How to Develop a Watertight Business Case
Developing and authoring a business case is hard work. Once a good idea is agreed the focus changes from creative thinking to hard graft. Writing a business case takes time, effort and due diligence. It’s about creating a compelling case for change and investment that isn’t laughed out of the boardroom.
Having written many cases in my time I want to share my top tips. By doing so we can get better quality ideas from the drawing board into the real world.
- Include an executive speed read.
Think of it like a BLUF or Bottom Line Up Front. It’s about laying out the case for investment or change in as few a sentences as possible. Try using a single paragraph to set out the challenge you face, your solution, business impact and expected benefits. Leaders are reading multiple cases, you want yours to stand out.
2. Set out the challenge.
Be clear on the business or customer challenge. Avoid waffling and get straight to the point. Maybe your customers are leaving due to poor after-sales service and support. Maybe you want to establish a better treatment strategy for those customers who struggle after making a purchase.
3. Get supporters behind you.
Identify those who can help back you up. Get supporters who are willing to put their name forward to help. Identify a sponsor who can co-author your business case. Identify important stakeholders including decision makers and other interested parties. Be sure to secure a Subject Matter Expert (SME) who can flesh out and answer the more complicated parts of your business case. Make sure you circulate your draft business case for peer review. Avoid your business case coming as a surprise that might cause you political difficulty.
4. Make the benefit case.
Leaders love benefits so make your case. Use data where possible to outline how your solution could bring rewards to the company. Be clear on expected and forecasted benefits. Maybe you’ve modelled how much you could reduce customer churn by improving after sales support. Work with colleagues in business intelligence to help get the data that can frame and back up your arguments.
5. Outline costs and budget requirements.
Not all business cases require significant funding or resources but many do. If yours does then be cautious and get as much cost detail down on paper as possible. Work with colleagues who have a good head for numbers. Always, always include full cost breakdowns. You want to avoid your case losing support because your costings are out of kilter. Remember to bring your costs and benefits together. Showing them separately is fine, but at some point it’s wise to show the overall picture so leaders can make an assured decision.
6. Show a plan.
Outline how long your idea or case will take to become a reality. Include timings for scoping, building, testing and refining your solution.
7. Judge your own business case.
Others will do this anyway so get ahead of them and outline your own judgement. Define a set of scores you can use to promote and level-set your business case. You might want to score your solution on a feasibility scale of 0–5. You might think it a good idea to write out the risks associated with your case and how they can be overcome or mitigated.
8. Set achievable goals.
This is often the biggest own goal for a business case. I’ve seen many cases that made outlandish claims when it came to KPIs, targets and goals. Having audacious targets is all well and good until you miss them. It’s even worse when you knew in advance you’d flunk the test. Remember getting your business case approved is only part of the mission. You want to be successful in the long term so don’t give yourself targets that become a noose around your neck at a later date. If you want more investment later on you’ll need to make another case. There’s nothing worse than a failed follow-up business case blamed on initial poor results.
9. Bring it back to insight.
Get ready to close your case by reiterating the challenge, how it’s based on insight and how your solution will benefit the business.
10. Finish with a rallying cry.
End as you started with a BLUF. Keep it short and simple. Set out your case for change and investment and state clearly the impact of doing nothing. Maybe it’s increasing churn, decreasing profit and a risk to business stability. Give leaders a final reason to say yes.
At Strategy Activist we help companies come up with new ideas. We also help them craft business cases that bring those ideas to life. To learn more about how we can help your business visit us at www.strategyactivist.com