Ignite the spark in your business case
You know the drill, you’ve been frustrated with the way your business does X, Y or Z and you’ve been mulling over
- a new idea,
- new service or
- a different way of approaching work.
The idea is now starting to take form that your confident about and willing to share with your colleagues.
So you’ve taken the first step and shared the bare bones of the idea with your colleagues or manager and their excited about the possibility. . . .
Before you get too carried away with your colleagues’ enthusiasm, you are brought crashing back to earth when you’re asked to ‘put some flesh on the bones’ and present a business case.
It’s time to accept the challenge of writing a business case
Don’t be discouraged by this request – remember no one has a better handle on your idea than you and no one is more committed to the idea than you – so without a doubt you are the best person to build the business case.
Unless you do this your idea will go no further and you will not have the influence or impact that you hope for, and arguably you and your business ‘need’.
In preparing your case keep these points in the back of your mind
- be clear on your priority and use persuasive and compelling language,
- don’t waste decision makers time – keep to the point and succinct,
- try to second guess or anticipate any major objections or hurdles,
- frame you case in the context of your business or community,
- don’t omit key considerations – people don’t like feeling like they’ve been ambushed or hoodwinked,
- if your personally presenting the business case – practice, practice and practice, and finally
- if presenting as a document – spell check, proof read and edit, edit, edit.
Step 1 – Find a template or acceptable presentation format
It would be wise to check if your organisation has a template for presenting business cases. If so this is the starting point.
The template will provide a guide to your structure and prompt you as to the inputs you need to develop. Take time to study the key headings. Think about and make some notes under each heading to guide your thinking.
NB: Don’t despair if no template exists there are multiple samples or templates that can be sourced from the web.
Step 2 – Align your idea or solution to your organisation’s strategy
The next task is to determine where your idea adds value or extends your organisation’s strategic plan or business objectives.
Your idea should address the mission or strategy of your business. The more clearly aligned your idea or solution is the easier it will be to gain support.
Once you’ve identified this begin to map out how your idea addresses the strategy or objective.
Don’t expect that everyone will see the connection! Remember, the fact that your’s is a new and innovative idea, is exactly the reason you need to explain it and join the dots for the decision makers.
NB: Your idea or solution doesn’t need to address every strategic or business objective – find the best fit and focus on this in the business case.
Step 3 – Describe the problem being targeted by your solution
You need to describe the problem or gap you plan to tackle with your idea.
Don’t assume everyone knows
- that the problem exists,
- its dimensions, and
- its impact on your constituents
take the time to explain these simply and convincingly.
Having done this you should have made clear that the problem does need resolution and, more importantly, why your idea is the best option.
It might also be useful to explore possible alternatives to your idea and explain, or show, how these are not the best option.
Statistics or stories are always compelling and can bolster your argument or demonstrate the potential benefits from implementing your idea – so don’t be afraid to use them.
- Does my idea address our mission?
- Does the idea meet any of our business objectives – if so which?
- How can, or does, my idea improve our services?
- Does my idea build better quality services?
- What if any risk does my idea resolve or reduce?
- What problem does my idea solve (see step 3 for more details).
NB: be compelling and persuasive in your argument
Step 4 – Explain the ‘how’ of your ideas implementation
Set out how you would propose to implement your idea. Remember this is not the implementation plan but a broad overview of key issues or steps in implementation that need consideration. demonstrate that you have consider a range of practical, organisational and strategic issues to be tackled with implementation. A basic gantt chart might be useful to outline the implementation approach.
NB: the more subjective or qualitative you expected benefits the more you will need leadership committment and buy in – so persuade through your business case.
Step 4 – Consider the risks and opportunities presented by the idea
Everything in life brings with it risk but these don’t stop you from enjoying life. Most of us weigh up the risks before we decide to proceed or take a course of action.
Likewise in business decision makers want you to do some of the thinking about risk and alert them to issues to consider. They might also have some of their own thoughts about the risk the business case presents but they don’t want you not to have captured the main business risks.
You need to demonstrate you’ve considered these risks and taken every step to reduce these risks.
You might also consider assumptions and constraints that could impact on implementation when you consider risks.
NB: This doesn’t need to be an exhaustive risk management strategy but at least a ‘heads up’ to the key financial, reputational, people or regulatory risks that arise with your idea.
Step 5 – Outline the budget or support you need to implement your idea
Everything has a price and you need to know what the cost of implementing your idea would be. Your idea might not cost money but you might have to forgo some other idea when they pursue yours – so you need to also spell out key opportunity costs if they exist. Generally you should be able to get assistance from your finance team when putting together these projections.
NB: there are dangers in putting too much precision in your costs as this stage but a broad outline of the key cost drivers and expected requirements based on your best available knowledge.
Step 6 – Summarize and make a recommendation seeking approval to go ahead
Don’t leave all your good work disappear into the ether by failing to ask fora decision and committment.
Summarise your case and make an appeal for a decision and approval to go ahead.
It can be useful to follow up and get feedback on your proposal and ideas for improvement the next time your asked to prepare a business case.