3 Tips when Embarking on Writing Effective Business Cases

Insights | 09 February 2015

We can all hear it coming – you have a great idea, you need something (or someone) new for the business, you need (want) to spend some money. The first question management is going to ask – where’s your business case?

Do you then:
(a) Say it’s a “no brainer” we should just “do it”
(b) Find a Business Analyst
(c) Find a Project Manager
(d) Write the business case yourself

(or are you looking for option (e) all of the above?)

To assist you begin your journey in navigating the quagmire of writing effective business cases consider the following 3 tips:

Tip #1. Accountability

One person needs to be ACCOUNTABLE for the Business Case. There needs to be one business owner – preferably someone who has a vested interest.

Accountability typically rests with the Sponsor/Owner/Executive. Let’s refer to them as the Sponsor.

And yes, of course you may have a number of people responsible for pulling it together…

Consider: who is going to actually collaborate with stakeholders, collate and present the data in a logical rational format? Or alternatively, be responsible for preparing the Business Case. Yes, agree this will depend on your organisation and even the value/risk of the project. Typical contenders include:

  • The Business Analyst
  • The Project Manager
  • Or a mix of these roles

So where do I start? Find a template? Use someone else’s? Copy and paste your last business case? (See Tip #2)

Tip # 2. Engage

Talk to (potential) stakeholders. What do they have to gain? What do they have to lose?

The business case for your project is a key driver for initial and on-going decision making. One person cannot “invent” it alone. Remember, as a Project Manager or a Business Analyst it is not your business case – so yes, talk to management, specifically the Sponsor.
And yes, a template is always useful – if you don’t have one, guides such as the PRINCE2® textbook Managing Successful Projects with PRINCE2® can assist.

Tip #3. Justify (no solutions please)

The business case is about JUSTIFICATION, not documenting the solution.

Justification is all about getting to the reasons why. What is the rationale for this project? Or simply put: Convince me why we should do this.

We often talk about weighing expected benefits against the overall costs of the project (including as necessary, ongoing operations and maintenance costs). Monetary value is one approach (and for some organisations THE approach). But agree, it is not always simple to quantify the “qualitative” benefits – for example, improved employee motivation in a business case for corporate training.

Remember when we are justifying the project we are focusing on the problem (opportunity) at hand. What WILL happen if the project is carried out – or conversely what will happen if the project is NOT done? The justification needs to be relevant to the project at hand. All too often business cases include why the organisation need to do things differently but they do NOT relate to the project itself!

Keep also in mind that an organisation’s bucket of funding for projects is not limitless – the business case needs to justify, to decision makers, why this project should receive resourcing over other projects. What might appear compelling at a divisional/departmental level may not necessarily be compelling strategically. The project may be a “good” project but not aimed at achieving current corporate objectives.

It is a balancing act however. My favourite is the 3M Post-it® note story – “a solution without a problem”. Put succinctly, a research project inventing glue that did not “stick” was apparently not part of the strategic objectives. But undeterred this “project” continued, including giving out samples of blocks of yellow paper that did not stick permanently…. The rest as they say is history!

PM-Partners group offers a 1 day ‘Writing an Effective Business Case’ course. This one day program will introduce you to the principles of writing an effective Business Case, within the context of an interactive course driven by a case study. Buy online and save.

PRINCE2 is a registered trade mark of AXELOS Limited

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