Case Study

Case Study – Part 3: Perfecting your draft.

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FOREWORD: Please be aware that this post is not an official RICS guidance.

All the advice given in this blog is based on my personal interpretation of the APC Candidate’s Guide 2016 which I have enhanced through many discussions with fellow APC Mentors and APC Assessors.

Sonia Desloges MRICS

Director, APC Support Ltd

 Case Study – Part 3: Perfecting your draft.

As explained in my first post on the Case Study, writing your Case Study should advance in three stages:

  1. Select your key issue(s)
  2. Write your Case Study to the requisite format
  3. Perfect your drafts applying concise and logical reasoning, using accurate vocabulary and demonstrating level 3 competencies.

So here it is – at last! – the third and final post in which we are going to examine the third stage.

Let’s remind ourselves of the purpose of the Case Study:

You want to persuade the assessors that your key issues have enabled you to attain or apply several level 3 competencies and that you have demonstrated excellent ethical and professional standards, ultimately proving to them that you are worthy of the MRICS status!

How do you achieve this?

Logical reasoning

The Case Study is not a story telling exercise. You must explain and evidence how you have effectively overcome your key issue(s).

Explaining requires three elements;

  • Facts (‘What’)
  • Background (‘How’)
  • Reasons (‘Why’)

Therefore, start by reviewing your draft case study and make sure that each fact is backed up by a ‘how’ and a ‘why’.

As the word count is very tight, I would recommend that you omit everything that does not contribute to explaining how you resolved your key issue(s). You may add some specific facts or figures to reinforce a couple of key points but you may also leave some areas of detailing open for the assessors’ questioning.

Using the appropriate vocabulary

The assessors are only interested in what YOU did. Write the whole of your Case Study using the first person and active verbs.

 Level 3 is all about advising the client so do not hesitate to use some strong vocabulary such as I recommended, I advised, I explained, I made it clear, I made my client aware that, I warned against, etc.

 Remember that ‘I did’ is level 2 only!

 The second review of draft Case Study should focus on these two points as they can make a significant impact on the quality of your submission: use the first person and active verbs!

Best practice

 Be careful that your approach should strictly follow industry best practice and the RICS standards. As a chartered surveyor, you will be expected to act as an ambassador of the RICS. Your Case Study is also supposed to be based on your best piece of work so demonstrating plain ignorance of the RICS standard is not going to be a smart option for your APC!

However, having worked with many candidates, I know that things do not always go exactly to plan in real life and that you may have been under pressure to deviate from best practice.

There are three ways to address this issue in your case study;

  1. If it is a minor point, play it safe and do not mention it. If really needed, be vague or make a slight ‘adjustment’ but be mindful that assessors may question you on this aspect of your Case Study. Be prepared!
  2. Take responsibility. Explain that you advised your client against it. Demonstrate that you took the required steps to protect both your employer’s and your client’s interests. Ask as many people as possible to review your Case Study to make sure that you are not inadvertently shooting yourself in the foot.
  3. If it is a serious deviation, it is likely that your project is not suitable for your Case Study. Learn your lessons and select a different project or defer your final assessment.

In any case, do not make things up!!!

Lessons learnt

Most candidates are very generic in their lessons learnt. They restrict themselves to some classic ones such as the importance of good communication within a team, the importance of understanding the client’s requirements, the importance of setting up processes to identify issues early.

If you want to stand out, you need to be more specific than this. Look at the competencies that you have developed during your key issues. Look at your pathway guide and the examples of activities that you are expected to carry out to demonstrate level 3 in those competencies.

What did you learn about these tasks during your key issues? Have you discovered better ways of completing them? Did you follow best practice and understood why it has to be done that way?

Obviously you should avoid to simply state that you have learnt how to carry out your day job through your key issue! Use more subtle vocabulary such as:

I have enhanced, I have built up on my previous knowledge, I have gained a deeper understanding, I now have the confidence to advise my clients on such matter.

And because many candidates have asked me for examples, here is one relating to Procurement and Tendering, Development / Project Brief and Communication;

‘Key issue 1 has demonstrated the importance of understanding and establishing the client’s requirements and drivers. This experience has shown me that certain client requirements can have a significant impact on procurement options and limit the routes available for the client to use. The initial difficulties encountered in this project have also evidenced the need for a clear definition and effective communication of the client’s requirements within the project team.’

Here is another relating to Procurement and Tendering, Construction Technology and Design Economics;

‘A valuable lesson I have taken away from this project is to carefully consider the implications of utilising a technical solution that may restrict future commercial and procurement decision making. If the incumbent infrastructure can be improved and maintained by a larger number of competent contractors, greater CAPEX and OPEX savings could be achieved.’

Note: As the RICS use a plagiarism software to ensure that your submission is of your own work, please do not cut and paste these examples onto your own Case Study!!

Further help

 If you would like to prepare the detailed plan of your Case Study with our APC trainers and discuss with them your key issues and options, we organise regular dedicated workshops.

 Please check our latest availabilities here: http://www.apcsupport-ltd.co.uk/book-on-line/4591700247

If you would prefer a detailed and personalised review of your draft Case Study, we also offer a one-to-one service either in person or via video conference depending on your location. Please e-mail us at sonia@APCsupport-ltd.co.uk for more information.

 And as always, we are on Twitter @APCsupport_NW and you can send me an invite on LinkedIn if you would like to be notified of our latest events.

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Case Study – Part 2: Writing to the requisite format.

Posted on Updated on

FOREWORD: Please be aware that this post is not an official RICS guidance.

All the advice given in this blog is based on my personal interpretation of the APC Candidate’s Guide 2016 which I have enhanced through many discussions with fellow APC Mentors and APC Assessors.

Sonia Desloges MRICS

Case Study: Writing to the requisite format.

The new APC Candidate’s Guide published in February 2015 and updated in August 2016 has introduced a number of changes, and one particular change that has led to much confusion and many queries is the replacement of the Critical Analysis by the Case Study.

By comparison, tackling the Critical Analysis may have seem a fairly straightforward task for earlier candidates since there was a plethora of guidance, templates and past examples available. With the Case Study we are entering unchartered land.

It is time to rectify the situation and provide you with some clear guidance.

As I explained in the first part of this series of three articles, writing your Case Study should advance in three stages:

  1. Select your key issue(s)
  2. Write your Case Study to the requisite format
  3. Perfect your drafts applying concise and logical reasoning, using accurate vocabulary and demonstrating level 3 competencies.

This second post focuses – quite logically – on the second stage and will examine each section of the Case Study step by step.

Front Cover and Contents

The current RICS template for the Case Study is contained within the ‘APC Final Assessment Submission Template’ available for download on the RICS website:

http://www.rics.org/uk/apc/pathway-guides (select your relevant pathway and make sure that you select ‘chartered’ if you are applying for full MRICS status rather than Associate)

The Assessors will expect your Case Study to be presented to the highest professional standards, exactly like a formal report to a client.

Whilst this is not currently included in the RICS template, I would therefore strongly recommend that you add a front cover and a page of content. If you feel that this is a little adventurous, you will find that most assessors and APC mentors give the same advice on the APC Forum on LinkedIn. It will make you stand out from the crowd and in a good way.

You can download the amended template that I have produced here: case-study-template-august-2016

This template is an exact copy of the RICS template but includes additional sub-sections to help you with your structure and your word count. You may choose to remove the sub-headings at the time of your submission or retain them, which will help the assessors follow your case study more easily.

You may adapt the front cover to suit your personal preferences but I would suggest including a photograph of your project as it will help grabbing your reader’s interest.

I have also added a couple of optional additional pages that you may want to consider. Those do not have to be included in the word count.

  • Confidentiality statement

The RICS have included a confidentiality statement assuming that you will obtain consent from your client and your employer. If this is not the case and you can not reveal all the names and details, I have included an alternative wording which you may amend to suit.

  • Glossary of Abbreviations

Using abbreviations and acronyms is generally not recommended but if you must, remember to incorporate a glossary or list of abbreviations. Remember to always use the full word with the abbreviation between brackets the first time you use an acronym in your case study, eg the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) and thereafter RICS.

  • Page of Contents

Like all professional reports, your case study should have a page of contents. This page is automatically linked to the contents of your case study but you must remember to right-click on your mouse to update the fields.

Section 1: Introduction (circa 500 words)

In this section you are expected to give a brief description of the project, your roles and responsibilities. You do not need to give detailed background to your key issue(s) in this section but simply put your reader into context.

As with every written work, start with an introduction sentence such as:

‘This report will critically analyse my involvement as the [your role] in project XYZ.’

You can add a brief outline of your report if you can afford the extra words. For example;

‘I will present two keys issues which I encountered in this project and review the options I considered to overcome them. This report will go on to evaluate the outcome of my approach and recommended solution, and conclude by the analysis of the lessons I have learnt through this experience.’

1.1 Project Overview

Include some or all of the following as appropriate – this may be as bullet points if you are struggling with the word count;

  • Brief description of project
  • Brief description of client (and stakeholders if relevant to your key issues)
  • Stage at which the project currently is
  • Project key objectives (if relevant)
  • Project key risks and constraints (if relevant)
  • Key dates / timescales
  • Project value, form of contract, procurement (as relevant to your pathway)

1.2 My involvement and responsibilities

  • What was your role? (Keep it short and make a list with bullet points if you carried out many different tasks)
  • What was your level of responsibility?
  • At what stage did you get involved?

Section 2: My approach (circa 1,600 words) 

Remember that the assessors are only interested in what YOU did. Write the whole of your Case Study using the first person and active verbs.

2.1 Key Issue One: [Give it a title] (circa 800 words)

Provide the background to your first key issue in this sub-section.

You do not need to explain all the details of the project or circumstances. Focus on the key points that impacted on your decisions to consider and reject or adopt your options.

The type of questions you need to answer here may be;

  • What events or constraints led to the key issue?
  • What made it a challenge for you?
  • What was the stance of your client and stakeholders?
  • What were the risks to the project?
  • What was your key issue?

Do not omit to clearly formulate what your key issue was. The Assessors have not worked with you on your project and you should not over-estimate their ability to guess what you are trying to say. Ask a friend who does not know anything about your project to read your case study to check whether you have suitably expressed yourself.

2.2 Options

Start by explaining what your objectives were when you started tackling this key issue. What were you aiming to achieve?

This will enable you to set out a number of criteria against which you will measure the success of your solution in section 3 (My Achievements) of your Case Study. This could be just half a sentence or a couple of sentences depending on the complexity of your project.

Then briefly list the 2 to 4 options that you considered. (3 is always best)

‘As it was critical to my client that the budget was not exceeded whilst not compromising the end user’s requirements, I identified that three courses of actions were available to me for resolving this key issue:

  • Option 1: XYZ
  • Option 2: ABC
  • Option 3: Bla bla bla’

As the headings and sub-headings must be included in your word count, you may have to choose between listing your options here or stating them under the next series of sub-headings to keep to the word limit.

Then review them one at the time remembering that you want to demonstrate your level 3 competencies (providing reasoned advice).

Option 1: [title]

  • What led you to consider option 1? Why was is a realistic option?
  • What methodology did you use to analyse its suitability? Why?
  • What were the results of your analysis?
  • Why did these results lead you to reject this option?
  • How did you advise your client?

Option 2: [title]

Repeat the same structure for option 2.

Option 3: [title]

The last option is usually your solution. Same as options 1 and 2 but you may emphasise on how you established that it was the best solution and why.

You need to follow a logical reasoning and also demonstrate that you have taken into account your client’s requirements and that you have addressed the issue you were trying to resolve. Inserting a table listing the advantages and disadvantages of each option is not satisfactory. You must write full sentences and analyse the benefits or not of each option against your objectives.

Once again remember that you need to demonstrate that you provided reasoned advice.

This structure is adopted by most candidates but may not work with all key issues and some candidates prefer to briefly describe each option, why they considered them and the methodology applied under each relevant sub-heading. And they add an additional section ‘Analysis of options’ in which they compare and contrast the relative benefits and disadvantages of each option against the objectives they aim to achieve.

2.3 Key Issue Two: [Give it a title] (circa 800 words)

Background

2.4 Options

Proceed as per Key Issue One.

You do not need to have a second key issue if your first one was particularly complex and entailed the application of several Level 3 competencies.

I would not recommend more than two keys issues as the strict word count will not permit you to explain them in sufficient depth.

Section 3: My achievements (circa 400 words)

The official RICS Candidate’s Guide states:

‘In this section you should describe what you achieved, how you achieved this and what your involvement was. Demonstrate your ability to think logically, laterally and professionally giving examples of where you gave reasoned advice to a client for your level 3 competencies.’

To be clear, you should aim to demonstrate level 3 competencies in the whole of your Case Study, not just this section.

I recommend that you tackle this section in two steps. First describe the outcome, then explain how you achieved it. Make sure that you focus on what YOU did.

Deal with your key issues one after the other to avoid confusing the assessors.

3.1 Key Issue One

The outcome

  • What was the result?
  • What were the project’s and client’s objectives and key drivers? Did you achieve them? Did they evolve over time? (Link it back to Section 2.2)
  • What happened next? (if relevant)

Do not hesitate to give one or two precise figures or details if you can. This will provide the assessors with additional evidence that you have successfully resolved your key issue.

How did you achieve this?

This will be completely specific to your personal circumstances but below are some examples for consideration;

  • What arguments did you put forward to convince your client / stakeholders? (relate it back to your objectives)
  • How did your client react when you advised them of your solution?
  • Did you have any difficulties convincing your client and / or stakeholders? Why?
  • Was there a risk that your solution would fail? How did you mitigate this risk?
  • What did you personally do that contributed to the successful outcome?
  • In hindsight, do you think that there was a better alternative? (Maybe one option that your client rejected?)

3.2 Key Issue Two

Proceed as per Key Issue One.

Section 4: Conclusion (circa 500 words)

In accordance with the RICS Candidate’s Guide, ‘in this section you need to critically reflect on and analyse your performance and make reference to the lessons you learnt and what you would do differently next time.’

This is the most challenging section for many candidates and yet, probably the most important one. You should aim to identify three or four lessons learnt per key issue. You should also try to relate them to your pathway competencies.

  • Which competencies did you develop and how? (this may include soft and professional skills as well as rules of conduct and ethics)
  • Did you learn any better ways of doing your job? Did you gain a better appreciation of the reasons why the industry’s best practice is what it is?
  • What were the causes of your key issue(s)? In future projects, could you do anything to prevent or mitigate it?
  • Could you have tackled your key issues in a more efficient manner? (Obviously, you want to convince the panel that you dealt with it very well but you also need to be critical of your performance)
  • How have you used / could you use one or several of these lessons learnt in other projects?

Finally close your Case Study with a concluding sentence such as;

‘I believe the lessons learnt during my involvement in this project have contributed to my understanding of the role required of a Chartered Surveyor and I will ensure I take all of these forward on to future projects.’

CONTACT US

If you are still struggling with writing your Case Study, you can contact us via e-mail at Sonia@APCsupport-ltd.co.uk to either have a quick chat or enquire about our APC mentoring services and revision webinars. (Check our latest calendar of events  here:  http://www.apcsupport-ltd.co.uk/services)

Best of luck!

 

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case-study-template-august-2016

Case Study – Part 1: Selecting your key issue.

Posted on Updated on

FOREWORD: Please be aware that this post is not an official RICS guidance.

All the advice given in this blog is based on my personal interpretation of the APC Candidate’s Guide 2015 which I have enhanced through many discussions with fellow APC Mentors and APC Assessors.

Sonia Desloges MRICS

The Case Study for the APC

The Case Study that you are required to submit as part of your APC submission is a fantastic opportunity to showcase your technical and professional skills through a project that you know very well. But how do you get started with it?

What is a good key issue?

What are you expected to include in each section?

What techniques can you use to best demonstrate your competencies?

I will address these questions in a series of three posts taking you through the stages of writing your case study.

  1. Select your key issue(s)
  2. Write your Case Study to the requisite format
  3. Perfect your drafts applying concise and logical reasoning, using accurate vocabulary and demonstrating level 3 competencies.

This post will focus on the first stage: selecting your key issue(s).

Selecting a suitable key issue is critical in achieving the objectives of the Case Study, so let’s take you step by step through the identification process of your best key issues.

When do I need to start thinking about my Case Study?

As a rule of thumb, I would recommend discussing your Case Study with your Counsellor 12 months before your final interview. This will give you the time to request additional responsibilities or to get involved in a different project if you both identify that you do not have a suitable key issue yet.

Depending on your level of experience, you may be required to follow a period of structured training and to record your experience in an APC diary. Talking from experience, it is a boring and pain-taking requirement but so useful when the time comes to complete your Record of Experience and select your key issue(s).

[See our previous post on the APC Diary and download our free user-friendly Excel template at this link: https://apctips.wordpress.com/2015/03/24/free-excel-template-for-apc-diary/]

Even if you do not have to complete a diary, I would recommend that you keep a little notebook in which you record anything interesting that occurred in your projects to jiggle up your memory when needed.

Which project?

Assessors recognise that candidates will have gained a very diverse experience depending on their employment and as a result almost any of your projects is suitable for your Case Study.

Your selected project does not have to be a multi-million award winning scheme. Small low-profile projects attract the same challenges that major projects and require the same set of skills.

Some of your projects will be more suitable than others and you should start by compiling a short list of your most suitable projects.

  • Which projects did I work on over the last 24 months?

The topic of your Case Study must not be older than 24 months.

  • In which of my projects was I a key member of the team?

You do not have to be running the project but you must have had a strong degree of delegated responsibility to deliver the project.

  • Out of those, in which ones did I get to personally advise my client?

You must be able to demonstrate level 3 competencies in your Case Study so you need to select a project in which you have influenced your client’s decision, or at least been involved in the decision making process. This does not have to be the final client; it can be an internal client such as another department or another level in hierarchy.

  • Out of those, in which ones did the team generally follow industry best practice?

If you select a project in which corners were constantly cut, it is very unlikely that you will have dealt with your key issues in the manner expected for the purpose of your APC.

If you feel that none of your projects fit these criteria, please do get in touch via e-mail for further advice as there are sometimes ways to make it work.

What is a good key issue?

Once you have your short-list of projects, you need to consider all the challenges that you have encountered during your involvement. Hopefully you will have kept a detailed APC diary and you can easily go through your notes to refresh your memory. At this stage, write down everything that comes to your mind!

You then need to identify which among these many challenges are potential key issues.

A key issue has to be something that occurred outside the daily routine tasks. Explaining what you do as a normal course of action is not dealing with a key issue. Very often, it is the circumstances that made a relatively standard task a challenge for the candidate to overcome.

For example, demonstrating value for money is part of the day job for a quantity surveyor, but demonstrating value for money when there is only one specialist contractor in Europe who can deliver the works and consequently name its price, is far trickier and therefore a key issue.

Obviously your key issue(s) must be related to the competencies listed in the pathway guide and you must demonstrate at least two competencies at level 3.

Once you have gathered your list of potential key issues, review them asking yourselves these questions;

  • What was specific to this project or client that led to this challenge?

A key issue that occurred because of a complex situation or very challenging constraints is more likely to enable you to demonstrate a broad range of competencies and impress the panel.

  • Were there several options to overcome this challenge or only one possible course of action?

If there was only one viable option, you will not be able to demonstrate your analytic skills which is intrinsic to achieving level 3: reasoned advice.

  • Were all my options tasks that I would not ordinarily carry out if it was not for this key issue?

For example checking that I have not made any arithmetical errors is not an option, it is a compulsory best practice task.

  • Did I act in accordance with the RICS standards?

If for a reason or another you had to heavily deviate from best practice in your short-listed key issue, play it safe and select a different key issue. (And use your best endeavour to follow best practice in the future!)

  • How many competencies did I apply at level 3? 

The more, the better.

How many key issues?

Most candidates select two keys issues because it enables them to demonstrate a broader breath of experience while being able to analyse their options and choices in details.

You may discuss a single key issue if it was particularly complex and enabled you to apply a range of level 3 competencies.

I would not recommend including a third key issue in your Case Study. If you cannot write 3,000 words on two key issues, it is probably  because you have not carried out your analysis in sufficient details, or that your key issues are too weak.

Final words of advice

Whatever the key issue(s) that you will select, remember that you will be questioned on your Case Study for 10mins and you must therefore be very knowledgeable on these topics and also be able to justify the decisions that you made. You must be able to demonstrate that you have learnt lessons from your key issues and that it contributed to your attainment of the skills and behaviours required as a chartered surveyor.

Finally, remember to verify with your clients that you are authorised to use their project details for your Case Study without facing issues of confidentiality. It is always wise to obtain their written consent.

If you are still struggling with the selection of your key issues, you can contact us via e-mail at Sonia@APCsupport-ltd.co.uk to either have a quick chat or to book your place for one of our APC workshops in Manchester or Sheffield. (Check our latest calendar of events here: http://wp.me/p5Nraq-5j)

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Examples Key Issues (QS)

More pathways to follow, please bear with us!