All managers want to value add to their organisation – after all it makes you stand out from the crowd for all the right reasons. You have spotted an opportunity for the business or maybe it is as simple as a piece of equipment keeps breaking down and needs replacing. The problem is your organisation requires you to write a Business Case or complete a Capital Expenditure Request Form which you need to get approved.
How do you rate your chances of success?
After working with a number of clients and running courses on this topic, I have compiled my top 10 tips. This is not exhaustive but it might be a good checklist and we have a template if you would like to download it.
1. Ensure you include why this project has to be done now and cannot wait till the next financial period
I have not yet met an organisation with unlimited resources; indeed quite the contrary, resources are usually scarce or limited. It is also highly likely that your proposal is competing with others for a limited amount of funding. So ensure you answer the question – Why Now? Some reasons might be:
- It has a short payback period
- Technological advancements
- Competitive edge
- Compliance/legislative requirements
- Key strategic focus for the business/organisation
- The Risk of Not Doing it!
2. Do not assume anyone else shares your passion for this project
It is so easy to get caught up in your own enthusiasm for your project and fail to sell the benefits. What you must realise is that there is a need to sell your project! You may think that the ‘facts speak for themselves’ – to you it may be obvious – but surprise, surprise – unless you put in the effort to sell the benefits of your proposal, no one else may share that view.
3. Do not assume that everyone knows what you are talking about
In other words, understand your audience and, if necessary, state the obvious, rather than make assumptions. We can all get quite technical in our chosen fields but this is an occasion when you really need to make the complex simple. Those approving business cases for your organisation may have a financial background and they do not necessarily understand your field. Try to avoid the use of jargon. One suggestion might be to get someone from another area to read your proposal to ensure it is jargon free!
4. Recognise that Templates are just part of the story
Most organisations have pro-formas that have to be completed in order to ensure that the decision makers have the required data. There is a real danger here that you may get so focused on filling in the form that you fail to sell your proposal. Recognise that these forms are only part of the business case and they are there to help you – not the whole story. Stand back from the template and ensure that you ‘have told the story’. Maybe it would be helpful to add extra information but keep thinking about your audience and do not bog them down with minute detail if they are not going to appreciate it. In contrast, unless specifically instructed to do so, do not bother to complete every section and sub section. E.g. If Section 27 (d) iii does not apply to your specific business case, do not try to complete it or write N/A.
5. Demonstrate how your proposal links with your organisation’s strategy/key focus
Keep thinking what your organisation’s main business is and ensure your proposal ties back to that. Is this the best allocation of a scarce resource? How does it fit in with the key strategic focus? The stronger the alignment of your proposal to the key strategic objectives of your organisation, the higher your chances of success. Spell out how it fits perfectly!!
6. Recognise whether your business case represents an opportunity for the business or addresses a problem
If the latter, then your proposal has much more chance of being approved than the former. If the organisation recognises that there is a problem, then your job is really going to be addressing which of a number of options is the best solution. However beware complacency! You still will have to demonstrate that you have fully researched the situation and what you are proposing is indeed the best option. Also always ensure you include the consequences of doing nothing – this is always one option.
However if you are proposing a new product or service or maybe launching into a new market, you are proposing a new opportunity to the business. This is much harder, since there is no pain point, nothing that necessarily needs fixing. This means that you will need to firstly effectively establish the need. So the first stage is engagement – prick their curiosity If the decision maker is not aware of any problem, and therefore did not request a proposal, your task here is to explore the situation until you can find some need which can be stimulated, so that the decision maker realises that in fact he/she does have a problem, can see how it may be resolved and what is to be gained.
7. Include all the Costs and all Options
You will lose credibility if the reviewer spots that some costs have been omitted and that might damage what could be still a beneficial project. It is probably better to be conservative in your estimates than presenting what may be perceived as being over optimistic or bullish. Make sure you have done your homework and that you list the basis of your assumptions. Depending on the prescribed format, if you have one, this information may be best set out in an Appendix for those of the review panel who want to look at the detail.
You may have decided that there is a preferred option, however you need to convince the decision makers. So in your business case, you should demonstrate that you have evaluated a number of different options – including DOING NOTHING! This should help establish trust and confidence in your recommendation.
8. Benefits – where is the Proof?
In a similar vein, you will be claiming various benefits for your business case and we all know that predicting the future can be difficult. So this is one of the key areas of risk. What can you do to give your reviewers confidence that these benefits will materialise? Of course, the further into the future your projects stretches, then the more risky it becomes. There can be a tendency to give lots of details of the projected costs but not to research and then detail the benefits to the same extent. Ensure your benefits are well researched and that the associated risks are addressed.
Avoid small hypothetical numbers with no proof. E.g. “We could sell this to 1% of the Chinese population which would give us x trillion….” What proof have you got that you could sell even one in China?
9. Have you considered the risks?
Risks include those to the organisation’s reputation, even of internal projects. However, remember to look at both the downside and the upside. What if the project is so successful, we do not have the capacity to meet demand?
10. Never submit a business case before you have lobbied each person
Your chances of success are probably zero if you have not considered all your stakeholders – not just the key decision maker. Ideally you should have a sponsor or champion who is a strong advocate for your business case. It takes considerable time to write a business case, so ensure that you have this initial support before you start. What about all the other stakeholders? Have you consulted them and ensured that they have had a chance to consider your proposal after a one on one meeting. That way you can handle any objections at this time and provide solutions.
You should never either present your business case or submit it without having these one on one meetings beforehand. In fact the presentation should be just a formality. Remember it is always easier, and less risky, to say ‘No!’
If your organisation does not already have a business case template, please feel free to use ours by clicking here.
I hope these tips act as a good checklist for you and that you get your business case approved.