Oct 14, 2016 Chris Doxey
A business case examines a problem or opportunity, lays out the steps to solving that problem, sets a course of action, and seeks the buy-in of decision makers to bring the idea into reality. It’s a formal way of pitching an idea to upper management.
A business case covers details ranging from anticipated costs, potential risks, stakeholder involvement, and the measurement of the outcome. Expected benefits are weighed and justification for the project is explained by the presenter.
The format for a business case varies but generally follows the outline below:
The business case outline
1. Executive summary
Think high-level overview. While this portion is presented first, it’s usually written last when all other sections of the business case are complete. It is a brief introduction to the scope of the project and points covered.
This is the problem statement. It should describe the issue or opportunity that the business case intends to resolve. The “what” of the problem is more important than the “how” in this step.
1.2. Anticipated Outcomes
Moving on from the problem statement, the anticipated outcome represents how the proposed idea will bring about change and what future benefits it offers. This is the step where ideas are moved to action and the presenter paints a picture of an improved future.
The presenter distills anticipated outcomes and creates a course of action that he or she recommends as the way forward.
This is the “make or break” section of any business case, acting as the tipping point of the whole presentation. It provides the rationale behind going with this particular course of action over another alternative. Providing persuasive quantitative data at this stage is crucial to gaining the buy-in from decision-makers
2. Business case analysis team
The participation from key stakeholders is crucial to the success of any project. This particular section is devoted to outlining roles that are integral to the life of the project.
3. Problem definition
3.1. Problem Statement
A look at the problem adds context to the process; this is the onus of the business case—highlighting what’s not working. It gives decision makers a clear picture for why a better solution is necessary.
3.2. Organizational Impact
The impact on existing organizational processes is an important consideration before moving forward with any kind of change. This includes how the project will affect current software or hardware.
3.3. Technology or Automation Migration
How data will be migrated safely and efficiently from one system to another is a logistical detail that should not be overlooked. This section provides an overview for how and why legacy technology should be replaced. Also provide an honest look at any perceived obstacles during this process.
4. Project overview
This general category provides a high-level view of how all the pieces work together to reach the project milestones.
4.1. Project Description
The project description is similar to the overview, with a few key differences. This includes what the project will consist of, a general description of how it will be accomplished, and its purposes.
4.2. Goals and Objectives
The goals and objectives section is fairly straightforward. It lists the specific ways the project outcomes will be brought.
4.3. Project Performance
Metrics and measurements are essential to gauging any project’s success. Setting these expectations ahead of time ensures the right performance indicators are being used for the project.
4.4. Project Assumptions
Project assumptions establish the known conditions under which the goals and outcomes will be achieved. This section wraps context around how goals will be achieved and how the overall project will move across the finish line.
4.5. Project Constraints
Constraints, like assumptions, are known obstacles or limitations to the completion of the project. It’s important to list these upfront to gain clarity on potential hangups, setbacks, or deadline delays.
4.6. Major Project Milestones
Identify deliverables and list target completion dates. Note, these dates are subject to change and are considered flexible—at least initially. As the project progresses, more solid target dates can be assessed.
5. Strategic alignment
Strategic alignment is a process of unification. It means bringing the entirety of the project under the organization’s planned objectives. This means tightening up the business case—cutting the fat where it doesn’t serve the overall driving purpose of the organization—and also identifying where it adds the most value.
6. Cost benefit analysis
One of the most important parts of the business case is the cost benefit analysis. In the end, the costs of the project vs. the savings a project yields is often how final approval is granted. It’s important to emphasize the financial benefits of adopting the project in as many ways as possible to secure buy in.
7. Alternatives analysis
Alternative options and the reasoning behind choosing such are par for the course in crafting a strong business case. This gives stakeholders some idea of what would happen if the business case was not supported, or if no further action was taken against this particular problem.
Approvals are given by key decision makers with the power to grant or deny taking action on a project. This typically comes after a series of meetings in which the review board determines whether the business case is a right fit. In such case, it receives approval, an adjustment of existing terms, or a denial.