I run a course on How to Write a Business Case, and here are five of the most common questions that come up.
1. Is a business case different to a proposal?
Some people use the terms interchangeably. In my experience, a proposal is usually directed at an external client, whereas a business case is a document for internal decision making. Consultants or suppliers may still write part or all of a business case. The key point is that it is robust – it compares the costs and benefits of more than one option. One of these is the status quo, which acts as a benchmark for the others. See my previous post What is a business case? for more on this.
2. Where should I start?
Start with a clear brief – identify as clearly as possible the problem you’re trying to solve. This might be saving costs, increasing revenue, or reaching a strategic objective such as environmental sustainability. This is a key step as it defines and narrows the scope of your case, so that you know what to include and what to leave out.
Don’t define the brief so narrowly that there’s no room for alternatives – that defeats the object of the business case. It’s also a good idea to get approval at this stage. Trust me, it saves time later.
3. How long/detailed should it be?
It depends on the audience. After you have approved the brief, analyse the audience and find out what level of detail they expect. If you can’t talk to them directly, look at previous cases that have been successful, and check if there is a preferred template.
Even if your organisation insists on a one-page summary, you will still need the supporting evidence to back up your recommendation. So understanding your audience is key. What are their priorities and biases? What questions will they ask?
4. How many options should I analyse?
It depends on how you defined the brief, but the minimum is two – the status quo, and your recommendation. This applies even if ‘do nothing’ is not a viable option.
For example, if there was a new law coming in, you would compare your option against the risk of not complying with it – such as potential fines and damage to corporate reputation.
Too many options may confuse and distract your audience. Three or four is optimal for a robust case. You may be able to eliminate some from your detailed analysis due to high risk, or conflict with other projects. Remember to state what options you eliminated and why.
5. Isn’t money the only thing that matters?
Not necessarily. Obviously it’s easier to justify investment in the project with the highest ROI (return on investment) or NPV (net present value). But common sense, timing and strategic fit are also crucial in executive decision-making. I’ve seen financially attractive cases rejected because a more strategic opportunity took priority. So try to link your case strongly to strategic objectives or values such as sustainability, innovation or faster decision-making as well as building the financial case.
PS To learn how to write better business cases, check out my How to Write a Business Case course.
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