Writing an Effective Business Case

A well written and presented business case can mean the difference between moving a project forward and killing it in its tracks. Regardless of the merit of the project, if it is not presented in a purposeful manner that clearly illustrates the benefits to the company, it will not be approved. How frustrating to know that a worthy project won’t see the light of day just because the business case was not well received.

To ensure your next project is given the consideration it deserves, here are the characteristics of a business case that will move a project to approval:

WIFM – WHAT’S IN IT FOR ME (me = the Company)
WIFM is an acronym that should be forefront in mind as a business case is developed and presented. In WIFM, “Me” represents the business. A business exists to achieve its financial and corporate goals. The business case must be business oriented. It must illustrate direct connections between the project and how it will support the company’s achievement of goals.

The three C’s are key to establishing credibility. A business case that is unclear, contains inaccurate information and is too long will lose the attention of the decision maker(s). The reviewers will be so distracted by the poor quality of the presentation that they won’t be able to concentrate on the case being made. Keep the business case:

  • Clear: clear business objective, data, connections between the project and business goals, lines of accountability, financial/budget impact, etc.
  • Correct: correct data, spelling, grammar, “business etiquette and style” per the organizations’ culture.
  • Concise: Remember the reviewer(s) may not have the same vested interest in the project. They are busy with their own goals and business cases. Consequently, your business case must be one that will catch their attention and not take too much time to review. It must be:
  • Pleasing to the eye: bullets, white space, fonts and colors that ease review
  • No more than two pages long: if more information must be presented, use attachments. Where possible, attachments should be presented in tables, graphs or bullets.

No matter how “pleasing to the eye” the business case is, if it does not have appropriate content it will not be approved. A winning business case will contain most, if not all, of the following:

  • Date prepared
  • Project name
  • Sponsor (person, department, committee, or technology)
  • Business case owner (author(s) of the business case)
  • Project manager (if applicable)
  • Objective: One sentence about the primary objective for the case
  • Background/History: Short background of the subject matter – how it came about
  • Current situation: What is happening right now that prompted this business case
  • Recommendation: What the sponsor wants to see happen/decided/resolved
  • Data to support the reviewer(s) ability to make an informed decision:
    • Cost analysis & payback period (ROI)
    • Business requirements (man hours, add to staff, other)
    • Pros/cons related to key performance indicators of the business
    • Regulatory impact/constraints
    • Legal impact/constraints
    • Dependencies: (other projects upon which this project is dependant and/or projects dependent upon this project.)
    • Due diligence performed (references, product demo, steering committee review)
    • Hardware, software, access requirements
    • Actions and timeline to deliverable
    • Proposal and approval signature/date lines

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