20 Tips for a Winning Business Case

A well-designed business case (a rarity in itself) should help the project team define exactly why the organization should invest in the project, what it will get in return for the funds and other resources invested. This should then become the driving force of the project (but is rarely so) – Jed Simms

Business cases are developed to confirm the feasibility and viability of proposed projects before they are launched. They are designed to convey the relevant information needed for key business stakeholders and sponsors to make go/no-go decisions on recommendations. As part of Enterprise Analysis, BAs will often find themselves in situations where they have to convince stakeholders of a particular solution approach.

This post comprises 20 tips to keep in mind on the journey to convincing stakeholders that your recommendation is the way to go.

1. Link Your Recommendations to Business Objectives

Don't get carried away by all the exciting improvements your solution can bring. Always keep in mind the business objectives because they determine where the business will be willing to invest. Examples of valid business objectives include reducing costs, increasing efficiency and reducing risks, to mention a few.

2. Justify Your Recommendations

Make sure you explain your rationale for arriving at the recommendation. Rationale may be based on ROI, Net Present Value or Cost of Doing Business and it offers a way of quantifying benefits and costs. Adopting any of these will reveal your thought process, the framework you applied and add further credibility to your recommendations.

3. Present a Detailed Analysis

Show stakeholders you arrived at your recommendation after an extensive analysis of data and that you considered other viable alternatives before arriving at your recommendation, to increase their confidence in your work. Even though you have only one recommendation on the way forward, you should present your findings on the alternatives you considered to give them the assurance of a balanced perspective. 

Detailed analysis is a sign that you have done your homework and that your recommendations are backed by sufficient information and research.

4. Identify the Business Need

Always start your justification by identifying the business need that needs to be met before linking it to the recommended solution that will bring about the desired outcome.

5. Ensure Benefits are Individualized

In delivering your business case, start with a benefit that affects everyone so that you generate maximum attention and interest in your project from the get-go.

The benefits to be attained by each key stakeholder should be clearly outlined. Different stakeholders have different interests, values and concerns which need to be addressed in the form of benefits. All benefits (qualitative and quantitative) should be identified and individualized for each stakeholder. 

6. Look Beyond Tangible Benefits

Understand that a successful project or recommendation will not always lead to cost reduction or revenue increase. As important as financial benefits are, projects can be initiated for other reasons. For instance, automating manual tasks may not always result in cost reduction; improved efficiency and staff morale are some of the benefits that can come with this. Examples of other qualitative or intangible benefits include improved business agility, compliance, staff retention, brand value, etc.

7. Beware of the Mythical Man Month

Adding more people or resources to a project does not necessarily translate to an increase in productivity. Be aware of this in making recommendations to the business.

8. Understand Cost Categories

While some costs are obvious, others are not. The costs associated with your project may be capital or operational. Capital costs include hardware, software licenses and the like, while operational costs include analysis, design, implementation, change management, maintenance, and training costs as well as costs borne by others. Understand these cost categories so that expectations are cleared up from the onset.

9. Eliminate Project Killers

There are some factors that can kill your recommendation/project before it has even had a chance to begin: 1) lack of stakeholder management; 2) uneven distribution of benefits; 3) proclaiming benefits that do not support enterprise strategy, etc. Outline as many obstacles to your project as you can think of and nip them in the bud as early as possible.

10. Speak with Frontline Staff

Talk to frontline staff to ensure that the problem you're trying to solve is the actual problem and not just the perceived problem. Frontline staff usually have access to information on everyday business problems and opportunities that can be exploited.

11. Have a Benefits Realization Plan

It's not enough to just outline the benefits of your recommendation. Show stakeholders exactly how benefits will be realized, assessed and evaluated.

12. Don't Underestimate the Length or Complexity of Your Project

You must have a reasonable and practical estimate that provides insight into the length/complexity of the proposed project. If the project takes longer or costs significantly more than stated in your business case, stakeholders may lose trust in any estimates you provide them with in the future.

13. Seek Stakeholder Support

Market your ideas and recommendations to key stakeholders as early as you can. Having sufficient executive backing and interest in your recommendation will reduce the level of opposition you face, and increase your chances of success.

It's wise to inform key decision makers of your recommendations (if you can) before presenting your business case to them in a formal setting. This will ensure they are not taken aback and can help you generate the much-needed support for your business case.

14. Don't Sell Technology. Sell Business Improvements

It is not technology that delivers business benefits but how it is used and integrated into the business such that it solves operational challenges and provides unique opportunities for achieving competitive advantage. Sell the benefits that technology can deliver to the business and not the technology itself.

15. Propose a Solution & Strategy

Present your preferred alternative (recommended solution) and outline a practical strategy for its implementation. The more practical your recommendation is, the higher the likelihood that it will be approved.

16. Identify Risks and Assumptions

Every business case is built on a fair share of assumptions and risks that stakeholders should be aware of. Examples of risks include technical risk – can the functionalities be developed? and organizational risk - is the organization ready for the proposed change?

Be clear on the likelihood of risks and the impact they are likely to have on the business.

17. Use Business Language

Present your business case in a language that decision makers can understand. The clearer the business case, the more likely you are to get an approval of your recommendation. Avoid acronyms, jargons and terms that will make it difficult for stakeholders to understand what you mean.

18. Avoid Embellishment

Presenting the business case without any embellishment will ensure that underlying risks can be identified and mitigated. This will also ensure that the chances of success are increased if the project is eventually launched. Do not promise improvements or cost savings you cannot deliver.

Manage stakeholder expectations to ensure that they do not anticipate more than the project can achieve to prevent disappointments down the line.

19. Establish Structure

Whatever format you decide to present your business case in (It could be a word document or a presentation), ensure that it is well-structured and concise, with all the relevant elements included.

20. Highlight Missed Opportunities

Identify the opportunities that will be missed if the recommendation is not adopted.

While there's no standard business case form or format, developing a business case with these guidelines in mind will ensure that you deliver a compelling argument. A well-researched and practical business case can lead the business down a constructive path of success while one that is poorly researched or based on incorrect data can easily cost the company a fortune, especially when projects are launched for the wrong reasons.