Making consistently sound technology investment decisions for any business is a difficult proposition. A seemingly endless number of conflicting and unknowable variables can sometimes result in a lack of clarity and decisiveness. In particularly challenging operating environments, anchoring the decision-making process to strategic priorities can provide much-needed clarity and direction. Additionally, the use of a company-specific framework for evaluating proposed initiatives will undoubtedly result in a more intentional ecosystem than one driven by decisions made over time without the benefit of consistently communicated macro objectives.
A business case can be a useful tool to assist decision-makers in the process of allocating resources to activities that promise to deliver the most value to the business. Many companies require teams to produce business cases for proposed initiatives, to varying degrees of rigor, depth, and utility. Because bad information can often be worse than no information, a few components that you might want to incorporate include:
- Key objectives
- Assumptions, risk factors, and dependencies
- Execution window
- Resource requirements
- Benefits, timing, and probability
- Revisit your business case regularly
Business Case Component #1: Key Objectives
The first step is to understand what you want to achieve as a business.
- What functional purpose will the successful outcome of the proposed initiative serve?
- What will the company be able to do then that it cannot do now?
- How does the future capability align with the strategic goals of the organization?
Based on its functional objectives, a project can generally be placed into one of three categories:
- Keep the lights on (things you need to do)
- Transformation (things you probably should do)
- Innovation (things you really want to do)
All three categories deserve regular attention. If you ignore #3 or #2 for too long, over time they will evolve into #1, and quicker than you might expect. A variety of factors will influence which projects end up above or below “the line” – industry dynamics, the competitive landscape, and a company’s legacy footprint, to name a few.
Business Case Component #2: Assumptions, Risk Factors, and Dependencies
Spend time anticipating what might go wrong. These can include dependency risks such as people and vendor risks, changes in priorities, inadequate requirements, and execution risks.
- What all needs to happen for the project to be successful?
- Is a proposed implementation dependent upon an infrastructure upgrade currently in-flight?
- If so, how is the upstream work progressing, and what are its chances of on-schedule delivery?
- Are there downstream efforts that will experience delays if dates are not met?
Risk can arise from a variety of sources. Dependencies entail risk, people and vendors entail risk, cost overrun, changes in priorities, inadequate requirements, and they all entail risk. If a project on the table is light on identified risks, spend more time trying to anticipate what might go wrong. Execution risks should be categorized by potential impact and contingency plans outlined for each.
Business Case Component #3: Execution Window
Next is to get your tech execution window right. This requires looking at the dependencies that can affect when your project starts.
- Related to dependencies, are there timing constraints on when a project can start and when it needs to be completed?
- Have promises been made to customers?
- Are there regulatory requirements that need to be met?
- What are the penalties, financial and otherwise, in the event of delays?
Business Case Component #4: Resource Requirements
From a personnel standpoint, identify the key resources you need to make your project successful and make them available.
- Are there key resources critical to a project’s success?
- Are they available, or can backfills be assigned to their current role?
- Have engagement sponsors and other stakeholders agreed to the resource plan?
- Who is the accountable owner?
- External advisory support, vendors, and contractors may all be required to achieve a successful outcome.
For technology initiatives, cost estimates can be categorized as hardware, software, or services. Assign a confidence score to initial estimates that communicate the degree of uncertainty in the forecast. Over time the forecast will firm up, and that’s to be expected, but communicating what you don’t know is just as important as what you do know to reassure managers that thoughtful diligence is being done up-front to minimize surprises during the execution phase.
Business Case Component #5: Benefits, Timing, and Probability
Quantifying the benefits of adopting a particular technology while considering all variables will give you an idea of what ROI to expect and when.
- If a new CRM system would increase revenue by 10%, what are the underlying assumptions?
- What level of adoption is required to achieve the benefit?
- Will the entire 10% increase happen in year 1, or will it be spread out over a 3-year period?
- What is the probability that those assumptions will hold up? Qualitatively, what will be different with the new system?
- Will it reduce employee frustration with antiquated, inefficient processes and positively impact retention?
Requiring second and third-order analysis from project sponsors will enable decision-makers to handicap lofty benefit statements with their own point of view on the likelihood that actual benefits will reflect those stated in the proposal.
Business Case Component #6: Revisit Your Business Case Regularly
A strategically-done business case can help you determine which projects to prioritize. The more time and effort you put into your business case, the more value you are likely to derive from it.
Use your business case as both a planning and an execution tool. Revisit it frequently, measuring the actual benefits against initial assumptions. The trick to doing it right is continually adjusting based on what you have learned in the past and your future expectations.
Get Help in Prioritizing Technology Spend
As inflation continues, product innovation and technology investments are here to stay. Having the skills to create a strategic business case and prioritize technology spending will keep your business thriving during these tough economic times. Contact us for help in building your business case.
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