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What is a business case?


A business case provides justification for undertaking a project, programme or portfolio.

It evaluates the benefit, cost and risk of alternative options and provides a rationale for the preferred solution.

Definition from APM Body of Knowledge 7th edition 

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Five elements of a business case

A common way of thinking about a business case is using these five elements:

  1.  Strategic context: The compelling case for change.
  2.  Economic analysis: Return on investment based on investment appraisal of options.
  3.  Commercial approach: Derived from the sourcing strategy and procurement strategy.
  4.  Financial case: Affordability to the organisation in the time frame.
  5.  Management approach: Roles, governance structure, life cycle choice, etc.

The business case is reviewed and revised at decision gates as more mature estimates and information become available. The approved business case provides a record of the decisions made by governance about how to achieve the required return on investment from the work. It documents the options considered and it is normal practice to include the ‘do-nothing’ option as a reference. Through this approach, the business case becomes a record of the recommended option with rationale and evidence to support the decision.

The presentation of the business case, if approved, results in the formal startup of the project, programme or portfolio. The sponsor owns the business case.

It brings together the investment appraisal with evidence of how the investment is intended to lead to realisation of the intended benefits. All projects must have a business case that demonstrates the value of the work and it is outlined during the concept phase of the life cycle.

Contents of the business case

Contents of the business case - Starting out in project management

Source: Starting out in project management, 3rd edition

Starting out in project management

Your essential guide to the basics of project management. Written for anyone new to projects or wishing to progress their career as a project professional Starting Out charts the journey of the APM project life cycle, from concept through to delivery and handover.

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APM Learning

The following business case resources are available on APM Learning. This is a member only resource.

  • Information sheet - Business case
  • Template - Business case

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Related reading

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Lies, damn lies and... business cases
Most people see the business case process as a form of medieval torture administered by accountants. They also, with some justification, question the quality and value of the business case once created... read more.
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How to nail your business case
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... read more.
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The case for a business case
On Wednesday 14th September, the case for a business case was delivered by Peter Langley for the South East Branch at BAE in Rochester. A good number of people supported the event and many good examples and questions came from the floor during the evening... read more.

APM Body of Knowledge 7th edition

The APM Body of Knowledge 7th edition is a foundational resource providing the concepts, functions and activities that make up professional project management. It reflects the developing profession, recognising project-based working at all levels, and across all sectors for influencers, decision makers, project professionals and their teams. 

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