We’ve all had a light bulb moment at some point in time, pieced our killer idea together, and told ourselves we have a sure-fire hit.
Before it’s picked apart and we’re left facing the damning realization people won’t actually buy the darned thing.
Creating an all-singing, all-dancing concept is just the start of a long, hard journey; there’s a helluva lotta effort between initially thinking of an idea, and seeing it fly off the shelves or shoot up the download charts.
Whether you’re working at a modest start-up, or if you’re a cog at a large-scale org, the final say is firmly in the hands of a key stakeholder, who’ll either wanna tuck into a slice of your million-dollar idea, or dismiss it as pie in the sky.
Your job? Make your ‘pie’ so sweet, so satisfying, they’ll be desperate to tuck in and set the ball rolling.
So, on that note, want a hand with building a kick-ass business case?
We’d be honored.
Psst: Wanna save time (and effort 😉) we’ve popped some business case templates in our membership plans. Our Product Marketing: Core course also has a segment dedicated to building a business case. Check it out and Get Certified.
What is a business case?
Imagine the scenario: you’ve got what you think is an awesome idea, waltz into the big boss’ office, ask for backing, and leave with a sack of cash - no questions asked.
That’d be nice, wouldn’t it? But it ain’t the way the world works - you wouldn’t go to a water fight, without a Super Soaker. Don’t go into a pitch without a business case.
Business cases are designed to answer the four essential questions:
- Why are we doing this?
- What are the benefits?
- How will we do it?
- Who will we need?
If your business case messaging is enough to put a glass eye to sleep, change your tact - fast. It needs to be sharp, succinct, and keep a firm grasp on the key points; ultimately, it’s the deciding factor whether you’ll walk out the room with a spring in your step, or your tail between your legs.
Failure to prepare, prepare to fail, and all that…
Why do you need a business case?
Ever tried making a cake without self-raising flour? That’s right - it sinks. It barely gets off the ground.
And the same will happen to your proposal if you don’t put together a strong business case; it’s the perfect way to illustrate the value your creation would bring to the market, and more importantly, why it’d help your business make more money.
But business cases aren’t a one-trick pony, used to entice the people controlling the purse strings. No siree. They also give an insight into:
- Problems and opportunities,
- Benefits and risks,
- Cost and resource involved,
- Technical requirements,
- Timescales, and
- The wider impact (i.e. on other business areas).
It’s not until you and your stakeholders have touched base and assessed the ins-and-outs of a prospective project before you can make a decision on whether the pros outweigh the cons and make the decision to either press ahead with the next stages, or go back to the drawing board.
When to use a business case
Now we’ve put some flesh on the bone and explained what a business case is, you may be wondering: “When do I need to use a business case?”
A sensible question, with a simple answer.
In short, a business case is needed when you need to justify cost and expenditure for a project. It’s that simple.
It’s often the case that approval is sought from the project sponsor and other interested parties before you can turn your pipedream into a rousing reality. For instance, the finance function may authorize funds and the IT department provides resources.
Remember, the experience for one PMM will differ depending on your company. While some of us are lucky enough to work with stakeholders who’ll be more amenable to splashing the cash, others can be a bit of a tight-ass from time to time, and prising pennies from their hands will be like getting blood from a stone.
That said, if your business case is on point, you’ve got every chance of getting the go-ahead.
Business case checklist
Whether you’re packing your bag for a sun-drenched getaway or getting ready for your annual trip to the grocery store, it can be super-useful to make a checklist, and it’s no different when you’re making a business case.
Making a business case checklist will ensure you touch all the necessary bases and leave no page unturned:
Here’s an outline of what to include:
Outline your vision, goals & objectives
You can’t solve a problem if you don’t know what it is, right?
So, before you start, have a clear idea of what your intentions are, what the problem is, and how your product or service will provide a proposed solution.
In doing so, you’ll be able to form project deliverables.
Meet with stakeholders
When you’re working on a project, it’s essential to have everyone pulling in the same direction.
What better way to win over stakeholders than meet with them?
Regardless of whether they’re vendors, clients, or departmental leaders, they’ve invested in your project and it’s fundamental to establish what their expectations are.
After all, it’s impossible to gauge their responses further down the line, if you don’t have a benchmark in place.
Add to that, nobody likes dealing with The Invisible Man.
Establish your specs & requirements
Every project you undertake needs to have specifications and requirements in place - as is the case when liaising with stakeholders, they’ll help you determine whether your venture is a resounding success or a disappointing flop.
Remember, these specifications and requirements will change from project to project and are a critical ingredient to your success.
So, put them in place, establish ways their success can be measured, and always report on results, and don’t be steered by vanity metrics. Focus on the good, and the bad, in equal measure.
Vanity can easily overcome wisdom and usually overtakes common sense.
Create a project plan
We love it when a plan comes together.
But before you can stand back and admire your handiwork, you need to put the right steps in place to take your project from A to B.
For example, suss which tasks you’ll need to complete during your project, as well as how long they’ll take to complete.
Then, complete a thorough risk management plan and quash any potential obstacles that could materialize.
Form a budget estimation
You could have a pioneering idea up your sleeve, but if your budget requirements aren’t crystal clear when presenting to stakeholders, the likelihood is they’ll run a country mile.
Without giving you the seal of approval.
Before the powers that be give you the funds you so desperately crave, they’ll want to know how much they’ll be expected to spend, to the cent.
Your budget estimation must include every detail in terms of the total costs over the period allotted to the project.
Complete resource allocation
Were you ever told “many hands make light work” growing up?
Well, the same motif applies to your project. Your project needs to run like a well-oiled machine, to ensure it’s delivered on-time and remains on-budget.
Consider the strengths of the members of your team and pool your resources, accordingly. Allocate tasks matching team members’ skills, to ensure you’re left with a product or service to be proud of.
Work to a schedule
As is always the case, time waits for nobody. Therefore, create a schedule and set high, yet attainable goals for you and your team to get tasks completed.
For every day your project overruns, this costs money and could deter stakeholders from investing their trust in you to deliver on time in the future.
Never fail to communicate
We’re not one to mince our words: A team void of communication is on a one-way road to failure.
Schedule regular meetings and check-ins with your team, and also ensure stakeholders aren’t kept in the dark about how the project is progressing.
If you go quiet, they’ll get twitchy, so shout from the rooftops and instill confidence at every opportunity.
Keep an eye on progress
A plan needs to be established whereby you can regularly track the progress of your project.
Have a timeline for where you’d like to be at certain stages, and compare it with a second timeline of where you are.
If you’re ahead of schedule - fantastic. If you’re slightly behind schedule, you’ll be able to immediately identify what needs to be done to get back on track and steady the ship.
So there we have it: the bricks for your business case.
It’s time to build your fortress.
How to build a business case
You know the what, why, and when, now it’s time to delve into the most important part of our business case guide - we’re gonna show you how to put our teachings in place, with our 6-stage synopsis to secure success:
Step 1: executive summary
The executive summary is a round-up of what’s included in the doc and outlines the core information you want your audience to takeaway.
To use a movie analogy, the first scene needs to grip the audience from the get-go and the executive summary is no different; it sets the tone for the rest of the business case, so don’t put in a half-assed effort, hit them with an explosive start that’ll make them take notice.
Yippee ki yay.
Step 2: the need
Ever listened to a story for 10-minutes that could quite easily be told in half the time?
Pretty irritating isn’t it?
Let’s be honest, people are impatient and want immediacy. The same dynamic should apply to your business case; your need to tell readers about the problem or opportunity the business case is addressing from the get-go. You can make this section pop and add credence to your claims by adding:
- Research into the economic climate,
- Competitor insights,
- Customer/target audience data, and/or
- Internal knowledge.
Also, be sure to include your benefits - financial and non-financial - by explaining your goals and how they can bring value to the company. For example:
- Increase in profit margin,
- Saving employees’ time,
- Targeting new audiences,
- Responding to customer demand, and
- Improving the business’ digital security.
The more you can bring to the table, the more of a chance your proposal has of getting signed off by stakeholders.
Step 3: the process
Initially, overcoming the business case hurdle needs to be your core focus, and bombarding your audience with too much info isn’t advisable. Nonetheless, it’s certainly worth touching upon:
- What’s needed to deliver the project,
- Who’ll be needed and how long for,
- Which departments will be affected - directly and indirectly, and
- A proposed timeline of events.
We get it, it can be awkward talking money, but it’s a bridge you need to cross as part of your business case messaging. Stakeholders are seasoned pros, and have worked on multiple projects - they won’t bat an eyelid.
As always, research and communication are pivotal in gaining a concrete understanding of costs. So, check out your competition, speak to your finance team, and remember the following:
- Don’t lie - Transparency is key, and underestimating costs will come back and bite you on the ass;
- Bargain hunt. There’s no shame in looking for cheap alternatives, so long as you don’t sacrifice quality;
- Document your proposed spending in a thorough document; and
- Predict a realistic post-delivery cash flow projection.
Step 4: assess the risks
We’re sure you’ll be desperate for your proposal to be flawless, but as the saying goes: true perfection has to be imperfect.
A risk assessment will enable you to address any flaws in your plan before they spiral out of control and stop your project in its tracks.
- What risks are involved?
- If they were to occur, what effect would they have?
- How could you mitigate risk?
- How will you deal with a risk if it emerges?
Key takeaway: Honesty is the best policy.
Step 5: the alternatives
In many instances, there are alternatives on the market addressing the same customer need; while Pepsi may be in Coke’s shadow, it still quenches thirst; Xbox and Playstation both provide platforms for computer entertainment.
The list is endless.
Your business case needs to address any potential doubts about better ways to achieve the same outcome as your offering and to help, we’ve narrowed the process down for you:
- Make a note of each alternative option.
- For each option jot down its:
- Risks and issues.
3. Rank your alternatives from best to worst.
When you’re ranking, there’s no right or wrong, per se. If you’re struggling for a starting point, score each on a scale of 1-10 based on factors such as costs and benefits.
Step 6: project progress
We know we’ve already mentioned this, and make no apologies for repeating ourselves like a broken record - you must track the progress of your project.
Don’t set yourself up for failure and set unrealistic expectations and targets. Not only will this make you look bad when you can’t deliver, but you’ll also get under the skin of the powers that be.
Instead, sit with your team, thrash out a plan, and smash it outta the park.
You’ve got this. 👍