Build a Better Business Case to get to “Yes!”
By Chelse Benham
“Many attempts to communicate are nullified by saying too much.” - Robert
As a rule, businesses work with budgets and a limited amount of available funds
for expenditures. In multi-level complex organizations these limited funds may be
sought after by many different departments. Therefore, it is critical to build a
sound and clearly articulated case, defending expenditure requests, to achieve
the desired approval for funding.
“You should not assume that the person who must approve your request knows
as much about the subject as you do. In other words, the justification may be
self-evident to you, but it may not be to the person who must decide,” said Juan
C. Gonzalez, assistant vice president and budget director for Business Affairs at
The University of Texas-Pan American. “Not providing justification, generally and
immediately, places your request in the rejection category in the decision-
maker’s mind. The decision-maker must then work hard (something that will not
endear you to the decision-maker who is probably your supervisor) to find a
reason why she should approve it.”
Jack Keen, founder and president of The Deciding Factors Inc., in his interview
on global.mci.com defines the “business case” as a management roadmap.
“Business cases are not just computations; in fact, good business cases are
really more about conversations than computations,” Keen said. “It's more about
the criteria and the psychology of what this proposed investment is really all
about, so you have to be very good at not only uncovering potential value, but
discovering a strong rationale as to why this proposed value could potentially
At www.zdnet.com, it lists three main reasons why a business case would be
made for a voluntary expense. They are:
1. Cost reduction
2. Profit making
3. Making something more efficient – (this is the more difficult of
the three cases to defend) This type of business case usually
entails purchasing equipment, up-grading operating systems or
improving current operations. Often decision makers see the
expense as a cost rather than an improvement and it can be
difficult quantify the improvement into actual dollars.
In the latter case, zdnet.com outlines the necessary components of this specific
business case, but much of its outline applies to any business case. Once you
can clearly articulate the business need that the new hardware purchase
addresses, you can move on to actually building the case itself. The case should
include at least the following:
1. A summary briefly explaining the business need, the recommended
solution and the estimated timeline for the deployment project. If it is
known, include the potential price (in terms of dollars or hours) for the
deployment project as well.
2. A detailed description of the business need. Take the time to outline all
of the contributing factors, including any costs avoided, reduced or
potential profits gained.
3. A detailed description of the proposed hardware solutions. Aim to
present at least three:
• one that is a minimal response coming in under budget, but just
barely meeting the criteria (or missing several),
• one that meets as many of the criteria as possible with the budget
• one no more than 10 percent over the projected budget.
4. An appendix containing any vendor-specific information. Generally this
appendix can be omitted in all but the most technically sophisticated
The goal of this case is to prove that the hardware purchase and its
associated costs will in some way either save or make the company
money. This approach shows the business decision makers that you are
not only financially responsible, but also working with them to achieve the
company's overall objectives.
Regardless of the type of request, all business cases or justifications have some
basic elements in the formation of them. According to www.rms.net, on-site
training resource company that teaches systematic approaches to justification
writing, states that all proposals must explain the following:
• strategic alignment and the impact on business objectives,
• why the work or equipment is needed,
• what will be done, how and when,
• the benefits and costs and,
• the risks and alternatives.
“Justifications should be succinct and well-articulated. Providing volumes of data
is simply not helpful to executives who are generally overwhelmed with work,”
Gonzalez said. “A brief, persuasive justification with relevant and equally succinct
data is ideal. Decision-makers look for “the meat” in the materials presented to
them, having them search for these nuggets of relevant information in
voluminous materials is not helpful.”
There are some definite ways of organizing a business case that provide an
advantage over other proposals that are not as well prepared.
According to Gonzalez requests that align closely to the organization’s stated
goals will have a better chance of approval. That should be kept in mind when
putting the other components of the case together.
At www.callcentres.net it provides some fundamentals of a basic business case.
Keep your business case simple and to the point. Make sure the benefits
are clearly highlighted and the risks are supported with counter measures.
All projects have risks no matter how complete the business case is. The
simple rule is that whenever you undertake a new project there is always a
risk it will fail or not achieve its full potential
What about the financials in your business case? At this stage you may
not have the precise costs of your project. This is not a negative, but
rather a tactical step towards ensuring your project gets off the ground. It
is easier for senior management to sign-off on a project with budget limits
than it is to sign-off on a purchase order for a project they have just been
acquainted with. The key to presenting the financials is to provide a range
for the dollar figure you are seeking and to equally provide a range for the
expected return on investment.
What time-frames do you apply to your business case? Don't take the
short-sighted approach when presenting your time frames. It's true that
many senior managers want to see quick wins but at the same time these
quick wins should be balanced with some longer-term benefits. A business
case that has solutions which provide benefits over the shorter, medium
and longer terms is likely to have more appeal than one which is limited to
one particular time frame. Again, the key is to ensure that you do not set
unrealistic expectations and that your audience is aware of the associated
Expect to be asked questions about your business case and don't be
afraid to say you do not have all the answers at this stage. Remember the
key to success is to convince senior management of the need to change,
the cost of not changing, and the benefits of changing.
“In summary, your job as a requestor is to be a facilitator for the decision-maker.
By helping her you ultimately help yourself and your department,” Gonzalez said.
“Package the request in such a way that she can easily make a decision on your
request so that she can move on to the next task at hand. In your summary
justification, state exactly what is being requested, the cost, the source of funds
(if known), and a line with her name and title where she can quickly sign. Help
her help you.”
“An empowered organization is one in which individuals have the knowledge,
skill, desire, and opportunity to personally succeed in a way that leads to
collective organizational success.” – Dr. Stephen R. Covey, author of “The Seven
Habits of Highly Effective People”