A business case is the way you prove to your client, customer or stakeholder that the product you’re pitching is a sound investment, and Jennifer Bridges, PMP, illustrates the steps to writing one that will sway them.
The business case traditionally is a document that defines the core business benefit of a project in order to justify the expenditure of the initiative. It often details how the project aligns with strategic goals in the org, and as such is a crucial yet often overlooked responsibility for managers, who assume that senior leadership is responsible for this, or who simply get quickly subsumed by the day-to-day responsibilities of delivering the project.
Whether you’re starting a new project or mid-way through one, take time to write up a business case to justify the project expenditure by identifying the business benefits your project will deliver and that your stakeholders are most interested in reaping from the work. The following four steps will show you how to write a business case:
Step 1: Identify the Business Problem
Projects aren’t created for project’s sake. They have a goal. Usually, they’re initiated to solve a specific business problem or create a business opportunity.
Carolyn O’Hara, writing in HBR, notes that you should “Lead with the need.” Therefore, your first job is to figure out what that problem or opportunity is, describe it, find out where it comes from and then address the time-frame needed to deal with it.
This can be a simple statement, but is best articulated with some research into the economic climate and the competitive landscape to justify the timing of the project.
Step 2: Identify the Alternative Solutions
How do you know whether the project you’re undertaking is the best possible solution to the problem defined above? Naturally, choosing the right solution is hard, and the path to success is not paved with unfounded assumptions.
One way to narrow down the focus to make the right solution clear is to follow these six steps (after the relevant research, of course):
- Note the alternative solutions.
- For each solution, quantify its benefits.
- Also, forecast the costs involved in each solution.
- Then figure out its feasibility.
- Discern the risks and issues associated with each solution.
- Finally, document all this in your business case.
Step 3: Recommend a Preferred Solution
You’ll next need to rank the solutions, but before doing that it’s best to set up a criteria, maybe have a scoring mechanism to help you prioritize the solutions to best chose the right one.
Some methodologies you can apply include:
- Depending on the solutions cost and benefit, give it a score of 1-10;
- Base your score on what’s important to you;
- Add more complexity to your ranking to cover all bases.
Regardless of your approach, once you’ve added up your numbers, the best solution to your problem will become evident. Again, you’ll want to have this process also documented in your business case.
Step 4: Describe the Implementation Approach
So, you’ve identified your business problem or opportunity and how to reach it, now you have to convince your stakeholders that you’re right and have the best way to implement a process to achieve your goals. That’s why documentation is so important; it offers a practical path to solve the core problem you identified.
Now, it’s not just an exercise to appease senior leadership. Who knows what you might uncover in the research you put into exploring the underlying problem and determining alternative solutions? You might save the organization millions with an alternate solution than the one initially proposed. When you put in the work on a strong business case, you’re able to get your sponsors or organizational leadership on board with you and have a clear vision as to how to ensure delivery of the business benefits they expect.
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To help you create a business plan you’ll want to have a robust tool to collect and assemble all the various data you’ll be collecting, and then easily share it both with your team and project sponsors. That’s where ProjectManager.com comes in, and with this free 30-day free trial you can see the benefits for yourself.
Video In Review – How to Write a Business Case:
Jennifer explained the need for a business case, as it collects the proposal, outline, strategy and marketing plan in one document and offers a full look at how the project will benefit the organization.
There are four steps necessary to write a business case, which are as follows:
- Research your market, competition and alternatives
- Compare and finalize your approaches
- Compile the data and present your strategies, goals and options
- Document everything
Jennifer said there are templates you can use to write your business case and collect all the pertinent information, which includes the following:
- Executive summary
- Business description/mission statement
- Product or service
- Marketing strategy
- Competitors analysis
- SWOT: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats
- Operations overview
- Financial plan
With the popularity of “back-of-the-napkin” ideas spawning multi-billion dollar startups, it can be tempting to overlook good old fashioned business documentation. In fact, in some Lean or Agile organizations, over-reliance on documentation is seen as a clear impediment to innovation and collaboration.
Here’s a shot of the whiteboard for your reference!
Today we’re talking about how to write a business case. Well, over the past few years, we’ve seen the market, or maybe organizations, companies or even projects, move away from doing business cases. But, these days, companies, organizations, and those same projects are scrutinizing the investments and they’re really seeking a rate of return.
So now, think of the business case as your opportunity to package your project, your idea, your opportunity, and show what it means and what the benefits are and how other people can benefit.
We want to take a look today to see what’s in the business case and how to write one. I want to be clear that when you look for information on a business case, it’s not a briefcase.
Someone called the other day and they were confused because they were looking for something, and they kept pulling up briefcases. That’s not what we’re talking about today. What we’re talking about are business cases, and they include information about your strategies, about your goals. It is your business proposal. It has your business outline, your business strategy, and even your marketing plan.
And so, why is that so important today? Again, companies are seeking for not only their project managers but their team members to have a better understanding of business and more of an idea business acumen. So this business case provides the justification for proposed business change or plan. It outlines the allocation of capital that you may be seeking and the resources required to implement. Then, it can be an action plan. It may just serve as a unified vision. And then it also provides the decision makers with different options.
So let’s look more about the steps required to put these business cases together. There are four main steps. One, you want to research your market. Really look at what’s out there, where are the needs, where are the gaps that you can serve? Look at your competition. How are they approaching this, and how can you maybe provide some other alternatives?
You want to compare and finalize different approaches that you can use to go to market. Then you compile that data and you present strategies, your goals and other options to be considered.
And then you literally document it.
So what does the document look like? Well, there are templates out there today. The components vary, but these are the common ones. And then these are I consider what’s essential. So there’s the executive summary. This is just a summarization of your company, what your management team may look like, summary of your product and service and your market.
The business description gives a little bit more history about your company and the mission statement and really what your company is about and how this product or services fits in.
Then, you outline the details of the product or service that you’re looking to either expand or rollout or implement. You may even include in there patents maybe that you have pending or other trademarks.
Then, you want to identify and layout your marketing strategy. Like, how are you gonna take this to your customers? Are you going to have a brick and mortar store? Are you gonna do this online? And, what are your plans to take it to market?
You also want to include detailed information about your competitor analysis. How are they doing things? And, how are you planning on, I guess, beating your competition?
You also want to look at and identify your SWOT. And the SWOT is your strengths. What are the strengths that you have in going to market? And where are the weaknesses? Maybe some of your gaps. And further, where are your opportunities and maybe threats that you need to plan for?
Then the operations overview includes operational information like your production, even human resources, information about the day-to-day operations of your company.
And then, your financial plan includes your profit statement, your profit and loss, any of your financials, any collateral that you may have, and any kind of investments that you may be seeking.
EDITOR’S NOTE (10.27.17): We’ve updated this post to include a complementary video and even more helpful hints to help further your understanding of the creation of an effective business case.
So these are the components of your business case. This is why it’s so important. And if you need a tool that can help you manage and track this process, then sign up for our software now at projectmanager.com.