How to Build a Business Case in 6 Steps

A business case is usually requested with all large-scale business or technology initiatives. But what makes a successful one? Here, Liberty provides our six key components to a sound business case.

Making consistently sound technology investments is a difficult proposition for any business. A seemingly endless number of conflicting and unknowable variables can 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.

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What Is a Business Case?

A business case is a formal document that outlines the justifications for making an investment, starting a new project, or embarking on some other business venture. By outlining ROI, risks, strategic necessity, and more, the person/people creating the business case tries to achieve buy-in from leadership by providing long-term value of their proposition. 

It is ultimately a useful tool that assists decision-makers in allocating resources to activities that promise to deliver the most value to the business.

What Is Included in a Business Case?

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 must incorporate are:

  1. Key objectives
  2. Assumptions, risk factors, and dependencies
  3. Execution window
  4. Resource requirements
  5. Benefits, timing, and probability
  6. Revisit your business case regularly

Business Case Component #1: Key Objectives

The first step to creating a successful business case is understanding what you want to achieve as a business. Ask yourself:

  • What purpose will the successful outcome of the proposed initiative serve?
  • What will the company be able to do post-project 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:

  1. Keep the lights on (things you need to do)
  2. Transformation (things you probably should do)
  3. Innovation (things you really want to do)

All three categories deserve regular attention. If you ignore categories two and three for too long, over time they will evolve into category one, 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 and build out a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats.) This can include dependency risks such associated with people and vendors, changes in priorities, inadequate requirements, and execution risks. Here are a few questions to ask yourself when building your SWOT:

  • What needs to happen for the project to be successful?
  • Is a proposed implementation dependent upon an infrastructure upgrade currently in-flight? Is there an upgrade that needs to be considered before your project has a chance to start?
  • 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 arises from a variety of sources. Dependencies, people and vendors, cost overrun, changes in priorities, inadequate requirements, and more 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 must be 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.

  • Are there time 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

Ensure key personnel and other resources that will make your project successful are available:

  • Which key resources are critical to the project’s success?
  • Are said resources available, or can backfills be assigned to their current role?
  • Have engagement sponsors and other stakeholders agreed to the resource plan?
  • Who will be held accountable and for what?
  • 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 communicates 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 your new endeavor while considering all variables will give you an idea of what ROI to expect and when. Here is an example of the thought process behind implementing a new CRM:

  • If a new CRM system would increase revenue by 10%, what are the underlying assumptions?
  • What level of adoption is required to achieve ideal benefits?
  • Will the entire 10% increase happen in year one, or will it be spread out over a multi-year period?
  • What is the probability that your 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-sound 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.

Find Help in Building a Business Case and 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.

 

ABOUT LIBERTY ADVISOR GROUP®

Liberty Advisor Group is a goal-oriented, client-focused, and results-driven consulting firm. We are a lean, hand-picked team of strategists, technologists, and entrepreneurs – battle-tested experts with a steadfast, start-up attitude. A team with an average experience of 15+ years, that has delivered over $1 billion in operating income improvement and thousands of M&A deals for our clients. Liberty has a proven track record in Business and Technology Strategy, Transformation and Assurance, Data Analytics, Business Threat Intelligence, and Mergers and Acquisitions. We collaborate, integrate, and ideate in real-time with our clients to deliver situation-specific solutions that work. Liberty has been awarded Best Place to Work by Crain’s Chicago Business, Fortune Magazine, Consulting Magazine, and Great Place to Work; Fastest

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