Crafting a Compelling Business Case: A Practical Guide for Business Analysts
Developing a business case is akin to telling a compelling story—one that captivates your audience and persuades them to invest time, resources, and support in your idea. As a Business Analyst, mastering the art of creating a persuasive business case prior to crunching the numbers and making the pitch is essential for driving successful projects within your organization. Here are eight major points that will help you navigate the intricate landscape of business case development (i.e. “make the case”).
- Basics of Making a Business Case
Let’s kick things off with the foundational principles of constructing a business case. Regardless of the nature of your proposal or the industry you’re in, the process remains surprisingly consistent.
First and foremost, abandon the idea of diving into logical arguments or grappling with intricate numbers right away. Instead, envision yourself as a storyteller, beginning with the identification of a problem or opportunity. Ask yourself: What business need are you trying to address? Once you’ve pinpointed this, it’s time to introduce the characters in your story—stakeholders, beneficiaries, and subject-matter experts.
Stakeholders, often high-ranking decision-makers, hold the power to greenlight or reject your business case. Beneficiaries are those who stand to gain from your proposal, while subject-matter experts provide insights into problem-solving. Collaborate with these individuals to explore various alternatives, considering efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and alignment with your organization’s culture.
Having chosen the best option, create a high-level project plan to estimate the time and resources required. Finally, clearly articulate the value your solution brings, setting the stage for the subsequent number-crunching phase, including ROI, break-even points, payback periods, net present value, and internal rate of return.
- Learn How Your Organization Evaluates Business Cases
Understanding how your organization reviews and approves projects is crucial for tailoring your business case effectively. Answer questions such as: Does your company have a formal evaluation process? Is it connected to other processes, and how detailed do stakeholders want the information?
Leverage the knowledge of a colleague familiar with the evaluation process. In large companies, formal templates and specific review times may exist, often tied to annual budgeting. Some organizations use a “tollgate” process, where approval is sought for project phases, allowing gradual commitment of resources.
Smaller organizations follow a similar pattern, albeit with less structure. Identify decision-makers’ authority levels, and if your organization lacks a defined process, seek insights from successful colleagues who navigated similar challenges.
- Know Who’s Calling the Shots
Understanding who holds the fate of your project is paramount. Whether it’s an individual or a small committee, knowing your audience allows you to tailor your case to their priorities. Your boss might have insights into the decision-makers, whether it’s the CFO, division head, or a committee representing various organizational facets.
Identify the dominant department, as their goals often carry significant weight in decision-making. Find a champion within that department or committee who can advocate for your proposal. Remember, the goal isn’t just approval but informed decision-making, even if it means rejection.
Once you know the decision-makers, understand their priorities. Senior leaders look for projects aligning with the company’s strategy, emphasizing the importance of ensuring your case dovetails with broader objectives.
- Understand the Audience’s Objectives
Aligning your business case with your company’s objectives is pivotal. Begin by identifying these objectives through sources like annual reports, CEO letters, and all-staff communications. Grasp the overarching themes—whether it’s growth, cost-cutting, global expansion, or regional focus.
Those evaluating your case are likely responsible for meeting these objectives. Clearly demonstrate how your proposal contributes directly to these goals. Understand the priorities, values, and decision-making styles of stakeholders by engaging with experts from various functions and consulting your boss.
Remember, stakeholders may not always agree on how to achieve company goals, emphasizing the need to involve experts from diverse functions when building your business case.
- Clarify the Need
Before delving into team-building and solution brainstorming, the business need must be crystal clear. Referred to as the “pain point,” it’s the urgent problem or opportunity driving your proposal. It could be a sales force losing bids, service desk requests falling short, or an opportunity for substantial cost savings.
Document the pain point(s) thoroughly, noting the origin, impact, and the solution’s objectives. This documentation serves as the basis for your recommendations, making it easier to present a compelling case to stakeholders later on.
Whether you identify the need yourself or stakeholders present it to you, rigorous research is essential. Document everything, keeping notes on paper or digital files to refer back to when faced with conflicting or partial information.
- Build a Cross-Functional Team
Developing a business case is not a solitary endeavor. Relying solely on your perspective risks overlooking crucial aspects. Instead, assemble a cross-functional team comprising individuals from various departments and perspectives.
While you may not have a dedicated team, bring together individuals at different points in the process. Include a finance representative to provide a big-picture view of costs and benefits. Engage beneficiaries to voice their concerns and ensure a holistic problem-solving approach. If the project impacts customers, involve customer-facing representatives like account managers or customer service representatives.
External experts can offer valuable insights, whether sourced from your network, online communities, or vendors. The key is to form a tight team of experts focused on the specific case, respecting the organizational chain of command and securing support from reporting managers.
- Consider Alternatives
The brainstorming phase is where your cross-functional team shines. Encourage the exploration of potential solutions, using problem statements as a starting point. Look beyond individual departments, considering how other organizations or departments might have addressed similar needs.
Emphasize that these sessions are working sessions—opportunities to generate options without delving into detailed project plans or specific vendors. Facilitate creative thinking while reminding the team of limitations and constraints. The goal is to consider all viable options before narrowing down to 2-3 choices.
Thought-provoking questions guide this process. Which option costs the least? Is it the fastest to implement? Does it have the fewest risks or bring in the most revenue? Present each option with at least one significant advantage and be ready to share rejected options and the reasons behind their dismissal.
Think Through the High-Level “How”
Paint a vivid picture of how your proposed solution will be implemented within the organization. While not a detailed project plan, this outline provides a realistic basis for estimating costs and benefits. Consider what tasks need to be done before, during, and after the project switch.
Engage subject matter experts and stakeholders in this process. Anticipate potential roadblocks and resource requirements, securing buy-in from involved departments. Validate your proposed solution with your cross-functional team, ensuring feasibility and uncovering any hidden costs or constraints.
This high-level planning stage helps you identify whose support you’ll need and ensures that all costs, including one-time expenses, are accounted for. It sets the stage for detailed financial calculations and further strengthens your business case.
Here’s to crafting a compelling case that resonates with stakeholders!