you can best gain insight (For more details on this method, see Chapter 11 of Images of Organization). This will call upon your ability to use your information and judge its significance.

For example, you may find that your case is best understood as a situation of organizational politics, one of classic bureaucracy, or one that is best understood in terms of the inability of the organization to adapt to its environment. You cannot make this judgment too early in the course—you will have to wait until you have finished the preliminary analysis. If you are successful in this final stage of the project, you will find that you have a much deeper understanding of the situation studied than you did at the beginning of the course. Your task in writing the final report is to communicate this understanding to the reader.

(c) Offer substantial and clear recommendations for the organization, and show how these emerge from your analysis. Here you can synthesize but go beyond the metaphors.

The report should be approximately ten to twelve double-spaced pages (approximately 4000-5000 words).


The following criteria will be used to evaluate the case study
• Demonstrated understanding of the metaphors, and the theories and concepts related to these, which can be used to explain the case situation; a discussion of alternative ways of viewing the case will be particularly valuable when relevant.
• The comprehensiveness and care with which the case situation being analyzed is
• The complexity of the case (cases that are very simple and offer little challenge will not necessarily earn a high grade)
• The quality of discussion linking theory to data: the rigor and soundness of your
analysis and general conclusions
• The professionalism with which the report is presented.


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