Write a Solid Business Case for Your Project

Every project should have a business case – something to justify it based on sound business reasoning. In some cases it can be very simple, and in other cases more complex. Most important, it should be logical, clear to understand, and make sound business sense.

A business case describes the business problem or opportunity, a listing of options for delivering the solution, details of the costs and benefits of each option, and the recommended solution option. The business case is developed before the project is formally kicked off, as it is an input to the decision as to whether to move ahead with the project. Sometimes the business case will require a feasibility study – a small project up front to help provide clarity to some of the details and assumptions around the business case. The feasibility study gives a more detailed assessment, and also assesses the likelihood of a successful outcome for the project.

The first part of a business case is to frame the business problem to be solved. This includes an environmental analysis and a problem analysis. The environmental analysis isolates that part of the business environment that the potential project addresses, including careful thing about:

  • Vision, Strategy or Objectives
  • Processes or technologies inefficiencies
  • Competitive environment, specific to products, processes, and other factor
  • Technology trends and opportunities
  • Shifts in commercial or operational trends
  • Changes to regulations

Problem analysis is not just about problems; it’s also about opportunities. In either case, you need to provide a generic description, causes, impacts, and timeframes around the conditions.

The second part of a business case is to lay out the available options. Ideally there should be no more than four or five options, and ideally about two or three. Each option should be thoroughly outlined, including:

  • Description – A high level, easy to understand, explanation of what the option entails.
  • Benefits – It is helpful to categorize benefits, and to assign a monetary value to each
  • Costs – It is helpful to separately categorize costs, and to capture whether certain costs are budgeted.
  • Feasibility – You need to assess the probability of success, and it is most helpful to break down the project into unique components that can be assessed separately, to determined sensitive areas and for an overall feasibility rating.
  • Risks – This list does not need to be as exhaustive as risk management for the implementation, but it need to capture key risks, the likelihood and impact, and any mitigating actions.
  • Issues – these could be hurdles in moving ahead with the projects, such as budgeting, regulatory, competing priorities, timing, etc.
  • Assumptions – This final element captures any underlying assumptions to make sure everyone understands. You may have to change assumptions sometimes to satisfy stakeholders.

The third part involves choosing the best option to recommend. This includes a detailed ranking of the options based on objective criteria, followed by choosing the recommended option, and explaining why. One approach you can use is to set up rankings based on criteria such as benefits, costs, feasibility, risks, and other factors outlined above. You can break down each of those factors a low as you find useful, then rank each factor 1 through 10 for each option. In the end, use the rankings judiciously. You are not just solving a math problem! The numbers provide an objective measure, but may not capture everything. Also use your intuition and “gut” when choosing the best option, as it accounts for things you might not otherwise be thinking about. And if your objective criteria rankings are not pointing to the same solution as your gut, go back and think more deeply as to why.

Finally, the last part of a business case is to outline the implementation approach. This closely parallels a project plan, but is not anywhere near a full project plan. As such, it begins to outline project initiation, planning, execution, closure, and management at a high level. The focus here is on HOW the project will get done, if it is selected.

Clarity in the business case provides management with quality information to decide whether or not to pursue the project. The business case also supplies further information on best approaches to achieve the best outcome from the project. Doing the business case well up front provide a guide that is valuable to refer to again and again during and following the project to keep things on track and evaluate progress. The business cases sets the stage for a formal definition of the project.

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