Writing a Great Business Case - Part 2

In our previous newsletter, we discussed some of the basic principles involved in writing a great business case. We now turn our attention to the important considerations of what is actually included in our document.

How to Write a business Case

Of course, the size, business impact, and risk of a potential project effects the contents of our document. For the purpose of this newsletter, we assume that our project will have a potentially moderate to large impact on your company, and that the primary purpose of the business case is to compare projects to compete for scarce internal resources.

At the very least, a good business case will outline the following:

Rationale: If we can't do anything else in our business case, we must at least provide a clear explanation of reasons for considering the project in the first place. This is the best place in our business case to provide a brief synopsis of the current situation that led to the needs that this project satisfies.

Alternatives: Describe what alternatives were considered, or should be considered to proceed with your project. You should be able to answer a few simple questions:

  • Is doing nothing a reasonable alternative in the short and long term?
  • Are there more or less radical solutions to the approach proposed?
  • Can we achieve benefits similar to those outlined through other means?
  • Are you aware of different approaches taken to this problem by the company or our peers?

Assumptions: Be very clear about the assumptions you made to create your business case. It is better to test your assumptions at this stage of the project lifecycle than in the middle of implementation. Lay your assumptions out and open them up to challenge by the sponsor and other stakeholders.

Objectives: Remember that project objectives are from the users' (could be system or process users, internal client, ultimately the beneficiary of the results of a successful project) point of view. Do not confuse your project objectives with your project.

Scope: Clearly defining scope is the single most important goal of the business case. Take the time now to understand what is inside and outside the reach of your project, and where you are most likely to see pressure from users and other stakeholders to expand your scope. State these as deliverables from a project perspective that will help to achieve the objectives stated earlier. Once you understand where you may see pressure to expand scope, clearly exclude anything that you don't want to end up as part of this project. It is best to state your exclusions now, and have them challenged before the project is underway.

Timeline: A business case is not the place for a detailed execution timeline, but this timeline will be the basis for a more detailed breakdown of work to be described in a separate document. You should describe your project milestones and the high-level activities you will carry out to achieve them.

Project Budget: This is not a detailed project budget, but it should provide the reader with an overview of all your budget categories, or the major activities that are driving the bulk of your budget. You should describe what it will actually cost to accomplish this project.

Increased Operational Expenses: Although the aim of your project is to provide an overall benefit to the company, most projects can increase some operational expenses over the short and long term. Although these increased expenses should be offset by benefits, it is important to clearly state the impact your project will have on operational expenses.

Project Capital Costs: List any costs associated with your project that can be capitalized under your company's current guidelines.

Project Benefits: List all major financial benefits that you expect will be a direct result of this project. Break down the financial benefits as either cost savings, or revenue enhancements. List just the financial benefits that are material to your project, and have a reasonable causal link to your project. You should also describe any substantial non-financial benefits of your project.

Risks: List all of the major potential risks that could prevent you from successfully executing your project, and a brief description of a strategy to mitigate each risk.

Measures of Success: Describe the key measures that will succinctly and accurately answer a few basic questions:

  • Is the project is on track?
  • Upon completion, how will we express the value derived from this project to the organization?
  • One year after completion, how will we audit the value delivered by this project in a post implementation review?

Interdependencies: List any other projects, or other efforts that may be interlinked with your project. For each, describe the key area of potential impact or dependency, and the mitigating strategy to lessen the impact.

This is not an exhaustive business case including full opportunity analysis, gap analysis, and market research, but it will provide the basics for a great understanding of the project you are proposing. More important than helping potential approvers understand your project, a well written business case will help you define and design a better project.

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