Business Case Success

Business case success within your grasp

Jane Pattinson Blog

It’s business case season, many leaders are preparing business cases to be approved by their boards and leadership teams for the next financial year. Regardless of where you work it can be frustrating when what seems like a perfectly sound business case does not get the endorsement required to get going.

We believe there are four key areas you can address to improve the likelihood of success, these areas are often the ones that are overlooked, but you can improve your chances of success with the following tips and activities.

Often it’s hard to know if a business case will be successful, you find out later that a key stakeholder had concerns you were unaware of, or the board didn’t see the strategic imperative, a key endorsement was missing or budgets weren’t available. It’s easy to feel blind sided when this happens.

We help organisations with their change management and technology advisory, but often not early enough to support organisations achieve business case success. This is the change management conundrum; we are requested to help too late instead of early in the cycle when we can provide the greatest support.

So it can be a chicken or the egg situation, without an initiative being signed off you can’t engage providers and without support these initiatives may not make it to the start line. So we suggest that left over budget from your current financial year could be well deployed by engaging us to provide change management facilitation to improve your business case success and get that green light to get going.

We offer a rapid 5-day standalone program to assist with business case success, we have been able to help many organisations achieve that all-important green light.

The following is the process we follow with clients to speed business case creation, to improve the chance of success and free you to focus on your core competencies:

Often it’s hard to know if a business case will be successful, you find out later that a key stakeholder had concerns you were unaware of, or the board didn’t see the strategic imperative, a key endorsement was missing or budgets weren’t available. It’s easy to feel blind sided when this happens.

1. Determine the stakeholders position that’s endorsing the business case, identify and address any concerns they may have.

Too often a business case is prepared, given to the CEO to present to the board and then work stops and everyone crosses their fingers. This makes the assumption there is a political, business and environmental vacuum in which these decisions are made. Either because its such a good strategy or because its normal for this to occur. It’s worth considering what else may be required to gain commitment and undertaking further activities to improve the likelihood of achieving success.

Whether it’s a board signing off the business case, a leadership team, a CFO it’s worth determining the following:

A) Who is involved in the decision process
B) What the steps are to gaining commitment for the business case
C) Undertaking analysis of the key stakeholders to identify any required actions or steps to influence and or improve the position of these stakeholders

A recent example of not understanding the position of key stakeholders sufficiently was a sales leader who had influenced his CEO not to go ahead with a project. The CEO was then reluctant to proceed which came as a shock to the business leaders and vendors involved when the business case wasn’t endorsed, they had no idea the CEO had concerns and hadn’t talked with the head of sales to understand his position or concerns.

Gather information about who is involved, if you can find out from other leaders, or the stakeholders directly. Work with the CEO to determine the positions of the board, what their feelings are, any concerns they have and create an action plan to address them.

Create an action plan and undertake these actions, give yourself time to address and influence key stakeholders in time for the business case to be signed off.

Also consider the political landscape; for any business case to be successful it is essentially competing for the always in demand, scares resources available in organisations: power, money, people – consider the competing priorities and interests and aim to address these as well, as possible as part of your action plan.

2. Plan leadership involvement

Determine if you and the organisation have sufficient resources and capabilities to achieve both commitment for the business case and the outcomes once endorsed.

Leadership is key, are you the one driving the strategic direction or are your leaders? Do they have the sufficient budget, standing, resources and capabilities available to support you?

Does the organisation have the leaders in place to help make the change happen? While it’s a myth that change is all leadership driven, without effective sponsorship and the support of other leaders it can be very challenging to achieve the outcomes and change in organisations.

Determine how you will use your strengths and how your peers or other leaders can help you, particularly in areas where you are less strong. If you don’t have the resources, budget or standing who can champion or sponsor the change that may be better placed or play a key role in providing resources and sponsorship.

It’s also good to outline how leaders will be involved in the initiative, who the sponsor is, participation of the leadership team, then engage and start preparing leaders and setting expectations about their involvement.

Leaders are busy managing multiple commitments consider the role of leadership generally and how leaders can be supported by other stakeholders – a leadership steering group, key champions, or influencers and participants in the organisation from all levels and functions or areas.

Outline at a high level in the business case the role of leadership in achieving success, if this is not clear this may create doubt for those signing off the initiative that a key component of making it happen – leadership is not addressed.

3. Define how your organisation will make it happen and how the benefits will be realised

Once you have answered the leadership question and this may be part of this next step to address the next area of concern for many organisations leaders and boards – determining if the organisation has the resources, capabilities and a plan to make it happen.

For many leaders and boards this is a key concern, they may understand the why, but have concerns about how successful the organisation can be at achieving the outcomes. There may have been unsuccessful projects in the past, limited returns or your embarking on change that the organisation has not experienced before. This is the case for many organisations currently the pace of IT change, and the environment is such that organisations are now embarking on significant strategic change initiatives and this is unprecedented for many of these organisations.

And let’s face it, it can be easier for leadership teams or boards to either consider it too hard, too challenging and if its too hard then too risky to embark on. They can often weigh up the risks of not undertaking change and all the threats that they are facing as less risky than the change required to meet those challenges and take advantage of the opportunities.

To avoid this make it clear how the organisation will make it happen and not only how it will happen but how the benefits will be realized include in your business case the following information.

1) A transition plan and sustainability plan that outlines the steps to change technology, people and processes
2) Outline what the future state capabilities will be and what will be Business As Usual state in the future.
3) Benefits realisation plan that outlines what will bring about these benefits, when they will be realized and who will benefit and be accountable for achieving them.

4. Make your pitch perfect: communication tips

There are a lot of competing priorities in a business. While you know your strategy is going to take the business to stellar growth, there are many and varied opinions about the priorities and the strategy and direction of an organisation.

You have to make your strategy the most important and urgent priority in the business and this takes good communication, develop key messages that build that burning platform and include them in your business case presentation and communication plan.

1) Create strategic urgency – communicate how your business case will achieve the most urgent priorities and or as well as long-term objectives.
2) Communicate what will happen if action is not taken – the risks and consequences and how this is to be avoided.
3) Position why your strategy is more important than anything else and why it should be made a priority.
4) The book, Pitch anything, by OREN KLAFF, high-lights the importance of positioning in terms of the factors that make this opportunity important right now. For example technology costs have come down, maturity of cloud, ability to reskill is more achievable than previously.

5) Have a plan B: have viable options that make progress

What you want to avoid is creating an all or nothing situation – where you are unable to make any progress. Make sure that you can chunk up your initiatives so that you can make a start without having to create resistance where the commitment required is too great or the risks or benefits too uncertain. While you may have done this by outlining the options these are all still part of plan A; also have a plan B, where you gain commitment to a set of next steps even if that is to choose to undertake further analysis or a proof of concept or an opportunity to revisit the business case at a key point in time with a criteria defined for how you can achieve the required commitment and the go a head to proceed.