The Success Case Method
here is what you must at the same time believe is true in order to disbelieve
• Anne was lying.
• Her manager was lying.
• Her peer advisors were lying.
• The regional office had falsified its training records.
• Anne had falsified her customers’ files and had defrauded these
• The trainer was lying.
• The regional office had falsified its sales and productivity records.
• The national database the company maintained had been corrupted.
• And finally, everyone involved—Anne, her manager, her peers, her
customers, and the training department—had conspired to create
this story and falsify the records that documented it.
So, I noted in closing, if you believe that these things happened, then by all
means you should reject this story, and your claim that this training does not
work is quite true.
The executive took his seat and was quiet and complacent during the rest of
the report session. On the plane returning from the meeting, my colleagues and
I noted how thankful we were that we took the time to follow our own SCM
rules for gathering corroborating and documenting evidence!
The Basic SCM Questions
An SCM study can be used to get answers to any, or all, of four (4)
• What is really happening?
• What results, if any, is the program helping to produce?
• What is the value of the results?
• How could the initiative be improved?
The SC inquiry directed to these questions can range from the very
simple to the more complex. At the simplest end of the spectrum, an
SC inquiry can be used just to discover and illustrate the ways in which
a new innovation is being used or helping determine whether anything
good is happening as the result of a new program or change. More
complex, an SC study can indicate what proportions of people, in what
organizational units, are using new tools and methods, and what suc-
cess they are having. At the even more complex end of the spectrum,
an SC study can provide estimates of return-on-investment and help
make decisions about how much more value a program is realistically
capable of making above and beyond its current level of impact.
Here, in more detail are four basic SC questions and some illustra-
tions to demonstrate the range of inquiry that might be directed
1. What is really happening? This basic SC question has a range of
applications. At the most fundamental end of the complexity
spectrum, a quick SC study could be used to simply illustrate the
sorts of things that are happening, and not happening, in a new
initiative. In a company that was trying to introduce a new team
approach to selling, for example, we quickly discovered that only
a few of the intended team applications were really being imple-
mented. Almost all sales reps, for instance, were meeting each
week to plan their sales calls in conjunction with one another’s
schedules. But almost none of them were making joint sales calls,
and competition was still relatively rampant, as fears of sharing
commissions overrode desires to cooperate. In another study of
usage of new laptops in a sales firm, we found that all but a few
What Is the Success Case Method and How Does It Work?
The Success Case Method
applications were being effectively used. Some of the unused
applications turned out to be incompatible with some of the sales
reps equipment; others were tried but deemed to be too complex
or otherwise not helpful.
In a more complex study of usage of simulators for training
computer repair technicians, we found that usage varied dramat-
ically among geographic districts. In some districts, regional man-
agers were providing incentives to attend simulator training and
had created innovative scheduling schemes to allow their staff to
participate. Overall, however, the expensive simulator facility was
under-used or misused by nearly 40% of all technicians. This rep-
resented huge waste, and service management took quick steps to
remedy the situation.
Some of the more specific questions that Success Case studies
can be used to answer are:
• Who is using the new methods, and who is not?
• What parts of new innovations are getting used, and what
parts are not?
• How widespread is usage?
• What groups or subgroups are making the least, or most, use
of new techniques?
• When are methods being used, and with whom?
2. What results, if any, is the program helping to produce? Even very
simple SC studies can quickly gather evidence about the most
poignant and compelling results that a change initiative is pro-
ducing, and they can provide rich illustrations of these “best case”
outcomes. In a recent study of an innovative online supervisory
support system, for example, we found that some supervisors had