The business case provides justification for undertaking a project or programme. It evaluates the benefit, cost and risk of alternative options and provides a rationale for the preferred solution.
All projects and programmes must have a business case that demonstrates the value of the work.
In the concept phase of the life cycle an outline business case is prepared that is then used by senior management to assess whether to give the go-ahead for the definition phase. The detailed business case is prepared during the latter phase.
The project or programme is owned by the sponsor, who has ultimate accountability for ensuring that the benefits are achieved. However, the project or programme manager will usually be responsible for preparing the business case, possibly with specialist support.
Once approved, the business case must be kept up to date, reflecting approved changes. In this way, it can be used as the primary document at gate reviews to determine if the work should continue.
A business case typically includes the:
- strategic case – the background of the project or programme and why it is needed;
- options appraisal – what options have been considered and which has been chosen (not forgetting the ‘do nothing’ option);
- expected benefits – the benefits that will arise from the work and any unavoidable disbenefits;
- commercial aspects – the costs, investment appraisal and funding arrangements;
- risk – the major risks and their impact on the business case;
- timescales – a summary of the delivery of outputs and realisation of benefits.
The content of the business case should be adapted to reflect the specific project requirements and context. For example:
- if a contracting organisation is delivering a project for a client organisation, the contractor’s business case will be based around the profitability of delivering the project output. The client’s business case will be based around the benefits derived from the output;
- where a project is stand-alone, the project management team will have to develop their own business case. Where a project is part of a programme, it will usually have its business case provided by the programme management team;
- for large projects it is reasonable to assume that a larger degree of risk is involved than with smaller projects. Therefore, the sponsor and other members of senior management will require a greater level of detail within the business case to give them confidence.
A programme business case must accommodate the greater uncertainty that exists in a programme environment. Whenever possible, it should provide justification for the programme based on quantifiable benefits, rather than broad assumptions of value.
Programmes are usually broken down into tranches. It can be useful to have a business case for each tranche. This ensures that, if the programme is terminated at the end of a tranche, those that have already been completed will have delivered some beneficial change.
Programmes must monitor the interdependencies between projects and ensure that problems affecting one project that affect the business case of another, are identified and communicated. Similarly, the programme management team must ensure that factors occurring in business-as-usual are identified and communicated.
Since a portfolio is not a stand-alone enterprise, but rather a collection of programmes, projects and business-as-usual elements, the portfolio does not require its own business case. The programmes and projects within it each have their own.
The business cases of the projects and programmes in the portfolio will be derived from the strategic objectives that the portfolio is designed to achieve. The portfolio management team will then use the business cases to categorise, prioritise and balance the portfolio.