Believe Your Business Case? Better Build in Self-Evident Validity

Captain’s Log, Entry 7659.1Will your audience believe your business case? Above all, business case credibility comes from built-in transparency and self-evident validity. They will believe your business case if the case itself delivers the means to judge the quality and magnitude of the results. You cannot always count on ROI templates, tools, methods, and business case consultants to put a high priority on building that ability into the case.

Will they believe your business case? Your case speaks with authority only if you know how to build in credibility. An engineering manager in one of our business case seminars defined business case “success” in a way that many others would agree with:

The business case was successful! My proposal was funded!

It Feels Like Success! But …

Granted, that is success of a kind. It feels like success if you own the funding proposal or purchase request. For reviewers judging your case, however, the successful business case meets three other criteria:

The successful business case …

  • Is believed. In other words, it is credible.
  • Enables decision-makers and planners to act with confidence. The case, that is, delivers practical value.
  • Predicts what actually happens. It is, in other words, accurate.

Fail on any one of these points and the case fails.
One of these three, however, stands first in priority: The credibility factor. No matter what the purpose of the case—to get project funding, to close a sale, to go forward with an alliance—your audience must believe your results and conclusions. If they do not believe your case, the other criteria don’t matter.

Believe Your Business Case? You Are Responsible For ThatEveryone involved will believe your business case if they can see for themselves self-evident validity

Everyone involved with your case must be able to see for themselves self-evident validity

It is no secret that the current business climate is rapidly losing tolerance for management errors, while the need for rock-solid accountability is increasing. Those who take responsibility for taking action based on your case results must be confident they are making the best business decision—and that they can show why.

I worked with an IT Director at a large international consulting firm last year who proposed a very major upgrade for branch office networks. The vendor sales team brought along an ROI template and, working with the Director, produced a business case that predicted productivity gains and cost savings over the next five years leading to an ROI of 600%. Who would say “no” to an ROI of 600%?

Believe Your Business Case? Thumbs Down!

In fact, the CFO and senior partners turned thumbs down on the proposal. The Director’s intentions were good and his authority on technical matters was unassailable, but the senior partners just did not have confidence in his business case projections. It was another painful lesson that numbers alone do not make the case.

But what does make the case? And what was wrong, if anything, with the vendor’s ROI template?

Believe Your Business Case? Not Without Self-Evident Validity

Above all, credibility comes from self-evident validity. The case itself must deliver the means to judge the quality of the results as well as the magnitude of the results. Unfortunately, you cannot always count on ROI templates, tools, methods, and business case consultants to put a high priority on building that ability into the case.

Results that inspire confidence and speak with authority do not rely on the pedigree of the tools, complex methods, name consultants, or even your own excellent reputation, however good these things may be.

Your audience will believe the case only if your reasoning is transparent and your data sources are revealed. This is because they must be able to see for themselves where the case results come from. They will believe your case, in other words, only if the validity is self-evident.

Believe Your Business Case? The Will Ask Questions First.

Those who read or use your case results will assign their own credibly scores, based primarily on their ability to answer for themselves questions like these from what they see in the case:

  • Did the case benefit from cross-organizational input?
  • Which assumptions are most important in driving case results? What was assumed, and why?
  • What rules decide which cost items belong in the case and which do not?That is, Show me the cost model!
  • Which important business objectives are addressed by the subject of the case? How, in concrete terms, does the proposed action contribute to meeting these objectives? What is that contribution worth? In other words, Show me your benefits rationale! (For more on the benefits rationale, see Business Case Essentials.)
  • Were different action scenarios compared including “Business as Usual”?
  • How much uncertainty is there in the projections? What could happen to change results? In other words, Show me your risk and sensitivity analysis!
  • How do maximize returns from this action? Which critical success factors must we manage?

It is not easy to regain credibility once it is lost. If the answers to such questions are transparently clear in the case report itself, you will build in credibility. If your audience has to ask for them after the fact, the repair job may be impossible

Where to Go From Here: Take Action!

First-time and veteran case builders alike can start with our article online Business Case Analysis.  After that, learn case design and development from the Business Case Guide or the best-selling Business Case Essentials. Download these resources and more from The Master Analyst Shop!   Or, take the 3-day fast track: Learn and practice the premier case building methods at a Business Case Master Class Seminar.

To learn more on the IIBA International Institute of Business Analysis click here. For info on the IBF Institute of Business Forecasting click here. See also the Forbes Guide to GAAP Generally Accepted Accounting Principles click here. For a brief summary of Six Key Principles of Decision making click here.

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Solution Matrix Limited, Publisher.

Author: Marty Schmidt

Marty Schmidt is Founder and President of Solution Matrix Limited, a Boston-based firm specializing in Business Case Analysis. Dr. Schmidt leads the firm's Management Consulting, Publishing, and Professional Training activities. He holds the M.B.A degree from Babson College and a Ph.D. from Purdue University.