Project Management ABC: B for Business Case
In project management, great opportunities and challenges are often hidden behind a seemingly inconspicuous document: the ‘Business Case’. It is the living heart of project management, deciding which projects get the green light and which fall by the wayside. In this article, we will uncover why the Business Case is the crucial tool for project success, how it is created, and what secrets it holds for smart business decisions.
What is a Business Case?
A Business Case is a document or presentation that sets out the economic justification and benefits of a project. A Business Case is an essential part of project initiation and is used to convince decision-makers that a particular project should be undertaken. In short, the Business Case answers the crucial question: why should we implement this project?
In addition, the Business Case – and its update(s) – forms an essential basis for change management.
Why is a Business Case required?
- Justification of the business opportunity: A Business Case provides the basis to justify the need for a project or business idea. It explains why the project should be initiated by setting out in a clear way the business opportunity that it presents.
- Decision making: The Business Case thus plays a crucial role in business decision-making. By analysing facts and data, it provides a rational basis on which business leaders and decision-makers can make informed decisions about which projects should be undertaken or prioritised and which should not. By setting out the business rationale, expected benefits and costs of the project, enables the best projects to be selected and resources to be allocated wisely.
- Prioritisation of projects: In organisations, there are often more projects and ideas than available resources. This is where the Business Case comes in. It helps prioritise projects according to their strategic importance and business potential. Projects that promise the greatest benefit at a reasonable cost are prioritised, while less promising projects may be put on hold or rejected.
- Resource allocation: Companies have only limited resources at their disposal. One of the central purposes of the Business Case is therefore also to ensure the efficient allocation of resources. This concerns not only financial resources but also personnel, time and other resources. The clear presentation of costs and benefits in the Business Case facilitates the allocation of resources to the project by showing which project promises the highest benefits with an appropriate use of resources.
- Transparency and communication: The Business Case also serves as a communication tool to explain the reasons for initiating the project in a clear and understandable way. This promotes transparency within the company and facilitates cooperation between different departments and teams. A well-presented Business Case enables employees to understand the vision and business need for the proposed project.
- Risk management: By including a risk analysis in the Business Case, potential challenges and risks are identified at an early stage. This makes it possible to plan appropriate mitigation measures and integrate them into the Business Case right away. In this way, unexpected problems during project implementation can be minimised in advance.
- Avoiding bad investments: Without a Business Case, there is a risk that resources will be invested in projects that do not offer a clear benefit to the company. The Business Case helps to prevent such misinvestments by justifying the project and assessing the expected ROI (return on investment).
- Measuring success: Once a project has been approved and implemented, the Business Case also serves as a reference point for monitoring and measuring the progress of the project and the actual benefits compared to the original expectations. This allows for continuous improvement and adjustment during the project and beyond. After the project has been completed, the actual benefits can be compared with the projections in the Business Case.
Components of a Business Case
The components of a Business Case are crucial to comprehensively demonstrate the business justification of a project. Here are the key components of a Business Case in detail:
- Executive Summary: The first section of the Business Case provides a brief, concise overview of the entire content. An executive summary usually contains the most important information, such as the purpose of the project, the expected benefits and the costs.
- Business justification: This part of the Business Case explains the business justification for the project and therefore includes information on why the project is needed and how it will contribute to the achievement of the company’s strategic objectives. A detailed description of the problem, a brief presentation of the different options and their impacts, and assumptions made are usually contents of this section.
- Project description: This section describes the project itself, including its name, project objectives, expected results and main features. This section thus provides an overview of the project. In addition, it usually includes a rough timetable for the project, the milestones, the expected time for the start and end of the project, and when the expected benefits are expected to be realised. The main stakeholders are also identified in this section and their concerns and interests related to the project are explained.
- Profitability analysis:
In order to be able to relate the costs and benefits of the project to each other, a profitability analysis is often part of the Business Case. This includes a benefit analysis, a cost analysis and a financial evaluation.
- Benefit analysis: In this section, the expected benefits of the project are presented. These may include increased revenue, cost savings, improved efficiency, increased customer satisfaction or other business benefits. The benefit analysis should be quantitative and qualitative.
- Cost analysis: All estimated costs of the project are listed here, including initial costs, ongoing operating costs and investments incurred during the project.
- Financial evaluation: This part evaluates the financial performance of the project, including return on investment (ROI), profit potential and other financial metrics.
- Risk analysis: This section identifies and assesses possible risks associated with the project. In addition, it often includes plans with measures to mitigate or manage the risks.
- Alternatives and options: This is where different alternatives to the project are identified and analysed. This can help ensure that the best solution is selected.
- Recommendations and conclusions: At the end of the Business Case, clear recommendations are made for accepting or rejecting the project. This should be based on the information presented in the previous sections.
Creating a Business Case
Building a Business Case requires a structured approach to ensure that all relevant information is carefully gathered and presented.
1. Project initiation and project idea
Start by clearly identifying the project idea. This can be done through market research, customer enquiries, internal needs analysis or other sources. Make sure you clearly understand the trigger for the project and the related business need.
2. Stakeholder analysis
Identify the main stakeholders of the project, including internal and external parties. Understand their expectations, requirements and concerns related to the project.
3. Define project objectives
Define clear and specific project objectives. These should be measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound (SMART criterias). The project objectives should be closely linked to the strategic objectives of the company.
4. Benefit analysis
Describe in detail the expected benefits of the project. This may include increased revenue, cost savings, improved efficiency, increased customer satisfaction and other types of benefits. Try to quantify these benefits both quantitatively and qualitatively.
5. Cost analysis
Estimate the costs of the project as accurately as possible. Consider initial costs, ongoing operating costs, necessary investments and possible follow-up costs. It is important to take into account all cost factors.
Identify the potential risks and challenges associated with the project. Assess their likelihood as well as the potential damage that will be caused if a risk were to occur. Plan measures to mitigate or manage the risk.
7. Alternatives and options
Investigate different solutions or alternatives to the project. Compare the advantages, disadvantages and business implications of each option. Justify why the solution you have chosen is the best option.
Generally, there are at least three different options available to you:
- Not to carry out the project
- To bring about a solution to the original problem with minimal effort.
- Implement the project
8. Time frame
Draw up a rough timetable for the project, including the main milestones and the expected time for the project to start and end. Take into account possible dependencies on other projects or external factors.
9. Financial assessment
Conduct a financial evaluation to calculate ROI, return on investment and other financial metrics. Show how the project will affect the company’s financial performance.
10. Assumptions and dependencies
List all assumptions made in the preparation of the Business Case and identify dependencies on other projects as well as external factors.
11. Recommendations and conclusions
Based on the previous steps, make clear recommendations for accepting or rejecting the project. Justify your recommendations based on the information available and show how the project will bring business benefits.
12. Documentation and presentation
Ensure the Business Case is carefully documented. Create a clear document that is easy to understand. Also prepare a presentation to present the results of the Business Case to decision-makers.
13. Review and approval
The Business Case should be reviewed and approved by the relevant decision-makers in the company. This may require a formal approval procedure before the project is officially launched.
Creating a Business Case requires careful research, data analysis and clear reasoning. A well-structured Business Case is a crucial tool for decision-making and initiating projects in companies.
Challenges and Best Practices
Building a Business Case is a significant step towards successful project initiation. Here are some of the most common challenges you might encounter during the creation process and best practices to overcome them:
- Insufficient data and information: Obtaining accurate and comprehensive data for benefit and cost analysis can be difficult, especially if the project is new.
- Uncertainty and risks: Predicting future developments and events is fraught with uncertainty. Risks can also be difficult to quantify.
- Assumptions and estimates: Business Cases are often based on assumptions and estimates that can change throughout the project.
- Complexity: In complex projects, building a Business Case can be difficult as many variables and factors need to be considered at the same time.
- Resistance to change: There can be resistance to new projects, especially if they have an impact on existing processes and structures.
- Data collection: Invest time and resources in obtaining accurate data and information. Market research, benchmarking and consultation with experts can be helpful.
- Risk management: Carry out a thorough risk analysis and make plans to mitigate risks. Show in the Business Case how you will deal with uncertainties and risks.
- Scenario analysis: Consider different scenarios and developments to minimise the impact of uncertainty on the Business Case. This can help to develop alternative plans of action.
- Update regularly: Update the Business Case as the project progresses to reflect changes and progress. Also keep assumptions and estimates up to date.
- Transparent communication: Communicate the benefits of the project and the business justification clearly and effectively to all relevant stakeholders to build support and understanding.
- Stakeholder engagement: Involve key stakeholders early on, asking for their feedback and buy-in. This can reduce resistance to the project.
- External expertise: For complex projects, feel free to bring in external experts or consultants to help build the Business Case with their experience.
Managing and updating the Business Case
A Business Case is not a static document. Rather, it requires continuous management and updating to ensure that it remains relevant and meaningful during the implementation of a project. Thus, it is not only used to initiate a project, but can also be applied during its implementation and conclusion.
- Project tracking: Once a project has started, you should carefully track its progress. This includes monitoring milestones, costs, resource consumption and other relevant factors. Regularly compare actual progress with the values forecast in the Business Case to ensure that the implementation of your project is progressing as planned.
- Review assumptions: Regularly review the assumptions made in the original Business Case. If circumstances change or new information becomes available, these assumptions should be adjusted accordingly. This may have an impact on the projections in the Business Case.
- Updating the financial data: The financial data in the Business Case should also be kept up to date. This will allow you to compare any actual costs or revenues incurred with the forecasts in the Business Case. This enables an accurate calculation of ROI and other financial ratios.
- Risk management: The risk analysis should also be regularly updated and evaluated to see if the identified risks have occurred, if their probability of occurrence has changed or if new risks have emerged. In addition, review the effectiveness of the risk mitigation measures implemented.
- Communicate with stakeholders: Keep relevant stakeholders informed about the progress of the project and any changes in the Business Case. This helps to build trust and maintain stakeholder support.
- Adjustment of project objectives: During the implementation of a project, business circumstances change or new strategic objectives are set. In such cases, it may be necessary to adjust the project objectives in the Business Case to ensure that the project continues to contribute to the achievement of the objectives.
- Updating the timeframe: Track the project’s timeframe and adjust it if necessary. This may be necessary due to delays, accelerated schedules or changes in project scope.
- Regular review and approval: For very long-term projects, the Business Case should be reviewed and updated again by decision-makers periodically, for example annually, or whenever there are significant changes in the project or business environment. This ensures that the project continues to meet the business objectives.
The Business Case for PRINCE2
PRINCE2 (Projects IN Controlled Environments) is a widely used project management methodology used in various organisations and industries. In the PRINCE2 framework, the Business Case is defined as the document which provides the economic justification for the project. It sets out the reasons for the project, its objectives and the expected benefits. The Business Case thus serves as the central document to convince management and stakeholders to allocate the necessary resources to the project.
Therefore, PRINCE2 requires every project start to be made with a complete and approved Business Case. This means before any project officially starts, a Business Case must be prepared and approved by the relevant decision-makers.
The Business Case according to PRINCE2 normally includes the following information:
- Project objective and scope
- Business reason and rationale for the project
- Benefits and expected advantages
- Costs and financing of the project
- Risk analysis and assessment
- Timeframe and milestones
- Assumptions and dependencies
- Recommendations for acceptance or rejection of the project
Also, according to PRINCE2, a Business Case is not a static document, but needs to be regularly updated and managed to ensure that it reflects current project conditions. Changes in project scope, costs or expected benefits should be regularly transferred to the Business Case.
The Business Case in agile project management environment
In agile project management, the focus is on flexibility, collaboration and continuous adaptation, which is different from traditional project management methods. For example, in agile approaches such as Scrum or Kanban, the focus is on the continuous delivery of valuable products or functions. Therefore, the use of a formal Business Case in its classical form is often less pronounced or even optional.
- Agile principles: In agile projects, decisions are often made based on agile principles and values that emphasise customer focus, team collaboration and responsive adaptation. So, in contrast to classic project planning, a Business Case is often not required.
- Lean approach: Agile methods, especially Kanban, follow a lean approach that aims to reduce waste and focuses on continuous improvement. In this context, the creation of a comprehensive Business Case can be seen as wasteful.
- Business value: Agile project management emphasises the continuous delivery of business value. So instead of building a comprehensive Business Case, the team should focus on continuously developing products or features and adapting them based on customer feedback as well as changing market requirements.
- Informal documentation: Agile projects often use informal documentation such as user stories, product backlogs and roadmaps to communicate project focus and priorities. These documents are more lightweight and flexible than a traditional Business Case.
- Flexibility: Agile projects are designed to adapt to changing requirements and priorities. This may mean that the original assumptions in the Business Case need to be revised during the project.
Although a formal Business Case is less common in agile project management, this does not mean that business justification and ROI are not considered. Instead, communication of these aspects often takes place in a more informal and continuous way within the team. In some companies, hybrid methods are also used, combining agile methods with traditional project management approaches. Especially for large projects that require high investments, a Business Case can be useful in such cases.
The Business Case is the key component for the success of classic projects in project management. It provides a clear and rational basis for decision-making, resource allocation as well as performance measurement. By carefully creating, managing and updating a Business Case, companies can ensure that their projects are aligned to achieve their strategic goals and that they deliver the expected business benefits.
Project management software such as myPARM can play a valuable role in the creation and management of Business Cases. It enables centralised storage and updating of project data, team collaboration, milestone tracking and real-time analysis of costs and benefits. With integrated tools for risk analysis and stakeholder communication, myPARM helps organisations create more effective and meaningful Business Cases and efficiently manage the entire project lifecycle. This helps to deliver projects on time, on budget and maximise business success.
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