Will they believe your business case? Your case speaks with authority only if you know how to build in credibility.
Will They Believe Your Case?
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!
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.
Who’s Responsible for This?
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?
Build in 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.
Your Audience Will Ask
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.
Believe Your Business Case? Take Action!
See the article Business Benefits for more on the case benefits rationale. The article also covers valuing financial and non financial benefits.
For in-depth coverage business case credibility, see the ebook Business Case Essentials.
For more on building cross-organizational input into your case, see the recent blog post Bring on the Second Team.
See the article Total Cost of Ownership for more on building a credible cost model.
Will they believe your business case? Learn and practice the leading business case building methods at a Business Case Master Class Seminar. Learn case design from our ebooks, the Business Case Guide or the best selling authority in print, Business Case Essentials.