The Business Analyst's guide to writing a Business Case
As a business analyst, you would occasionally be expected to write a business case for new projects or review existing business cases during the life cycle of a project. To better understand the importance of a business case, giving a brief definition is usually a good starting point.
Business case definition:
A business case is a document that helps to determine the feasibility of a project before a decision is made to embark on the project. As you can tell from the definition, organisations would usually develop a business case, as a project best practice, before they are in a position to move forward with any investment into a project.
A business case is quite similar to a business plan, but in my humble opinion, a business plan is usually used to either start a business or grow the business, while a business case focuses on investments in a project.
The ultimate objective of a business case is to provide a recommendation that compels the reader to make an informed decision on whether a project should be initiated or not. Some essential elements would go into business case development before it can be presented to the readers. It is the job of the Business Analyst (BA) to apply a structured approach in ensuring that all the different elements are adequately covered through a series of research, workshops and interviews.
Business Case Approach:
The critical approach to developing a business case is centred around three key categories:
1. Defining the Opportunity:
This is where the BA presents the opportunity, with a clear explanation of what the project entails, the essential points that the audience should be aware of, a recommendation and conclusion.
This is where you get to present your audience with a compelling reason to accept your suggestion. To get the audience to value your recommendation, the BA would need to present various options that could be considered, reasons for not going with the dropped options and the selection criteria used to arrive at a winning decision.
3. Supporting Artefacts:
The BA would rely on and work with a lot of data during the business case assessment and analysis. It is vital that artefacts used in developing a business case, are presented alongside the business case. This helps the stakeholders or audience appreciate the level of work that has gone into the business case development; it also gives them the opportunity to validate the analysis and recommendation.
Understand the approach to developing a business case, is one step of the whole journey. The other side of the equation is knowing what goes into the business case because this what will guide the structure and presentation of the business case.
According to the Business Analysis handbook published by the British Computer Society, a business case should include the following:
1. Executive summary:
This section is the first part of the business case, although it's usually the last section to be written. It contains an overview of all the other sections of the business case.
2. Defining the Current Situation:
This section will contain what currently obtains in the organisation from a people, process and technology standpoint. As well as the potential challenges faced in the current situation and why a change to these areas have been proposed.
This section is used to briefly present the different options that have been considered, why they have been rejected and the associated cost and benefits relating to the options.
4. Cost-Benefit Analysis:
This section is used to expand on the benefit of the recommended option as well as the associated costs. A detailed cost structure is provided so that all stakeholders have a view of the investment required to embark on the project.
5. Investment Appraisal:
Detailed investment analysis is performed in this section to fully comprehend the investment decisions. Techniques such as payback period, net present value, internal rate of return and return on investments are assessed.
6. Impact Analysis:
This section is used to analyse the impact that the project or change will bring to the organisation. The impact will be assessed against parameters such as people, process, organisation, information and technology.
Any project or change initiative carries a certain level of risks; therefore, it is important to identify factors that are critical to the success of the project/change initiative. This section is used to call out any identified risk(s) in the business case; some types of risks to identify includes business risks, technical risks and financial risks.
This section will be used to make a recommendation and to explain how the recommended option will achieve the overall goals. It is important to give a high-level action plan for the attainment of the business goals, such as timelines, project stages, phases for the release of funds and project dates.
This section is used to cover lower-level details or supporting artefacts so that the body of the business case is not cluttered.
There are many reasons why a business case will be required before embarking on a project or implementing change in an organisation. Your job as a BA is to create a business case document that clearly focuses on selling a viable solution to business problems. There are many reasons to write a business case but some business case benefits include:
1. To provide insight into the viability of your idea:
A business case will provide BAs and their stakeholders with insight into the viability of a proposed solution. It also helps to validate the correctness/ otherwise of what may have been construed as mere guesswork.
2. To support a feasibility study:
If the recommendations from the business case are accepted, the next step is to perform a thorough feasibility study and the information contained in the business case will help solidify the feasibility study.
3. To prioritise projects:
In an organisation where multiple projects are ongoing, the business case can be used as a mechanism to aid the prioritisation of projects that are key over other subprojects.
To learn all about the tips and tricks on how to write compelling business cases that will get your stakeholders to say “yes” all the time, I have created an online course titled “The Business Analyst’s Playbook”. The course aims to help you hit the ground running on any project as a business analyst, with a proven process that hundreds of my students and I have used to successfully deliver multi-million pounds projects in some of the top organisations in the UK.