Business Cases That Get Results
eBook - ePub

Business Cases That Get Results

Carrie Marshall

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  1. 60 páginas
  2. English
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eBook - ePub

Business Cases That Get Results

Carrie Marshall

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A business case is a logical, structured argument to bring about business change, aimed at the decision makers in an organisation. A persuasive, well-written business case can win over your readers and get you the all important approval you need.In this book you'll discover the do's and don'ts of pitching your ideas through a business case. You'll learn what the essential components of a business case are, including what key questions you should be answering, how to structure your business case, factors to consider when thinking about benefits and risks, and how best to tackle ROI.

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No business is perfect, and no business will ever be perfect. There will always be a way to do things more efficiently, more cost-effectively, more environmentally responsibly – and in our ever-changing, high-tech world, what’s impossible today will often be unremarkable tomorrow. And that means there will always be a need for somebody to put forward a business case.
A business case is a written argument, a proposal for making things better. It could be a simple idea expressed in a few paragraphs – ‘if we switched to this supplier, we’d spend a lot less’ – or it could be a thick document that’s taken months to put together. But at heart, every business case says the same thing: something should be done, and here’s how to do it.
No matter how complicated or detailed it may be, or how many appendices it has, every business case addresses five key questions: why, what, how, when and who.
The answer to the first question, the why, looks at the status quo and identifies the reasons why it isn’t good enough. If everything was just fine, you wouldn’t be proposing to do anything differently.
The answer to the second question, the what, details the changes you think are necessary to address the issues you’ve identified.
The answer to the third question, the how, explains the mechanics of what needs to be done – as well as how much it’s going to cost and how long it’s likely to take.
The when is all about timescales. Will this change be overnight, or will it need to be approached in stages? If there will be disruption or downtime, how long will that last?
Finally, the answer to the fifth question, the who, details the person or people who are going to actually make it all happen.
A well-researched, well-argued and well-written business case can make the difference between a project being rejected out of hand and a project being enthusiastically green-lit.
A business case isn’t the same thing as a business proposal, although there’s some overlap between the two kinds of documents. A business proposal is a much shorter, less detailed document. Your proposal essentially says: ‘I have an idea!’ Your business case is where you deliver the detail: why your idea’s time has come, what benefits it will bring and what’s needed to make it happen. Its job is to persuade a decision maker to approve the project and to agree to provide the necessary resources.
A business case is also different from a business plan. A business plan is a strategic document for the entire business; a business case is for a single strategy or project. Deciding to expand into China is a job for a business plan. Suggesting standardising field staff on iPad apps or moving to a hosted software solution is a job for a business case.
In this book we’ll explore the key attributes of successful business cases. We’ll dive into the key questions every business case must answer, the challenges of corporate inertia and internal opposition, the traps that can make a compelling case fail and the importance of identifying not just the people who’ll be involved in your proposed changes, but the people who’ll be affected by them too. We’ll look at the big picture and the little details, from how to structure your business case to how to calculate return on investment (ROI) for different scenarios. And we’ll discover how PowerPoint can be a force for good if you approach presentations in the right way.
  • A business case is longer than a proposal and covers different things. A proposal says: ‘I have an idea!’ A business case has the detail.
  • A business case is for a single project or strategy. A business plan is for the entire organisation.
  • A business case says ‘Here is what needs to be done’ and backs that up with evidence.
Every story answers questions. In books, those questions may be: Who is this person? What happened to them? How will they overcome it? In comedy they may be: What did the skeleton say to the barman? In music: How did it feel when everybody was kung-fu fighting? Your business case needs to do the same – and the first question you need to answer is: What do you want to do? In order to answer that, you’ll need to detail not just the what, but the why.
‘Lead with the need’ is a very useful phrase in all kinds of business writing. It means stating the issue you’re going to address, and it’s really important to get that bit right. Leading with the need doesn’t necessarily mean focusing on a problem that has to be solved, although of course that’s often the reason for putting a business case together. The need could also be a plan to implement something that’s of evident value to the organisation, such as doing something in a more resource-efficient way or taking advantage of a new technology. The need should be clear and convincing: when you express it, everybody should agree that yes, Something Must Be Done. If people don’t buy into that bit, persuading them to do anything is going to be exceptionally difficult. It’s also crucial to define the need as precisely as possible. What exactly will your business case deliver?
Douglas Adams’ novel (1979), The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, illustrates this in a typically astute and amusing way. In the story, a race of hyper-intelligent, pan-dimensional super-beings create Deep Thought, a computer that will calculate the answer to ‘life, the universe and everything’. It costs unimaginable sums and takes seven and a half million years, but in the end, they get the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything:
When the computer creators’ descendants are outraged, Deep Thought confirms that the answer is the correct one: the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything really is 42. ‘I think the problem, such as it was, was too broadly based’, it explained. ‘You never actually stated what the question was.’ It is absolutely crucial that you don’t try to give people your answer until everybody is clear what the question, or in this case, business need, is.
Presenting your case is rather like being the prosecutor in court: you can’t just point at the defendant and say ‘he did it!’ even if he did indeed do it. You need to present evidence that proves he did it.
Business cases are just like criminal cases in that respect, although thankfully they’re a lot shorter and nobody gets thrown in prison. The more evidence you have that things need to be done differently, the more receptive your audience will be. That means you aren’t just the lawyer, but the detective too. You have to build the case by gathering enough evidence to demonstrate that the culprit was Professor Plum, in the library, with a lead pipe – or more likely an obsolete operating system, across ageing PCs, with unacceptable levels of downtime. Or whatever evidence is appropriate for the changes you’re proposing the business makes.
This evidence isn’t just necessary for the business case, it’s important for the implementation of your proposal too. As I detail later in this chapter, we need to identify the things we’ll monitor in order to check that our solution is doing what we want it to do. How do we know we have arrived if we don’t know where we started from?
The evidence you provide will of course depend on the kind of need you’re defining. For example, if you were proposing investment in a new telephony system, you might produce evidence of dropped or missed call rates or frequency of customer hang-ups – or, if you can’t get that evidence, the very lack of evidence demonstrates that your existing system doesn’t have the reporting tools you need. If you are advocating changing from a managed service provider, you might use service uptime statistics or outage statistics. Or you might be advocating hardware changes and use maintenance costs or helpdesk call volumes.
Wherever possible, the problem should be quantified. If you can also hang a pound or dollar sign on it, better still. ‘We need to do this because it’s costing us X/losing us Y/encouraging Z to buy from our rivals’ is a very compelling point. The more money you’re asking to spend, the more important such figures will be.
One useful question to ask yourself in this section is ‘So what?’, especially when it comes to less tangible benefits. For example, you might say that your solution delivers better customer service – so what? What effect will that have on the business?
This is where you set out what you propose to do. You’ve identified and quantified the ‘why?’, so now you can detail what precisely you think should be done. Start with the big picture and get into the detail: this is the best way to address that, because … xyz.
Sometimes there’s only one possible option, which makes this bit easy, but most of the time there are several different ways in which you could address the business need, and each approach will have its pros and cons. In order to make your case, you need to demonstrate that you’ve taken every possible approach equally seriously, and that the option you’re recommending is demonstrably the best one. That might require a full cost–benefit analysis of every option, or a detailed exploration and ranking of each option’s risks and issues.
This section should also include the option of doing nothing. Let’s look at that one in detail.
What if we don’t change anything?
One of the biggest obstacles any business case faces is inertia, especially if the proposed changes will cost a lot of money or involve a lot of disruption. Then there’s what Harvard Business Review’s Donald Sull called ‘Active Inertia’ (1999), which is when an organisation is too wedded to a particular way of doing things to even consider changing. Sull described the mental models that shape how managers see the world, calling them ‘strategic frames’:
Strategic frames are the mental models – the mind-sets – that shape how managers see the world. The frames provide the answers to key strategic questions: What business are we in? How do we create value? Who are our competitors? Which customers are crucial, and which can we safely ignore?
By focusing managers’ attention repeatedly on certain things, frames can seduce them into believing that these are the only things that matter. In effect, frames can constrict peripheral vision, preventing people from noticing new options and opportunities.
Technology has given us countless examples of that. The traditional record industry did not embrace digital music until it had almost destroyed their entire business. Wikipedia made printed encyclopaedias obsolete. Smartphones and ta...