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Don’t Shortcut the Business Case Process

business case

Many organizations are light on business cases. It’s a step that is often skipped, and it’s easy to see why. When people have ideas for a project or think of a solution, they tend to be pretty passionate about them. They tend to go right ahead with the process, presenting their idea for approval as soon as they can.

But developing a business case isn’t just a good practice; it’s never been more important.

We know people are overloaded—at or beyond capacity in most organizations—and they’re constantly dealing with shifting priorities. Any project or solution you decide to implement represents a tradeoff, because when attention and resources are placed in one area, there is inevitably going to be an impact somewhere else.

Developing and utilizing business cases is one of the best tools you have for eliminating “pet” projects, the kind that consume resources that could instead be devoted to more high-value, critical priorities. It helps you compare apples to apples as you vet the project or solution. Most importantly, a business case helps determine whether it has the level of benefit to the organization that makes sense to move forward with it.

Let’s take a closer look at this all-too-frequently underutilized tool.

Purpose: Establishing Project ROI

Above all else, these cases communicate the course of action recommended by the business analyst. It defines the desired outcome, details the proposed solution from the business perspective (versus the project management perspective), and documents areas related to the feasibility of success, including:

  • What are risks?
  • Is it aligned with company strategy?
  • Do we have the resources, expertise, and experience?
  • How likely/achievable is success?

A properly completed business case will establish the return on investment for the project, or expose the lack thereof. The above questions are a scale weighing the proposed solution against the desired outcome. They force you to take a closer look to see if it is worth going down the path and consuming the resources required.

Benefits: A Reality Check

As mentioned above, business cases eliminate the pet projects of key stakeholders and ensures the projects with the biggest returns get approved ahead of lower priority projects.

These cases are also a useful reality check. While business analysts and organizational leaders are in an initial hyped fantasyland about how great things could be, a business case bring them back to earth, towards the clarity that comes from data-driven analysis of benefit and value.

When to Prepare a Business Case

The business analyst prepares the case and presents it, along with specifics about associated resources and dollars to be spent, to potential project sponsors and key line of business stakeholders.

This work is often completed as a part of the yearly budgeting and project portfolio planning processes. But when a project idea comes up outside of the annual process, business cases should still be completed. It allows for that apples-to-apples comparison so you can determine: Does this new project warrant the potential tradeoff in resource allocation based on what we’ve already prepared and budgeted for?

This isn’t to say that every idea that comes up outside of budgeting season is a “pet project” or low priority. Urgent opportunities or issues may—and often do—come up, and you’ll want to be agile enough to capitalize on them. But don’t shortchange the business case development process. A good case will ensure that your comparison is valid, that everyone has a clear understanding of where the project fits into the priorities you’ve set for the year, and that you’re making smart decisions about how and where you devote your finite resources.