A business case is a hugely important document which can help alleviate concerns held by prospective investors, concerned stakeholders, team members and new customers. By outlining the outcomes of a series of different potential events, decisions and strategies; management can use a business case to demonstrate they are prepared for any eventuality of a proposed plan or new strategy.
This makes it hugely important that a business case is crafted carefully and accurately, and all pertinent issues and potential problems are addressed. Stakeholders will be ready to pick apart a business case at a granular level, leaving no stone unturned and taking a hugely critical stance.
So, if your business is making a huge strategic decision or a sizeable investment; crafting a robust business case in tandem will help you to anticipate and address any potential issues. Additionally, by scrutinizing a decision during the creation of a business case, you will be given an extra layer of insight into the likelihood of success, and any potential problems.
We recently spoke to a project management expert and a business coach – and asked for their tips for business case success.
Our first expert, Dr Mike Clayton, a Project Management trainer, speaker, writer and founder of OnlinePMCourses, suggests the most likely route to success is to lead with the potential benefits. He explains:
“Do you want your project business case to stick? You need to make people directly accountable for the benefits in it. The way to do this is to work with the stakeholders and their teams to calculate the benefits that they anticipate.
“So, for example, let’s consider that you are implementing a new accounting system. The finance function will be claiming benefits, of course. But the HR function wants an extra payroll module. And Procurement argues for adding contract management functionality.
“So, work with teams from each of the functions to set out the benefits, year-by-year. When you have figures that the teams are happy with, tell them they need to get sign-off from their head of function.
“Only then should you incorporate the benefits into your business case. Now comes the magic part: produce (in our example) four final copies of the business case. Give one to each function head. On the fourth, ask each function head to sign it, to affirm their commitment to the benefits their function will create.
“Now they have a real commitment to your benefits. If you want to increase that commitment, here’s the final step: submit the signed business case as a Board paper at organizational level. And place it on the agenda again, at the point when the benefits are due to mature.
“Now, each function head is under Board-level scrutiny for the work their team does to materialize the projected benefits.”
This raises the incredibly powerful concept of adapting a business case to the stakeholder reading it. A successful business case can’t necessarily be everything to everyone, but with some careful changes, highlighting department-specific selling points, it could gain traction with all the decision makers you have to sway.
By gaining a real in-depth understanding of what each stakeholder wants and needs, you can adapt your business case to excite them, and secure their cooperation. Even if they have questions and concerns your business plan can’t necessarily address, the enthusiasm you generate in your business case could help you get your project over the line.
Leverage Your Powers
Our next tip comes from Richard Harris of Richard Harris Coaching, who argues that a successful business case would benefit from an element of brinksmanship and deal-making. By leveraging your own powers and seniority, you may be able to influence the decisions of stakeholders. Richard explains:
“All people are sensitive to favours owed. If you give something to me, I have an urge to pay back that favour with something equal or greater. We call this ‘reciprocity’ and it’s one of the most powerful principles of persuasion out there. The interesting thing about reciprocity is that it’s mostly an unconscious process; people play it out in a predictable way without being able to articulate why they are doing it.
“Use the principle of reciprocity to win over your decision makers by finding something you can do to make their life easier, then give it to them. By giving your target a meaningful gift beforehand, they will have an urge to repay your favour and with interest. When it comes to reviewing your proposal favourably, the opportunity to repay you suddenly presents itself. Reciprocity is the most effective when the gift is given without conditions attached to it.
“A terrific negotiating strategy is to use the phrase ‘if you, then I’. For example, ‘If you give this responsibility to my department, I will make sure we ask for no extra money this year.’ This is a wonderful tool to break negotiation deadlock by summoning the spirit of compromise and mutualism.”
Whilst this all sounds slightly political and underhanded, all the reciprocated favours should be working towards to the greater good and the continued success of the business. If the proposal you are building the business care for sparks activity and development in a series of different areas, it could really benefit the business.
However, it is important to measure the favours you are being asked to complete against the benefits of stakeholder buy-in. If you are undertaking work and tasks which far outstrip the benefits proposed by your plan, then is it all worth it? You may have gone to considerable lengths to move your project forward, and adopted tunnel-vision in your pursuit of task completion – however, this does not mean you should do absolutely anything to get it past. At the end of the day, your business case’s proposal has a value, and you should not be expected to overpay.
Utilising these two tips could help your business case fast-track the proposal and overcome potential issues. And whilst the road between business planning and completion is seldom smooth, a strategic and considered approach could make things a lot easier.