The Business Case Is Not Optional It’s Mandatory!

Business Case Requires Work

Captain’s Log, Entry 8191.3—Business people everywhere are hearing something like this from management: The business case is not optional! 

When do you know you need a business case? You know it when you hear messages like these:
  • We can’t afford to fund every new project or development proposal anymore. We have to find a better way to prioritize proposals, decide which to continue, and which to drop.
  • Starting this year, any request for non-budgeted funds is nonstarter without a strong cost/benefit analysis behind it.”
  • Government policy says we have to have to show financial justification before going forward with major capital projects.”

In brief, the business case is no longer optional in more and more places.

It’s a Requirement, Not an Option

Make no mistake: Building a serious business case takes energy, effort, and work.

Your organization may call it financial justification, cost/benefit analysis, ROI analysis, or simply Business Case, but the requirement is there in one way or another.

The problem, however, is that requiring people to produce a business case, or asking for one, doesn’t tell them what this means or how to build one. Everyone talks about the business case these days but surprisingly few people know what that means. Those who make statements like these know, they still have a need to build business case competency.

Build your Business Case Competency

When they get serious about building business case competency, many people discover for the first time that are no standards for business case structure and content, no universally agreed format or template, no single standard method for building compelling decision support or rock-solid accountability.

The good news, however, is that good business cases all have some characteristics in common. In our seminars and publications, we call these essential building blocks. The metaphor is that of the stone wall, made of blocks: Anyone passing the wall can see immediately if major blocks are missing, or if all the blocks are solid and in place. A missing block means the wall is weak and may not stand. Similarly, if you know something about the essential blocks that belong in a strong business case, and why, you’ll know immediately whether or not a newly presented case is strong, and whether or not to trust it.

Learn business case analysis as you build your own professional quality case, from How to Build a Compelling Business Case in 6 Steps.

What’s is Your Business Case Competency Level?

The scorecard below covers the core essential “building blocks” for the business case. The competent case builder is prepared to  do the following:

1. Define the case subject

Define the subject of the business case  in terms of actions and business objectives. People write cases to predict the consequences of action, but actions have value only when they contribute to important business objectives.

2. Understand: Case purpose directs case design

Use the purpose of the case to direct case design. If you understand the case purpose, you know who will use the case, to support which decisions or plans, when they need it, and—most important—what information they need.

3. Create a cost model

Create a cost model that sets the rules for which cost items belong in the case and which do not. Without these “rules” you’ll never know if you’ve covered all the relevant costs, included unnecessary costs, or compared different action scenarios fairly.

4. Develop the benefits rationale

Develop a solid benefits rationale to legitimize all the important benefits for the case. This is the logic that connects the action and its consequences with business objectives.

5. Assign financial values to all benefits

Assign a financial value to benefits that are difficult to quantify. Real contributions to important strategic objectives deserve a place in the case, even when the benefits are first measured in non-financial terms.

6. Measure risk, minimize risk

Measure and reduce risk. You will never remove all uncertainty for projected business results. You are predicting the future, after all. But you can reduce risk to a minimum and measure what remains.

7. Manage contingencies

Identify contingencies that must be managed. The business case stands on a foundation built of assumptions. Important assumptions often include factors that must be managed to target levels in order to achieve predicted results.

Give advice On reaching business objectives

Recommend action based on business objectives. The business case should be more than a “crystal ball” prediction of what to expect. Recommendations based on the case should work as a road map and practical guide to reaching business objectives.

Take Action!

Learn business case analysis as you build your own professional quality case, from How to Build a Compelling Business Case in 6 Steps.

Visit the Master Case Builder Shop online. Download the premier business case ebooks and software today!

Learn and practice the premier case building methods at a Business Case Seminar.  Learn case building from our books, the Business Case Guide and the best selling authority, Business Case Essentials.,

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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