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How to nail your business case

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Business cases can be tricky to get right. It calls on a lot of different skills – writing, presentation, budget management, even sales skills – to create a strong case for the project, its scope, benefits and the funds allocated to it.

It requires good knowledge of all the key stakeholders on the project, and how best to reach them. Inexperienced project managers often miss stakeholders and don’t get their commitments to the project, resulting in missed objectives, unidentified critical constraints, and ultimately, incorrect assumptions on time and resource.

New project managers can also fall into the trap of being over-ambitious with their business cases, not fully taking into account resource and budget constraints. All of this could spell the end of a project, or at least cause issues with the timeline or the adoption of the project.

Here’s how to put together a business case that works:

Start with why (and what)

The first step when crafting a business case is to clearly articulate the ‘why’ in terms of the value proposition and ‘what’ you plan to do in order to deliver that value. The ‘what’ needs to be as specific as possible in order to fix scope and make it easy to focus on specific deliverables linked to desired outcomes.

Depending on the project size, scope and complexity, you will need to discuss the ‘why’ and ‘what’ with a number of stakeholders to get support, feedback and identify any potential resistance. Start with the people who have the greatest influence on your project – controlling the essential resources and possessing the expertise necessary for success. This is particularly important in large organisations, where the critical stakeholders often have high demands on their time. Getting their formal buy-in upfront is crucial.

Take stock of other projects

Get your timings defined so you can think about when the resources would be required to meet the commitments, and at what stage in order to allow other departments to plan their resources. It’s much better to make requests by obtaining the commitment up-front than trying to get favours last minute.

If the business has many projects on the go, it’s always best to see if there are existing projects in the pipeline that may impact your project in terms of funding priority, timing, cost and benefits realisation.

Be clear and concise

Think carefully when drafting your business case. Be as clear as possible about all of the timing, scope, costs and benefits as well as the organisation constraints and project risks. Ensure that you consider all the inputs from your stakeholders into your analysis.

Ensure that all the critical elements of a business case are covered. Usually, you will have ‘Objectives’, ‘Costs’ and ‘Benefits’ with overall timescales.

Forecast cash flow impacts over the project timeline, and the associated project risks. The quality of the inputs will increase the chances of approval where funding is tight and projects are prioritised at the portfolio level.

Unless they are regulatory in nature, projects with clear value propositions and benefits (ideally translated into tangible financial terms) have a higher chance of approval and support than those with poorly defined benefits.

Presenting your case

Aim to be clear, concise and punchy in your communication – stick to ‘problem’, ‘current state’ and ‘solution’ as much as possible. Devote plenty of time to rehearse your presentation to reinforce your confidence and free up your conscious thinking and energy for being present in the meeting.

You have to believe that this project is the right thing for the business. Emphasise the benefits the project will deliver, and prepare for potential challenges. You cannot have any doubts about what you’re presenting as any hesitancy will be interpreted as a lack of confidence in the project, or a lack of preparation and analysis.

If you’ve devoted sufficient thinking time into how the project will deliver the value and how the risks will be managed, then you should be in a good position for delivering a successful presentation.

You can find a helpful template for business cases and other documents on APM Learning.

Brought to you by Project journal.

Image: robuart/Shutterstock.com

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