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Cooking The Business Case – Vision-Schmision Part 2

Ferrer March26 Img01Last month we saw a “cost justification” posing as a business case. It showed money but, but it did not show WHERE to find the money. Nor did it show how the “paperless” tactic aligns with the goals and objectives of the organization. It did not show any requirements at all. The implied requirement (“Replace all paper with scanned documents?”) is a very, very, very low-quality requirement, and nothing like a vision at all.

A vision paints a picture clear enough to reach for. “Scan all paper” is not even close. What about junk mail? Can we ditch the office printers? What indexing, if any, & who decides how? What about email “documents”? Restrooms?

This month we will combine the ingredients listed above (slightly changed from last month’s list – hooray for iteration and a shout-out to Peter Gordon, CBAP for peer review!). We will use a proven recipe to “COOK” the business case, instead of throwing the kitchen at a sinking project later.  🙂

Every Business Case must start with preparation of a well-formed Business Need. Start by sifting through the Business (Organizational) Goals and making sure they are refined into edible objectives (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-bounded – BABOK® section Mix in any new objectives that are missing (gap analysis one) to balance the vision and let rest for 24 hours. Allow conflicting or ambiguous objectives to rise to the top. 

Use any available whisks (risks) to beat the Sponsor (Stakeholder type 1) into the mixture until the raw mixture is clarified. Chef’s note: When this process fails, it is typically because of sloppy (or no) Measurement leading to irRelevant objectives. It may be better to throw such a batch out right away and start again, while is cheap and easy. Without measurement everyone is unsure of the recipe even though they know the time left to bake. Even if personal taste approves of the final dish, no one will be able to say exactly why. Such dishes will be difficult to duplicate, and appeal to narrow tastes.

If the vision clarifies, refrigerate it overnight (Business Requirements [Stated]). After additional stirring the following day, use the aroma of the clarified vision with the sponsor as a guide to specific stakeholder sauces worth adding. Make a BA Plan to quickly hunt real meat from a sample cross-section of steakholders – (some say puns are the highest form of humor. Some don’t 🙂 ). 

Following the BA plan, mix the clarified vision with validation and other input from the 10 stakeholder types (BABOK section, figure 1-3. Including the BA there are 11). To avoid unnecessary boiling, keep the types apart before blending their flavors into the mix. Grind any distasteful issues or problems until their root causes float to the surface. Use honey (opportunities) to catch any flies in the kitchen. Remix until all stakeholders are nodding (use alcohol if it helps, or doughnuts and coffee). You will know that the business need is ready when every stakeholder has identified desired (and S.M.A.R.T.) outcomes for the meal to be served.

For the “paperless” meal in question we had this “implied Business Need” last month: “We are going paperless to save $5M.” Compare that to what might emerge from the recipe above, shown below:


Recent improvements in automated scanning technology suggest it might be economical and effective to further (we do already have email) reduce the use of paper in our organization. Our goals and objectives are currently as follows: 

  1. Improve student satisfaction from 82% to 90%.
  2. Increase fall enrollment from 37,213 in 2012 to 41,500 for 2013.
  3. Freeze hiring at 2012 levels (1017 employees).
  4. Reduce employee turnover from 10% per year to 5%.
  5. Reduce dropouts from 3723 per semester to less than 1500.
  6. Improve community relations by expanding English as a second language.
  7. Cut archival costs by 90%

Known problems and opportunities related to the use of paper include, but are not limited to:

Specific issues:

  1. Bottlenecks / slowdowns in the student admission process due to sharing the paper application file. Our biggest competitor can give a prospective student an admission decision in less than two weeks, while our average is currently 5 weeks. While we do not know how many students we lose because of this, surveys show that over 30% of our applicants complain about the delays.
  2. Lost or misplaced student transcripts delay financial aid, which we believe is the cause of half of our 3723 student dropouts last semester. Financial aid delays can stretch for months instead of weeks, and always contribute to admissions delays.
  3. Grades are being computed and delivered on paper, for entry into a grade reporting system. When questions arise about the grade, there is no detail to explain how the grade was awarded. The student must fill out a form to formally request explanation from the faculty member. The student ombudsman receives about 200 grade related complaints every semester. In spite of this, the number of formal forms submitted each year is less than 5. There are approximately 37K students enrolled).
  4. Archival costs seem out of control due to repeated need to access already archived documents. These documents are often related to students who are taking longer than normal to finish their degrees. We need better policies and electronic search to reduce this repeated manual searching.

General Issues:

  1. Departmental managers recently estimated that on average 10% of employee time is used for filing and re-filing various kinds of paperwork related to student, faculty and administrator needs. These include, but are not limited to:
    1. Health care
    2. Counseling
    3. Housing
    4. Part-time work
    5. Hiring (and other HR functions
    6. Regulatory compliance
    7. Legal work
    8. Grading
    9. Ombudsman cases
    10. Veteran’s educational benefits
    11. Fraternity & student organization oversight
    12. Faculty mentoring and counseling
    13. Preparation and follow-up for management meetings
  2. It is anticipated that more specifics are to be discovered if a decision is made to further analyze and detail requirements for a business case (we shall so decide 🙂 ).

Reasonable people may notice that the above is far from complete, or even remotely detailed. It certainly isn’t a business case at this point, and is just barely a “Business Need”. There may be premature “solutioning”, more “root cause” work needed, and almost certainly major gaps (are we “collaborating” on documents or just “sharing” them?) What solutions or workarounds already exist? Can these be improved without new acquisitions? How many employees will have to change what they do? How will the employees find out, and what will that cost?

The above is not correct, clear or complete or concise. Hey, it’s just a blog! The point is to compare the above with the information in the cost justification last month

Which imperfect, incomplete example offers more guidance as to next steps? Which offers some hope of “stakeholder success criteria”? Which one suggests specific questions? Which one helps identify specific “gaps” in knowledge? Which one is more typical of “failure mode”, which one has a greater chance of consensus? 

Having kneaded the Business Need, and allowed it to rise, we are ready to continue with the recipe. Without a high quality business “knead”, there is nothing to cook.

NEXT TIME: Part 3: Filling the Gaps in Gap Analysis.

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