Coming up with a great idea is the first half of the battle...getting others to buy into it is the other. In one way or another, every business will have a set-up that’s unique to them, but what we all share is the need for key stakeholder approval before a change or something totally new’s rolled out.
Needless to say, your delivery can shape the outcome and to get the answer you’re after you need to present something concrete, compelling and convincing. Not sure how to get from A to B? That’s why we’re here. In this article, we’ll be sharing our tips on how to confidently build a business case that gets heard.
Spoiler alert: we've got a business case template in our membership plans.
What’s a business case?
Business cases are created during the very first stages of a project to establish the why, what, how and who:
- Why are we doing this?
- What are the benefits?
- How will we do it?
- Who will we need?
It should be pretty in-depth (without waffling) and clearly put driving points and factors across. After all, this document could single-handedly be the reason your project’s accepted, rejected, cancelled, deferred or revised.
How long does it need to be?
There isn’t a black or white answer for this; it depends on the size of the project. If it’s on the smaller side you can probably get away with drawing up a more top-level case and then adding to it at a later date if needed - this will save investing more resource than is necessary too soon.
Basically, just use your gut and common sense. You know your business’ style and the scale of the concept so use both those insights to decide how detailed you go.
Why are business cases important?
Besides giving your project that all-important ‘yes’ or ‘no’, they help assess:
- Problems and opportunities,
- Benefits and risks,
- Cost and resource involved,
- Technical requirements,
- Timescales, and
- The wider impact (i.e. on other business areas).
Combined, this helps both you and key stakeholders understand whether or not the business is even capable of delivering said project and, if so, whether the benefits are worth it.
How to create a business case
Now the bit you’ve been waiting for.
Step 1: executive summary
Although this will be the first bit of text in your business case it’s probably best written last as you’ll extract key takeaways from other areas of the document to build it.
In brief, your executive summary is a short and clear synopsis of what’s included in the pages to come and tightly outlines important information.
Remember, this bit can set the tone for the rest of your business case so don’t scrimp on its impact.
Step 2: the need
To get your readers invested in the ‘why’ from the off explain what problem or opportunity your business case is addressing. To make this bit as effective as possible substantiate your claims with:
- Research into the economic climate,
- Competitor insights,
- Customer/target audience data, and/or
- Internal knowledge.
Tied into this should be your benefits - financial and non-financial - by explaining your goals and what achieving them will mean. Some examples include:
- A bigger profit margin on your current product/service,
- Saving employees’ time,
- Targeting new audiences,
- Responding to customer demand, and
- Improving the business’ digital security...
...so on and so forth.
Step 3: the process
This stage doesn’t need to go into masses of detail - you can worry about that once you’ve passed the business case hurdle, but just cover off some of the fundamentals like:
- 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.
Don’t worry, we haven’t forgotten the F word...finances.
Gather quotes, do your research and speak to your finance department to get an accurate idea of how much the project’s likely to set you back and remember to:
- Be honest - no-one wins if you intentionally underestimate your costs;
- Assess the affordability of each cost and shop around for the best possible price;
- Keep value for money in mind throughout;
- Provide a detailed breakdown of where the money’s going; and
- Predict a realistic post-delivery cashflow projection.
Step 4: risk assessment
Don’t shy away from your risk assessment for fear of exposing holes in your plan; almost everything comes with a risk and your readers will be all too aware of that. Be honest from the outset so everyone knows what they’re getting into, then, if the worst should happen, there’ll be no nasty surprises and you’ll have full support.
Key questions to ask and answer:
- What risks are involved?
- If they materialised, what would the consequences be?
- What plans do you have in place to mitigate any risks?
- How will you deal with a risk if it emerges?
Step 5: the alternatives
The first question on the tip of everyone’s tongue will likely be “is there a better way to achieve the same outcome?”. So, nip any debates in the bud by laying them all out on the table - and concluding with why the one you’ve chosen is best, of course.
In theory, you should’ve gone through this process already anyway, so hopefully it’s more a case of copying, pasting and tweaking what you’ve got rather than starting from scratch.
Here are a few tips on how to best articulate this bit:
- Make a note of each alternative option.
2. For each option jot down its:
- Risks and issues.
3. Rank your alternatives from best to worst.
How do I rank them? Again, there’s no strictly right or wrong answer, but scoring them on a scale of 1-10 based on their costs and benefits might be a good starting point.
Step 6: project progress
Last but not least, let everyone know how you plan on keeping people up-to-date with the project’s progress - like biweekly catch-ups, daily sprint meetings, email bulletins, etc.
Remember to be realistic with your intentions too. The last thing you want is to over-promise, waste unnecessary time sticking to your commitments, and/or have people breathing down your neck the whole time.
To get the right balance take some time to work out what’s necessary and when, and if you’re not sure caveat your progress reports might be subject to change as the project unfolds.