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How to Create a Successful Business Case: A Step by Step Guide

Publish Date: 15 Dec 2020

Whether you are the business owner, a manager of a project, or an employee with a good idea, you need to nail your business cases if you ever want to innovate and grow your career.

A business case is intended to convince the decision makers of the positives from taking a specific course of action when completing a project. It is the most important document needed when trying to innovate and grow your business. It explains why you want to go down a particular path, and not others.

As mentioned, the business case is key when developing your ideas. If a project brief describes what needs to be done, and a project plan explains how you’re going to do it, the business case sets out why this is the best way forward… If you don’t know why you’re doing something, what’s the point?

What does a Good Business Case Do?

A good business case will state a problem, identify all possible options to solve it, then allow the decision maker of the business to decide the best course of action.

Even if you are the decision maker of the business, it is still a good idea to write a business case as objectively as you can, figure out all the options, then put your decision making hat on. It can be very easy to make a decision when all the facts are in front of you.

As the business owner, it will also allow you to make any changes in daily operations to fit time-scales or budgets. You can plan any changes that need to be made to fit the project outlined in the business case.

Before you Start your Business Case

This article is all about how to create a business case, once you’ve collected all the necessary information relating to your project or problem.

Some clear research tips are:

  • What is the problem or the project?
  • Who does this affect?
  • Why does it affect them?
  • What will this change?
  • Why will it change?

 

Who and what are the important ones, you need to consider if your project is only going to affect one member of your team, or if it will affect the way every employee does their job. This information will be used when deciding if the solution is worth the time and resources taken to change it.

What it will change is a bit different. Will it change the way you invoice your customers? Or will it change the way your entire sales system works? Time and energy will be used making these changes, are they worth it?

Once you know these facts, you’ll be able to start planning a process and researching all possible solutions or paths that bring you to your goal. Now let's get into it!

Structuring your Business Case

A business case needs to be a storyboard of your project, the reader needs to be aware of the problems you face, the various solutions you propose, along with plenty of headings and sub-headings to make it look nice.

#1. Executive Summary

This section will be the hardest part to write. The executive summary is just a summary of everything you want to include in the report. When writing this, include all of your recommendations, it is often best to leave this section till last so you’re clear about your course of action before summarising it.

You need to make sure you summarise the entire report, as some managers or decision makers will only read the executive summary, expecting you to have included the most important information.

Your project's future rides on your first impression.

 

#2. Introduction

From the most complex to the simplest. The introduction does what it says on the tin, it introduces the business case and briefly sets out what it’s about.

Think of this as the contents page of your report, make sure the reader understands where everything is, and what each section is about, as well as the general gist of your project.

 

#3. State the Problem or Project

In this section you should include a paragraph stating the exact problem or project. It should always relate back to the organisation's strategy or vision. You need to demonstrate how fixing the problem or implementing the project will impact the business in a positive way.

State the problem is its simplest form, mention who it affects, and what it will take to improve it. But don’t go into too much detail, that will come later.

 

#4. Primary Analysis

In this section you want to go into detail about your problem or project. Explain how you came across the problem, and how it impacts the business.

You’ll need to reference some hard evidence in this section of the business case to back up your claim. For example, if a company is spending huge amounts of money on fuel when the sales travel to meetings, you could include the value of the monthly savings made if the company was to invest in electric cars.

You are looking to peak the interest of the reader in this section, stating that by fixing the problem or implementing your project the business will ultimately be better off. Next is explaining all of your possible options for progressing your plan.

 

#5. Discuss the Possible Ways you can Achieve your Goal

This part takes a bit of brainstorming, and possibly a few Google searches.

Every single option you can think of to solve the problem in your business case, or every plan to kick start your new idea needs to be included in this section. Some might sound silly or over the top, but you need to consider everything so you are confident the correct decision is made.

For each option you should include:

  • The benefits of this idea, and how it addresses the problem.
  • The costs, including all resources needed, employee time needed, and if outsourcing is possible.
  • The projected timescale to completion, with milestone markers and key times where return on investment can be seen.
  • The risks associated with implementing this idea, and possible reasons it might fail.

 

Be realistic when analysing your plans, support each statement with some data, either from researched prices or time wastage. Where you have estimated, there should be a reasonable source or calculation that can be used as support.

 

#6. Your Recommendation

You should already have a pretty good idea which option you are going to choose to fix this issue. But this is the place to put your idea on paper.

Even if you are the one making the final decision, still enter a small blurb summarising why you chose this course of action, and what benefits make it stand out as the best.

Details of your Recommendation

#1. The Financial Analysis

You’ve already provided the evidence why there is a problem in your primary analysis. But does your solution impact the businesses finances?

If your problem or project has no financial impact on the business you can make this section brief. But getting a financial appraisal can help you decide if the short term cost is worth the long term savings.

You should consider speaking to a finance manager in the case of capital developments or purchases that require funding from lenders. But the purpose of a financial appraisal is to:

  • Identify any financial burdens from implementing your plan.
  • Gain comparisons of project costs against the future benefits.
  • Make sure the business can afford the changes.
  • Ability to predict future cash flows.

 

It’s also a good idea to see if the business can survive if the solution fails to improve the business, but the changes are already in place.

 

#2. Key Benefits & Limitations

This is a section that includes all the non-financial aspects of the project. The purpose is to explain why you need to complete the project, not how much money you’ll spend or save.

For example, you could talk about these points:

  • Improve efficiency across the business
  • Reduce wastage of stock
  • Improve customer service
  • Easier process for employees to follow
  • Movement towards the business goals outlined in the mission statement

 

Now, it’s not all good. With change comes limits, and here you will have to be honest and outline the limitations you put on the business either throughout the project, or after the project is complete.

There is a risk that aspects of the project or solution will not turn out how you planned them. So you have to think, if you change this area of the business, what impact are you posing to the future health of the company.

For instance, if you change from personally writing promotion emails to auto-campaigns through a mailing service, you free up time to focus on other problems, and you are able to send more promotional emails. However, this can come across as spammy if not done correctly, so some of your customers might miss the personal touch you provide.

If you get to this stage and the limitations are piling up, it might be worth going back and reevaluating your choice of solution.

 

#3. Outline the Implementation Plan

You should have a rough timescale for your project from the research you did for primary analysis. We are now going to expand on this and put together a detailed plan to complete the main activities needed.

Ideally your project should be split among the 4 stages below, these will act as milestones on your timeline:

  • What is required?
  • How will we complete this?
  • Who will be responsible for each task?
  • When will we know it works?

 

Have a list of every resource and service you need, and if they need to be sourced. Do you know where to get them? And how long will it take to collect everything you need? This will be your first milestone.

Your second milestone is completed when you figure out what needs to be done with the resources you’ve just collected. A clear plan of how everything will be used to its highest efficiency. Hopefully from this you will have a list of jobs that need to be completed to fulfill your goal.

Next is deciding what you can deal with, and what needs to be delegated or outsourced, only you can decide this. Just make sure you don’t overstretch, as time is just as important as money when fixing problems.

Now you have a full plan, you need to devise some sort of system or metric that will allow you to see results. Think about your desired result, and find a way to test it. If the problem is spending too much time sending emails, set up a Harvest account to track your time and look at the differences when you have implemented your solution, hopefully it will show less time being spent on emails and more time on other things.

You need to make clear to the reader that you will measure your results in a particular way, to make sure you are on the right track.

 

#4. Contingency Plans

Contingency plans are a huge part of any business case. You can’t be right all the time, so it’s a good idea to set aside a plan for when things go wrong.

Some contingency plans are easy to think of and act on, you could simply go back to the old way of doing things. But if you make big investments in machinery or developments, it can be hard to warrant the purchases when things go wrong. Can you return the machines? Can you sell them on? Can you repurpose them? These are questions you’ll have to answer in this section.

 

#5. Conclusion

Almost similar to the executive summary, you just want to sum up the main points in this business case to make it clear this is the best course of action.

Give a reminder of why it is important to address the issue in the business case, and what will happen if the problem goes unsolved. Then offer the next step once the business case has been accepted, it might be a team meeting to discuss further parts of the case, or an email sent to managers to start collecting resources needed.

Writing your Business Case

It might seem daunting to write a business case but it’s nothing scary. You have obviously seen an area where improvement can occur, so why shouldn’t you try and fix it. Be confident in your ideas and don’t leave anything to the imagination, explain your points fully.

All of your solutions are good as they solve the problem, some are just better than others.

Your writing should be short sentences and bulleted lists. Make it easy for people to skim over and absorb the key information. And remember to proofread it for spelling and grammar.

 

Communicating your Business Case

You can simply send an email to your manager who will review it, or you can make a bold stand in a meeting like in the movies, it’s up to you.

If you are the one making the decision and you need to inform your team of the changes. Set a meeting, go through the case and explain everyone's role individually. Ask them to save questions till the end to avoid confusion and time wastage.

 

Don’t Become Anxious

Don’t agonise over the outcome of your proposal, there is a problem and you have taken the initiative to solve it. That speaks more to your commitment as a business owner or employee than anything else

As business owners we are always learning about new ways to do old tasks, some work and some don’t. But when you find that one idea that makes your business run smoother, you best implement it.

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