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The Easy Way to Write a Great Business Case

Person Handing Over Documents for Approval and Signature

Business cases are the key to getting ideas approved and funded. If you follow a few basic principles, you’ll find the cases you make get approved more quickly and easily.

If you want to get people’s attention with your business case, you need to solve a big problem. The problem definition section outlines the core business problem or opportunity that your project will directly address. Provide a summary of the core problem, including a description of the pain point and what’s causing it, also include the impact that this problem has on the organization.

Defining the Problem

A well-written problem statement gets your reader to say, wow, that’s a big problem and we need to solve that. It’s what motivates action and will lead to approval of your idea.

Write in plain language. Remember, people from all different functions across the organization will be involved in the approval process. You need to make it easy for them to understand what the problem is.

Let’s look at some example problem statements. My first example is about training.

Problem: Our associates have skill deficits in their ability to write a business case, communicate clearly and effectively, and make decisions quickly. The negative impacts of these skill gaps are that business cases often need to be rewritten, which delays project implementation and time to value. Also, our associates are spread out all over the country. The travel cost of sending someone to a training session is $1,000 per person.

My second problem statement example is about a company’s website:

Problem: The company website was built in 2004. It’s on an outdated content management system platform that lacks basic search engine optimization functionality. Creating pages and blog posts on it takes substantial amounts of time. This means our site is not ranking well in searches, which leads us to miss traffic and sales leads we should be getting. There’s also a need to refresh the image of the website and incorporate our blog into the main website itself. Website standards have changed over the years and the current site looks outdated. This has a negative impact on our image.

Both problems I just laid out are stated clearly and simply. They give the audience a quick understanding of the issue and why we must solve it. When you write your business case, make sure you have the same level of clarity on your problem statement.

Defining Your Idea

The idea section of your business case is the heart of your recommendation. This describes how you’ll solve the problem and explain how your solution solves it, what it takes to implement your solution, and evidence for why your solution will work. You may also include other possible solutions and an assessment as to why you’re recommending the one you’ve chosen.

You’ll need to strike a balance between being easy to understand and having enough detail to support your idea. Choose a few key facts and analyses to support your case. If you overwhelm your audience with data, you’ll dilute your argument and confuse them in the process. If you’re unsure whether or not to include additional detail, ask the stakeholders who have to pre-approve your case before it goes for final approval. They’ll let you know if the detail is important enough to include. You also have the option of including more details in a supporting presentation that you can refer to if people have questions.

Let’s look at an example idea section. Here’s an example for rebuilding the company website:

We recommend doing a complete website overhaul to move it to a WordPress-based platform, refresh the look and feel of the site, and integrate the company blog into it. We’ve identified a vendor who can migrate our entire platform to WordPress, create a new look and feel, and integrate the existing blog into that platform. When the project is complete, our main website and blog will reside within the same platform, resulting in us having a single platform to use and maintain. All our existing content will be migrated to the new platform and old web pages will be fitted with a permanent redirect to the updated page on the new website. This will be a one-time effort made easier through the use of tools for moving content. Once we’ve migrated the main site and the blog, we’ll publish exclusively on the new site and promote it through social media channels as a relaunch of our website.

This whole idea explanation contains enough detail to let readers know what my plan is from going from point A to point B. When you write your idea section, make sure you have that very simple flow, people understand what the idea is, and how you plan on executing it.

Articulating the Benefits of Your Idea

For your case to get approved, it has to have a lot of benefits. Beyond the financial benefits of pursuing your idea, there are likely other positive impacts from pursing it. Things like building a stronger competitive position, improving morale, reducing risk, protecting market share, or differentiating yourself from competition are common additional benefits. Focus on the most important benefits of your idea. These benefits should tie directly to the problem you’ve defined.

If your problem is your process is slow, I would expect to see increase speed as a benefit of any idea you put forward to solve that problem. If, instead, the main benefit you emphasize is higher morale or higher quality, then the case won’t be as compelling.

To the extent you have data related to the benefits, include it here. Be careful not to include so much data that your audience gets confused. Pick a few small compelling data points. Depending on your organization’s style, you may or may not include financial results in this section. More commonly, the financial impacts are spelled out in a section on their own, because they’re so important.

Let’s look at the benefits in an example business case. Here’s an example of benefits for rebuilding the company website:

The benefits we expect from a new site are increased visibility in search results, increased traffic, and higher engagement with our content. We also expect to see better customer retention and incremental sales of our training courses. The search engine optimization capabilities of the new site should result in higher rankings of web search results. The site’s updated look and feel should encourage people to engage with our content and share our content more frequently. Better search placement and more social sharing will result in increased traffic to the site.

The new look and feel of the site should increase reader engagement with our content. It’ll be easier to navigate and more visually pleasing to read. That navigational ease and the richer content will help us retain and engage customers for longer periods of time. Higher ongoing engagement and the ease of navigation should result in more sales of our training services, which drives higher revenue.

This example spells out the benefits we expect and how our ideas should lead to those benefits. If we have data on these benefits, we could include it here. When you’re laying out your benefits, make sure you tie back to the problem and show exactly how your idea is going to deliver the benefits needed to solve that problem you’ve laid out.

See? Define the problem, spell out your idea, and tie the benefits back to what matters. Those three steps will go a long way toward getting your business case approved.

Want to learn more about how to write a great business case? How about taking an entire course on it? Check out the video below to learn more about how to write a business case to get started. You can also go directly to the course and start learning right now. The entire course is available at lynda.com. Enjoy!

Mike Figliuolo at thoughtLEADERS, LLC

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One Response to “The Easy Way to Write a Great Business Case”

  1. RJ Bradner says:

    One of your best post ever. Superlative advice that can be used across functions and firms. Kudos.

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