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Vision-Schmision, Where’s The Business Case? Part 1

Ferrer Feb26 Img01The first time I ran into a Project Manaagement Office (PMO) I was delighted! I loved the idea that projects might be researched and understood before the really big checks were written. The PMO Director explained: “Anyone who wants a project funded has to submit their request to the PMO. A committee reviews the submissions and decides which projects can be initiated.”

“What do the requestors submit?” I continued. “How much analysis is required for a given business case? What kinds of projects get funded?”. The PMO DIRECTOR beamed as she explained “We are using a software to manage the PMO, and requestors have to fill in all required fields, including a cost estimate and projected benefits.” We both looked over the screen as he went on. “This is the information that is used by the committee. They use it to choose a mix of large, medium and small projects.”

The answer to my next question woke me up: “I see the cost field and the benefits field, but where is the business case that calculated the costs of the changes and how those changes result in benefits?” The PMO DIRECTOR replied dismissively “Oh,  this software has a place where you can attach anything you want. We don’t require the attachments, as long as everyone agrees that the project is justified. You only need a detailed business case if people aren’t sure that the project is worth doing.”

Carefully, seeking greater understanding, I suggested: “How hard would it be to look at one request where people weren’t sure about a project?” “Sure”, came the quick reply. “When we needed to do document management, every department had to give estimates. At first, no one could agree on the right way to combine them, and we had meeting after meeting. Eventually the different approaches were reconciled and combined into one spreadsheet that showed we could put in a document management system for less than $3,000,000 and save more than $10,000,000.” As the PMO DIRECTOR navigated to the project in question I imagined that the involvement of many departments COULD mean a high quality business case. It would be natural for there to be disagreement with so many “first drafts” in play by so many different authors. I figured this disagreement COULD result in discussion and refinement and improvement of the different departmental analyses and approaches. With luck the approach agreed on would align with and illuminate some of the changes* needed to achieve business goals and objectives.

“Here’s the project, and here’s the spreadsheet” said the PMO DIRECTOR. “I’ll open it.” Here is a slightly summarized, “changed to protect the innocent”, version of the information I saw:

Cost Benefit Justification for Going Paperless at Organization X 

The following are a consensus based on Sums and/or Averages of Dept Estimates:

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The following are Dept Page Estimates: 

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At this point I decided to keep my mouth shut. The project had been “justified” – 5 million dollars justified, and not a single requirement in sight (nor any NPV, IRR etc, but let us not go there – not just yet). Deals were going to be made, software and equipment was going to be purchased, and vast amounts of time would be spent setting it all up and outsourcing training, and replacing, etc., etc. Nothing would stop this juggernaut, and it was not in my specific scope, which applied to BA on future projects only.

Once I saw how “business cases” were built in this organization, I went back to basics in my mind (is there anything else?). It would take a lot of thought to explain the basics It was going to be COMPLICATED to explain the difference between justifying a vision (what the organization was doing) and creating a business case (a true cost-benefit analysis and a key guide to next learning steps). If I failed in making this point it would be hard to help future projects, since my assignment was quite temporary. 

I glanced at the business case on the screen one last time. WHAT IS the Business Need? Just saying MONEY doesn’t count as a useful Business Need. Everyone wants money (except that adorable little girl who thwarts Jimmy Fallon’s pitches on television). The trick isn’t wanting it, it is figuring out how to make it so. This is TRIPLY true in non-profit or governmental organizations focused on MISSION over money. How would scanning documents lead to the savings or the mission to be accomplished? WHAT WOULD CHANGE* and what would those changes cost? What if our ideas about what would change, could change or should change or did change? How can we succeed when so much could change? What will the potential cost of employee turnover be? What benefits are we prepared to work for instead of wish for? Why do so many Document Management Projects frustrate almost as much as they help, and sometimes produce only “spare change”? Why do documents need so much management in the first place – most get used once and forgotten, others are constant bottlenecks. AS-IS, or NOT-TO-BE, that is the question? How do people continue to avoid due diligence and the most minimal level of enterprise analysis?

When will Marcos stop asking questions?  Feedback welcome, I can take it (cringe).

Next month (I trust my readers will forgive me) we will actually look at HOW to COMBINE THE INGREDIENTS listed at top, in order to “Cook the Business Case‘.

Have fun, and here is a hand picked link collection to BA Times Blogs referencing Business Cases (more available):

* CBAP 007 BA Tip – Use at Your Own Risk and With Your Own Style and Words

Whenever a stakeholder says they want a new solution for their problems, as long as nothing changes, just nod, say something like “I see what you are saying, no changes?”, and let them do most of the talking.
Don’t forget to work with many other stakeholders. Always end the statement with the “questioning inflection”, and hope they respond by saying “Yes, no changes”, and then leave you alone. Don’t think about it or even try to fix it unless you are tired of the BA job. To paraphrase Robert Heinlein “Don’t try to teach a duck to sing. It is a waste of time, and besides, it annoys the duck.” 
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