Business Case Competency: Think Program, Not Point Solution

business case competency resides in people

Captain’s Log, Entry 8194.9What does it take to build high-level business case competency in real-world business? Training? Templates and software? Directives? The answer is: All of the Above. Business Case competency for the organization calls for a program, not a point-solution.

“We are going to stop making bad decisions and we are going to stop now!”

The statement was the opening line at the Vice President’s weekly staff meeting. It sounded like the voice of a leader who is decisive and impulsive by nature:

The Vice President Has Spoken

“We are going to stop making bad decisions and we are going to stop now!”

It also sounds like the overdue response of a manager burned one time too many by a direct report. Or, it sounds like a reaction due to an ultimatum from the boss. In any case, the goal and the urgency were clear:

I announced this morning that we are going to stop making bad decisions and we are going to stop now!”

This was in fact a Senior Vice President at a US Fortune 100 company who had just phoned to ask what it would take to build establish good business case practice in his company. Certainly, he was feeling the pain from a long history of costly bad decisions. A Real, Long Term Solution.

The Vice President was not talking about the next proposal needing support. And he was not thinking about just one or two individuals needing business case skills.

  • Firstly, he was talking first about finding a long term solution for bad product decisions, over-optimistic sales forecasts, and unrealistic production plans.
  • Secondly, he was talking about alliances that looked promising at first but which ultimately produced nothing for either partner.
  • Thirdly, he was talking about endless wheel spinning and indecisiveness around IT proposals and other action plans. It seems that no one could forecast costs accurately, and no one could identify real business benefits.

When he said “establish good business case practice,” he meant to change the way more than a thousand leaders make decisions and plan. These included those who manage products, marketing, alliances, consultants, salespeople, IT directors, engineers, and corporate officers. In brief, he was talking about building business case competency for the entire organization.

He asked: Can it be done? If so, how do we do it?

You Are Not Alone

If you or someone at the top of your group has made a similar vow, don’t think you are alone. We hear the same message from business managers across industries—from automotive to IT, from fashion design to financial services, and beyond. We hear it from leaders in the military, education, and government.

You probably know already that the business world is becoming very intolerant of leadership errors. Also, there is a new focus on accountability. And, everyone has the same marching orders:

Do more with less!

As a result, it’s no surprise that so many people in business today are talking about the business case. What is surprising, though, that so few business people really know what that means.

It’s not a Quick Fix. It’s a Program. And, it takes Time

If your group has already started a business case project, you probably know the following already. While many people talk about the business case, very few understand the kind of reasoning or evidence it takes to “make the case.”

  • Few business people really know business case basics, even after one short training on the subject.
  • Nor does the presence of tools and templates by itself end costly bad decisions.
  • Also, you will probably see little or no gain from simply publishing business case policy on the intranet.
  • Finally, do not expect much gain benefit from CEO directives to “get with the program or else!”

All of these actions belong, together, in a serious skill-building program. Experience shows, however, that none of these actions by itself guarantees better decisions or higher leader confidence. Groups that reach for a single quick-fix solution almost always fail. And many fail over and over again.

What does it take in the real world to do what this Vice President wanted to do? And how do you change—really change—the way people plan and decide? Our experience shows they will achieve real business case competency only after they recognize two realities:

  • Firstly, creating business case competency for the group requires a serious program of action. It’s not a point solution.
  • Secondly, reaching a high-level business case competency takes time.

Business Case Competency: Take Action!

For more on the program for building competency in your own organization, please visit Business Case Competency.

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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. View all posts by Marty Schmidt