Bulletproof Your Business Case for Success!
Bulletproof Your Business Case and You Will be Successful!
No matter when or how you prepare your business case, there will be a sinister, uninvited stranger in the room when you present it for review. You cannot bar him/her from the meeting. You cannot prevent him/her from speaking to everyone present.
Know for certain that he/she will be there and he/she will be working against you. He/she "comes with the turf," whenever you project future business results. His/she name is `The Credibility Question`. He/she is the moving force behind questions like these:
* How do we know that we'll actually see the projected results?
* How do we know that you compared different options for action fairly?
* What's the likelihood that results turn out differently from what you have predicted?
Such questions are inevitable when you project ROI or other business case results. You are predicting the future, after all. (For a complete introduction to financial metrics and business case projections, see Business Case Essentials and Financial Metrics Pro. When a business case fails to achieve the desired outcome funding or project approval, for instance it is often because the author was surprised by the questions or answered unconvincingly. How well you anticipate and address the issues they raise can make or break the case.
The uninvited stranger is not easily neutralized, however, if you wait until you complete and present the case to think about him/she for the first time. The key to scoring high on credibility is to build in "bulletproofing" as you build the case.
Reveal Your Methods
If you have ever read or written scientific research reports of any kind, you know that most science "cases" have the same structure:
* There is a statement of theory, hypotheses, and the problem or issue in view.
* Later in the report come the results of the experiment or field study.
But that much alone does not establish the validity of the results or "make the case" for the author's conclusions. Other people trained in the same science need to know how the results were obtained, in order to decide whether or not they mean what the author says they mean. Thus, science reports include a "Methods" section presenting the author's assumptions, experimental protocol, testing conditions, and so on.
Ø For exactly the same reasons, a business case report needs to explain how cost and benefit items were identified and how their values were estimated. This means:
Ø Defining the case subject fully (not just naming the subject).
Indicating specifically whose costs and benefits are included, over what time period (scope and boundaries of the case).
Ø Explaining the rules for deciding which cost items are appropriate (usually through a cost model).
Presenting the rationale for legitimising benefits (explaining how the action contributes to business objectives and why reaching those objectives has value. For more on legitimising benefits, see the whitepaper Soft Benefits in a Hard Business Case or the Business Case Essentials).
Build in Cross Functional, Cross Organisational Input
Important actions in a complex business environment usually have consequences that cross boundaries of all kinds: organizations, functions, budgetary categories, management levels, and more. The business case analysis of these actions gains credibility when it has cross-functional, cross-organizational input from knowledgeable people in each of the areas impacted.
Contributors from outside your own immediate group can help you fill in the cost model, legitimize benefits, and estimate the cost or value of different impacts with an authority that you cannot achieve on your own or with just your own people.
Getting business case input from people outside your own group also builds credibility in another way: it creates a transfer of ownership. People who work on something and contribute to its design naturally develop some sense of ownership for it. The business case coming up for review is no longer just your case. It is their case as well.
Ideally, your group of contributors will even include stakeholders and potential decision making recipients for the case. Because they helped build it, they understand the rationale and logic behind it better than anyone who simply reads the report. People who work on something usually do not want it to fail.
Design for Credibility
You can add credibility through other case-building steps as well, by:
ü Explaining which assumptions behind the case are most important in controlling predicted results (this is sensitivity analysis).
ü Reviewing what has to be managed or controlled in order to bring about the expected results (in other words, identifying critical success factors).
ü Estimating the likelihood of getting other predicted outcomes, if important assumptions change (this is risk analysis. Read more about risk analysis in `Business Case Essentials`.
ü Showing, where possible, that your approaches to "costing" or "valuing" have been validated in previous experience.
ü In brief, none of the credibility-building steps above come about by accident. Credibility will be there only if it is planned and designed into the case in a process that begins as soon as soon as it's known that a business case is needed.
Remember that assigning financial value to benefits should be one of the last additions to the business case structure, not the first: if you can show in tangible terms that your proposal contributes to a business objective, the benefit is real
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About the Author Colin Thompson
Colin is a former successful Managing Director of Transactional/Document Manufacturing Plants, Document Management/Workflow Solutions companies and other organisations, former Group Chairman of the Academy for Chief Executives, Non-Executive Director, Mentor - RFU Leadership Academy, Mentor - Coventry University, Mentor - The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, author/writer Business Advice Section for IPEX, Graphic Display World, NewsUSA, GraphicStart, many others globally, helping companies raise their `bottom-line` and `increase cash flow`. Plus, helping individuals to be successful in business and life in general. Author of several publications, research reports, guides, business and educational models on CD-ROM/Software/PDF and over 2000 articles and 35 books published on business and educational subjects worldwide. Plus, International Speaker/Visiting University Professor.
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Written and submitted by:
Dr Colin Thompson
Direct: + 44 (0) 121 247 4589
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The Cavendish Academy
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Bulletproof Your Business Case for Success