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A Beginner’s Guide to Writing a Business Case
A business case is a must-have decision-aid tool in project management. Here’s what you need to know about putting together, writing, and showcasing this analytical document.
What Is a Business Case in Management?
What Is a Business Case?
At the start of any project, there is one essential question that should be asked. Why should the company do it? In other words, what is there to be gained in setting up this project? To make the right decision, you need a detailed and objective mapping of the situation. And this should always be kept in mind when writing a business case. Also called “advisability study” or “financial analysis”, a business case is a project planning document. It’s a structured proposal designed to rationalise and justify the launch of a large project, considering the many elements that could affect it (context, relevance, costs, benefits, risks, etc.). Depending on the scale of the project, a business case can be a simple, one-page document, or make up a whole dossier, in the form of a PDF, a slide presentation, etc.
Business Case VS. Business Plan – Let’s Compare
- Tactical document dedicated to a specific short- or medium-term project
- Assesses the feasibility of a project for the company as a whole or for a given department
- Built on concrete elements; the resources (financial, human, and material) available to the company at a given moment
- Defines the reasons that warrant the pursuit of a project
- Demonstrates the potential profitability of an idea or opportunity to introduce it to the decision makers
- Strategic document subscribing to a global, long-term approach
- Offers a development and sustainability plan for the company as a whole for years to come
- Built on development hypotheses and on a long-term calendar subject to the fluctuations of the market
- Defines the company’s business strategy, its long-term vision, the means that should be implemented to achieve it, and the expected results
- Rallies investors and convinces them to participate in the financing of the business project
When Should You Write a Business Case?
Preparing and presenting a business case only makes sense when a project manager wishes to assess the feasibility of an idea or business opportunity. This could apply to various types of enterprises, such as launching a new product or service, developing an innovative communication campaign, adding a new feature to an existing tool, opening a sales outlet or a subsidiary, appointing a new subcontractor, etc. Which doesn’t mean that business plans only come into play when unprecedented projects are concerned. It could also be used to assess the benefits of renewing or increasing investment in an ongoing project, to strengthen your collaboration with a partner by entrusting them with more tasks, to improve how one of the company’s services operates, etc. In any case, this analysis should highlight the expected benefits all while underlining the potential risks the company may face.
Why Write a Business Case?
Why Should a Company Write a Business Case?
A business case is a decision aid tool. The completed document may be presented to the decision makers who will be able to rely on the synthesised data it contains to make a fully informed decision and give their go-ahead (or not) for the project. While the person making the request may clearly visualise the mainspring of their idea and its implications, the arguments need to be put to paper so that the information can be shared with stakeholders, placing everyone on the same level of knowledge. Above all else, a business case is a document designed to persuade. The dossier shows the relevance of an idea, the profitability of its implementation, and the project’s value proposition. The goal is to receive a “go” or a “no-go” from management. In this context, even a “no-go” can be considered a success, since the decision allows the company to prioritise other, more interesting or more lucrative projects.
What Questions Should a Business Case Answer?
To present the benefits of a project as rigorously as possible, a business case should answer five main questions.
A business case should explain, in detail, the nature of the project being considered as well as the various ways in which it affects (or will affect) the company. This includes business processes, activities, markets, products or services, the departments directly involved, etc. In essence, it’s all about contextualising the project.
What does the company have to gain in launching this new project (or carrying on with an ongoing project)? The business case should answer this question by providing concrete elements in terms of benefits and/or profits for the organisation. The aim is to show that this particular project is in line with the company’s strategic objectives.
The undertaking of any project requires tapping into human resources in order to achieve the intended goals. A business case should therefore specify what those means are by listing the main stakeholders. This could be the team in charge of the project, in-house experts and consultants, partners of any kind, external service providers, etc.
When it comes to large projects, the matter of the budget is crucial to the decision-making process. A business case should put a precise figure on the costs involved and provide a detailed account of the benefits and/or returns the company should expect from the enterprise. This will allow you to calculate the profitability of the project as a whole.
Business cases apply to short- to medium-term projects (unlike business plans, which fall under the scope of a long-term approach). This means that it’s essential to gauge how long the project will take to complete. It also gives you the ability to better estimate the cost and human resources that should be dedicated to it.
Writing a Business Case:
Assisting in the Decision-Making Process
A business case is, above all else, a decision aid designed to help management. It spells out the scope and conditions under which the project should be conducted, along with the benefits the company should expect from it.
Providing an Overview
A business case provides decision makers with a global overview of the project. This gives them insight into its financial, human, practical, and strategic dimensions.
Introducing Relevant Alternatives
A business case offers different alternatives to the project. It lists every option possible and provides details on how each one would affect the company.
Identifying Potential Risks
A business case highlights the potential risks inherent to the project. This allows those involved to be proactive and to set up sufficiently effective countermeasures ahead of time.
Persuading Through Solid Arguments
A business case reveals the value proposition of the project by building upon well-structured arguments substantiated by figures. This makes it a highly persuasive tool.
Optimising the Overall Project
A business case provides a detailed analysis of a given project. This brings to light its potential faults before they materialise and supports optimisation through corrective measures.
Good to know
To reinforce the business case, a comparative study presenting the status quo option may be drafted. This boils down to describing what would happen should the company fail to act exactly as advised regarding the project (in terms of the costs, risks, and loss of earnings).
How to Write a Strong Business Case?
Writing a Business Case: A Process That Shouldn’t Be Overlooked
Writing a business case is not a task to undertake lightly. While it’s true that preparing it and presenting it are extremely important steps (to which we’ve dedicated Part 4), it’s just as crucial to know how to write a business case properly. The writing process should follow a perfectly laid-out plan and not overlook any essential part. As for the writer, the project initiator or the manager of the team that came up with the idea should commit themselves to the task. With that said, it is possible – and even recommended – to outsource it to an expert or to have them assist you. They understand exactly how to produce this type of content and how to make it as persuasive as possible.
The 9 Main Parts that Make Up a Business Case
Presenting the Opportunity
The goal of any analysis is to solve a problem or to present an opportunity. Your business case should therefore start with this crucial point: laying out the project and its context. Though at this stage, you shouldn’t provide too many details, since further elements will be given later. This part should allow the reader to grasp the purpose of the project and to understand the scope of the actions that will be prescribed.
Analysing the Situation
When writing a business case, this step consists in defining the project scope and placing it within a clear context. It involves setting the targets to be achieved and inscribing them in the company’s overall strategy. It’s also about providing additional elements (financial, environmental, competitive, internal or external, etc.) which will allow the reader to understand the issues at a glance.
Comparing the Options
At this stage, it’s important to offer possible alternatives to the project. What were the other options available? Why was this one selected over any other. It’s all about showing that the project derives from an informed choice, itself resulting from an in-depth market analysis. You should also provide details as to the factors (strategic, economic, commercial, etc.) that led you to this choice.
Setting Out the Resources that Should be Made Available
In this section, you should provide general information as to the resources – be they material, human, or financial – that should be made available to see the project through. How much is the project expected to cost? How is it likely to impact the company’s cash flow? What are the variables to take into account? There’s no need to be super specific. It’s more about offering an estimate.
Identifying the Main Risks
As any project involves risks, it’s important to make sure these are clearly identified and included in the business case. You should list the main risks that exist, how likely they are to materialise, and how this could impact the company. Remember to mention the constraints that weigh on the progression of the project, from the staffing requirements to the need to source external skills, missing tools, etc.
Highlighting the Gains
This section of the business case is dedicated to the benefits that should be expected from completing the project. Their very existence justifies carrying out the project in the first place. These gains can be quantitative (margin or turnover increase, cost decrease, etc.) or qualitative (better customer satisfaction, improvement of the product or service quality, optimisation of a business process, etc.).
Exploring an Action Plan
How should the project be carried out? This is the question this section of your business case should answer. It incorporates every component of the project course: name of the manager(s), stakeholders, necessary steps, detailed action plan, progress follow-up, communication plan, etc.
Scheduling the Project
Scheduling is the practical unfolding of the action plan. It lists and describes the sequence of steps required to carry out the project and the people involved in completing each milestone. It’s a general road map of sorts, which can take the form of a Gantt chart (a widely used project management tool).
Summarising the Analysis
The summary – also known as executive summary – should serve as an opening to the business case. And yet it should be the very last thing you write. The idea is to sum up, in as clear and concise a language as possible, the outlines of the document, including the initial problem or opportunity, the resources to engage, the benefits and risks, time frame, etc. This summary needs to spell out the nature of the project and to examine its various parameters.
How to Prepare and Present a Business Case?
Preparing and Presenting a Business Case:
Two Essential Steps
While writing a business case is a complex and delicate exercise in and of itself, what surrounds this task is just as important; namely preparing the document and, once written, presenting it to the people involved. As a matter of fact, a business case doesn’t boil down to a simple list (of objectives, means, resources, etc.) and a few statistical charts. The project needs to fall within the company’s strategic context, and you should provide explicit reasons as to why it’s the most sensible approach. It means that you should make sure the recommendations are viable. That’s why, to end this guide, we’re giving you a few valuable tips to help you prepare and present your document.
Our Tips to Prepare and Present Your Business Case
Work with Skilled Individuals
If you wish to write an effective business case, we recommend that you don’t work alone and call upon the right people instead. In essence, anyone who is even remotely concerned with the opportunity outlined in the document or likely to participate in its creation has their part to play. This is the best way to make sure the business case is comprehensive, relevant, and as precise as it can in the hypotheses it explores.
Check the Viability of the Project Proposals
Depending on the risks that would weigh on the company should it decide to go ahead with the project, it’s important to ensure the proposals in the business case are viable and sustainable. Before you begin, discuss the feasibility of your ideas exactly as they are described in the document with everyone involved. Then, continue to collect their opinions throughout the drafting of the business case so that any mistake is immediately detected and corrected.
Feel Free to Write the Sections in the Order of Your Choice
Though we’ve established that you should write the summary last (as you would do for the introduction when writing an article), the remaining sections of your business case can be written in any order you please. This depends on what you already know or need to research, on how comfortable the writers are with the subject matter, or even just on everyone’s schedule. You’ll simply put each section back where it belongs at the very end, and that’s all there is to it!
Backtrack and Finalise
When writing a business case, you can’t consider a section done and dusted until the whole document is complete. Don’t hesitate to backtrack and go over your work several times. Have the various sections proofread by the most relevant in-house experts. For instance, the part about the budget should be looked over by the finance department. Once the content is ready, have everyone involved read the document one last time to spot any inconsistencies and make sure all the information is correct.
Add Visual Appeal
A business case is likely to be shared outside your company and will be presented to the decision makers. The ins and outs of the project should be described concisely (by answering the questions detailed in part 2 of the present guide: what, why, who, how much, and when). Then you should touch upon the risks the project entails to relieve your readers from any misgivings. You can make your presentation livelier by turning it into a slideshow or a video, for example.
Good to know
Using a project management tool (Trello, Buddy, Teamwork, etc.) is strongly recommended. It will allow you to monitor the implementation of your initiative, making sure that every milestone unfolds as described in the business case. These tools keep the people involved informed as to the project’s progress in real time and let them know exactly what they should do and when.
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A business case is a project planning document. It’s a structured proposal whose aim is to rationalise the launch (or the continuation) of a large-scale project within a company. The business case shows the objectives to be achieved, the means and resources to employ, and the benefits the organisation should expect against the risks it would take.
A business case is mainly a decision aid tool given to decision makers so they can greenlight (or not) the project in question. This document is designed to persuade, which is why it should highlight the relevance and the value proposition of an idea, as well as the benefits the company would get from implementing it. For the project leader, it’s a way to share their vision through concrete elements.
Writing a business case involves the production of several sections. The document should ideally contain an introduction, a situation analysis, a comparative evaluation of the different options, the means to employ, the risks and benefits identified, an action plan, an implementation schedule, and, finally, a summary (which should be included at the beginning). To write a business case, it’s best to surround yourself with people who specialise in the area in question or to call upon an external provider.