Creating a competition challenge: a behind the scenes peek

Earlier this year, we were privileged to co-create the case challenge for Warwick Business School’s inaugural Case Competition. The event was the first of its kind for the pharmaceutical, life sciences and healthcare sectors, and was designed to engage the finest talent from top, university-based business schools in the UK.

Today’s healthcare sector faces some very real and prevalent challenges for which intelligent solutions are needed. The sector is also a significant recruiter of management graduates and, according to a recent survey by the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), a high proportion of job offers have already been secured by the Class of 2013.

The Case Competition thus brought together teams from Warwick, Lancaster, Cranfield and Manchester Business Schools with experts and judges who offered experience across organisations such as GlaxoSmithKline, Roche, UCB Pharma, Novartis, University of Oxford’s Clinical Trial Service Unit (CTSU), Quintiles, Bristol-Myers Squibb and AstraZeneca.

IMS Health, a leading provider of information, services and technology for the healthcare industry, kindly sponsored the competition and partnered in both judging final presentations and providing expertise to student participants on the day.

Allow us to give you a behind the scenes tour to our own involvement and an insight into creation of the case itself…

Creating a credible challenge

Following a detailed brief, we worked closely with Sue Thorn (Director of  WBS CareersPlus), Kev Robinson (WBS Case Competition Lead), and members of the student Executive Team to co-create the competition challenge. From proposal to finished article, this was an iterative process of research, sharing of ideas, writing, design and development.


Comprehensive research

Realistic case studies require in-depth research. Although the company at the heart of the case was fictitious, the market in which it was set was real life and current. It was therefore critical that everything in the case reflected deep, accurate and up-to-the-minute market knowledge.

Debbie is our researcher extraordinaire, with Google and Evernote being her research tools of choice. Over the course of the development process, she captured (and read!) 479 news articles, opinion pieces, research papers, annual reports, briefings, white papers, guidelines, studies and industry reports—even watching several videos and news reports for good measure.

A photo showing an Evernote snapshot of all the research that went into creating the case study competition

A believable brand

Xceletra, the company at the heart of the case, was fictitious but it was important to create a believable organisation and brand—one that you could imagine being a real, live client.

To create such a brand, we first decide where in the market the organisation is positioned, what size it is, and how innovative/traditional it is in comparison to its competitors. We then look for a name that sounds authentic but is not in use by an existing company—an exercise that proved somewhat challenging in a sector as large and diverse as pharmaceuticals!

Drawing on the power of Facebook however, Xceletra was born. Our graphic designer, Robin Boyd, then skilfully designed its logo.

Bringing Xceletra to life

With a believable brand in place, we next set about weaving the challenge into a credible story centred on a lifelike organisation: How many employees does Xceletra have? Which therapeutic areas is it focused on? How successful has it been to date? How many compounds does it have in its clinical pipeline? What is its organisational structure? Where does the competition challenge fit within the overall strategy of the business?

For the Case Competition, we also wrote two scripts, one of which was brilliantly acted and filmed by WBS students and staff. I have to say, we never thought collaborative script writing would become part of our job description but it was great fun and we were fascinated by the way in which each of our characters developed their own distinctive personality.

At the end of the day, our aim with any fictitious case is to blur the boundary between fact and fiction and for all participants to have an experience that is as true to life as possible.

Developing an illustrated brief

Part Two of the Competition Brief required that participants got to grips with a wide range of potential solutions—fast! To facilitate this process and to reduce the need for participants to undertake large quantities of primary research when time was precious, we employed visual communication.

With a background in design, Matt is skilled at communicating complex ideas in pictures and while he’s the first to admit that his illustrations will never win the Turner Prize, his drawings have been commended for their clarity and creativity.

Pulling everything together

With the core components in place, it was now time to pull everything together into a cohesive whole. Not only does the case itself need to tell a convincing story but a variety of other elements are also necessary to effectively communicate the logistics of the competition.

First photo showing some of the many elements of the case study competition

Second photo showing some of the many elements of the case study competition

From participants to judges, each individual needs to know what they should be doing and when. It’s also vital that key information is communicated to the right people at the right time. To ensure this, we created packs tailored to participants, experts and judges.

The finished article

All printed and ready for the day…

What they said

Feedback on the day was incredibly positive and we were thrilled. Abhishek Paryani, a member of the winning team from Lancaster University Management School, said:

All in all, it was a challenging exercise that gave us insight into the issues within the big pharmaceutical companies and it allowed us to come up, within the one week, with creative and multi-disciplinary solutions that kept in mind the different stakeholders involved.

Sue Thorn, Director of WBS CareersPlus, also wrote:

The energy and creativity that Matt and Debbie brought to the process has been amazing, managing to turn our initially sketchy concepts into credible and challenging materials to fully engage and stretch our participants. They took care to fully research the background markets and sectors we were using as a backdrop to these workshops so that the fictional companies created and business scenarios facing them were challenging, but also fully credible. They coped admirably with tight turnaround times, were flexible to cope with any changes in specifications that we made and engaged us fully throughout the process. The high quality and scope of the case studies, the tasks devised for participants and the associated briefing materials gained praise from many of the senior WBS alumni and recruiters that were in attendance.

To find out more about the day of the competition itself, catch up again with us next week!
WBS Case Competition 2013: On the day

Article by

Debbie Stocker

Debbie is director of Stocker Partnership, a strategy and innovation consultancy. She's a great facilitator, researcher and strategist. With an approach that is both creative and methodical, Debbie combines her expertise in psychology with a strong commercial focus. Her signature strengths include kindness and a love of learning. She also line manages the office dog. More about us

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